Quantity vs. Quality
As many of you know, some Getzen instruments are hard to come by these days. We face concerns about delayed delivery just about every day. While building to order is better than having bloated inventory sitting on the shelf, people will only wait so long before they move on and buy another instrument. What’s the deal?
When you compare the last few years to 10-15 years ago, our production numbers are down. That’s despite the addition of new employees and the institution of new manufacturing techniques and processes. At the same time, our annual orders have been steadily increasing for almost every model. More orders plus less output equals long backorders. For a few specific models, we started the 2008 fiscal year with more instruments on backorder from 2007 than we were able to build and ship in the previous twelve months. And I’m not talking about inexpensive student instruments. These are, unfortunately, higher-end instruments. Eventually, many of these customers are going to go elsewhere. So what is the answer?
Just up production right? We could easily put the pressure on our people and start forcing horns through. Just crank them out as fast as we can. Maybe even cheapen some horns. We could take a cue from our competitors and cut corners to speed up student and step up production. Maybe even import some lines rather than building them in the US. Or, we could automate some of our production and let machines stamp out more of our horns. After all, a machine doesn’t need a break and you don’t have to pay it over time. If we did all of these things, I’m sure we could outpace the last few years with ease and even approach record production highs in no time at all. It would definitely fill our backorders. Delivering on all of those orders means a lot more money coming in while the shorter production time translates to lower costs. Everyone knows what that means… higher profits. That’s what business is all about right? Then again, we’ve all heard some of the horror stories going around these days. “Trumpet X is great… if you can try enough to find a good one.” Or, “Every single Trumpet Z is the same… they just don’t have any character.” My personal favorite, “Sure it doesn’t perform like a trumpet, but it looks like one and it was sooooo cheap.” Maybe sometimes chasing higher profits isn’t the right answer.
Our philosophy is a simple one. Higher production is great and we strive for that every day. However, we will never sacrifice quality and craftsmanship in exchange for upped production and delivery. Could we save time by cutting short the lapping and honing time on student trumpets? Sure. Could we save time by eliminating some of the hand labor on our one-piece trumpet bells? You bet. Could we get more trombone slides made if we lowered our standards on plating, barrel shaping, and hand straightening? Definitely. Would our instruments be any good? Nope, but we sure could build them fast.
Years ago, as I got more and more involved in the business, one of my main concerns was quality. I was, and still am, extremely frustrated and discouraged to hear from dealers and players whenever they purchase a horn that was sub-par. It was hard not to take those complaints personally. Being the squeaky wheel that I am, I got the grease in the form of being put in charge of establishing our quality levels. I wasn’t very popular at times, but I refused to lower the standards I expected from every instrument we built. Having worked in the factory myself, I knew what we were capable of. It took a lot of work and persistence, but over time every goal I set was met and surpassed.
The quality of instruments being delivered today far exceeds those that we built back in 1991. There was a price to pay for those high standards though. Eliminating the pressure for volume and rejecting sub-standard instruments will diminish monthly production output. It’s a tricky tight rope act, teetering between high quality and high production. In the beginning, we fell from that rope again and again. There were times that our quality took a step back. Other times, our numbers were far below demand. Over time though, we have gotten better at balancing things out. Now, with the addition of people like Jim Stella, we are moving ahead in leaps and bounds. Steps like refining our manufacturing, adding more people, and instilling in our existing employees just what they are capable of are adding up. Every day we move closer and closer to filling our backorders. At the same time, our finished quality continues to rise. It’s a win-win for all of us.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go. Even with our improvements, we realize this is not a time to just sit back and relax. There are always goals to be set and broken. In some cases, even with higher production, we don’t seem to make any headway. Just ask anyone waiting for a Custom Series tenor or bass trombone. The more we ship, the more that are ordered. Go figure. It’s like treading water with a weight belt on. As soon as you get strong enough to raise more than just your nose out of the water, someone adds a few more pounds and the struggle starts all over again.
This past year has taught us a lot of lessons and brought several advancements. New people, ideas, techniques, and equipment are bringing us closer and closer to where we want to be. It’s been a long and costly endeavor, but we are committed to it. Remember, at Getzen we only have to answer to ourselves, not a board of directors or sea of faceless stockholders. Cutting corners could benefit us in the short term, but in the long run, it’s just going to drag us down. After all, what’s the long term benefit of quickly delivering a piece of junk to a customer? We’re committed to providing you with the finest quality instruments you can find at an affordable price. Most importantly, we’re committed to making sure that every one of our instruments is worth the wait. It’s my name on every bell and I wouldn’t accept anything less.