I was driving to LA the other morning. It was ridiculously early, and for those of you who know Los Angeles traffic, this is the only time you won’t go crazy watching a car bumper for three hours. In the background, the radio was on and, without exaggeration, every minute of content was matched by another minute of ads. Welcome to stress-free living in Southern California!
I was struck by the fact that all of the ads, and I heard plenty, promoted excellence in some way. The perfect mattress (for the best sleep). The most natural hair coloring system. The best-fitting underwear (that will change your life forever). The guaranteed, eat-whenever-you-want, weight loss program. The fastest, lowest-rate, and therefore best, mortgage. And my favorite, new scientifically engineered, health-conscious, organic kitty litter.
All this excellence got me thinking about quality, a subject that always has my attention. Who doesn’t want quality? The very word defines a measure of what’s best. And, of course, we all want the best.
I can’t remember not appreciating quality. It wasn’t that I was raised with it (I wasn’t.) as much as I saw that the absence of quality had consequences. Poor tools mean a lot more work and probably a mistake that eventually cost more than a better tool. Cheap clothing didn’t last. Inexpensive cars broke down. I couldn’t say that more expensive was always better, but it was a clue that quality might follow.
Quality Always Stands Out
The Santa Fe Collection Brown Lizard Clutch combines exceptional materials and uncompromising craftsmanship.
My early experiences with exceptional quality confirmed that the best almost always worked better and lasted longer - outcomes that anyone should like. I thought, “Price aside, everyone wants the best quality?” But price is always a consideration, even if you can afford otherwise. So, more accurately, “Everyone wants the best quality for a price they’re willing (or able) to pay?”
As I was growing up, lessons about quality seemed to be regular occurrences. Whether products or services, it was pretty apparent that some were simply better, and, others, not so much. I can still remember helping my dad build a summer deck. The advantages of quality applied to everything - tools, lumber, paint and, of course, our own labor. All I can say is a lot of lessons were learned during that "fun" event.
My appreciation of quality became more informed as I got older. I learned that it isn’t about wanting the best, for that’s nearly universal; it’s about identifying what makes for the best quality and then selecting the version that delivers the absolute best outcome for what you’re willing or able to pay.
Over time, I learned that quality compromises are often short-term bargains with a disproportionate long-term cost. Take shoes, for example. Inexpensive shoes are exactly that because they use cheaper materials, and less time-consuming construction methods. It’s no surprise then that inexpensive shoes wear out faster, are often uncomfortable, and seldom justify the cost of repair. Unless they're for a costume party or a one-time event, cheaply-made shoes are never the bargain they appear to be, and they never look as good as the better quality alternative.
I've learned that the best quality is often defined by what you don’t see. There are countless examples of this since what we generally see is only the exterior façade. Anything mechanical is an obvious case study, but consider a women’s handbag. What we see is the design and outer materials. What you don’t see are the materials used to construct the bag – the lining, padding, thread, adhesives, fasteners, and more. And these mean something if you want your bag to hold its shape, last for more than a year or two, survive the inevitable liquid assault, and look new when it isn’t.
I've also learned that remarkable quality, like so much in life, is based on making mistakes. Years ago I built racing kayaks. Yep, those long pointy tubes. As I gained more experience, I became pretty efficient. I could build boats faster. But unless I was willing to experiment, to test different materials or techniques, greater efficiency didn’t necessarily mean higher quality. So, to make better boats – lighter, stronger, and faster – I had to make lots of mistakes to discover improvements and develop higher quality.
The Details Always Matter
This handmade bonze zipper pull, finished in brushed nickel, is quality defined.
Now, I'm convinced that exceptional quality requires a constant drive to improve and innovate. The fact is, whatever seems amazing today is likely to be surpassed tomorrow. So not only is quality associated with a willingness to make mistakes, it also requires a commitment to continual improvement and innovation. The craftsmen who build our bags provide a perfect example. They’ve been crafting handbags for decades, but nothing is sacrosanct when it comes to their process. New equipment, different materials and techniques, and innovative designs all contribute to overall improvements, not just in style but in functionality and performance, as well.
Another lesson about quality came as a result of a personal wardrobe challenge. I could never buy a suit off the rack. Either the coat was too small or the pants way too big. So, when I needed a real suit for that first real job, I had to get it made, or so I convinced myself. And I learned that higher quality – provided by a body-perfect fit, better materials, and hand craftsmanship – was transformational. More than just clothing, that suit affected how I felt. It had become an experience.
Obviously, I’m biased about quality. I can’t buy the best of everything. Few of us can. But I really value the commitment required to deliver amazing products and services — examples of crazy-good quality. I seek the best of what I can afford, to enjoy the experience that comes from exceptional quality. Quality is an investment in durability and performance. The rewards are not immediate, but provided over time. Stiving to create an exceptional experience with quality is part of the mindset that guides Virgil James.
Most of our customers get this. Even when they can’t tell you exactly what makes for higher quality, they seek the experience that comes from owing something exceptional. They appreciate the committment that’s required to achieve an absence of unintended flaws. They relish the experience of timeless durability and performance. And most of all, they love the fact that all this can be presented with a sense of style. What’s not to like...when quality comes first!