Location: Granite Falls, North Carolina, United States

I'm an ordained United Methodist minister no longer pastoring churches, a former media producer with skills ten years out of date, a writer trying to sell my first novel, and a sales associate keeping body and soul together working for the People's Republic of Corporate America. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world, who was my best friend for 17 years before we married.

Friday, May 11, 2007

On Quality

When Lee Iacocca was doing the ads for Chrysler Corporation, of which he was CEO, he used to talk about the "American tradition of quality." The only thing is, there is no such tradition.

The quality craftsmen stayed in Europe.

Those who came over here were the losers and the dreamers. Practical people don't venture out into unexplored territory. People who are doing well at their craft don't leave it all behind to strike out into something new.

Still, over the generations, the descendants of those who settled in this region of North Carolina learned how to turn out some pretty good products, especially furniture.

Admittedly, the reason furniture manufacturing came here was the same reason textile manufacturing came: cheap labor. We were the China of the late 19th. and early 20th. Centuries.

BUT: We learned to make good stuff.

The furniture they made here was good enough that the families were proud to put their names on it: Broyhill, Kincaid, Bernhardt. People felt good enough about it to put the names of their towns on it: Thomasville, Drexel, Lexington.

But, times change. Now, the companies have been bought out, merged, etc. The children of the furniture families didn't want to be bothered to run the companies the way their parents and grandparents had, so they sold out. Major conglomerates own the companies now, companies such as FBI: Furniture Brands International. And these conglomerates are run, not by furniture manufacturers but by Business School graduates.

You know, the people who learn you can increase sales by throwing thousands of your customers out of work; that you can get more customers by cutting back on customer service.

Therefore, customer service is out-sourced to India, to people who know nothing about the manufacturing process and barely understand English.

And manufacturing is out-sourced to China, where quality is low on the priority list.

Meanwhile, the local manufacturing plants are either shuttered or turned into distribution warehouses.

One of the local plants attaches legs to tabletops brought in from China. Half--HALF!--of the tabletops brought in from China are useless because the quality is so poor. Yet it is still cheaper to throw out half of them than to have local people from Caldwell County build them right the first time, as they have done for decades--generations. And cheaper is what the bean-counters who run the companies are after.

As I said, there is not American tradition of quality. America was settled by the losers and the dreamers. And the losers have gravitated to management.


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