Continental Drifter -- Two Bites To The Dollar

Oct. 27, 2005
The sad truth is that we just don't make 'em like we used to.

Come lunchtime in Vienna, anyone with an ounce of brains heads directly to the nearest Duran Sandwiches restaurant.

The seven Duran shops located around the city have been packed with customers every afternoon for more than 30 years. The reason? Some 40 different open-face sandwiches, each priced at the equivalent of little more than US$1, and all as pleasing to the eye as to the palate.

Duran sandwiches are mini-masterpieces of artful design and intense flavor, with uncompromisingly fresh ingredients obtained from respected suppliers. In a word, they're perfect.

So what do they have to do with manufacturing?

I once asked Eva Duran, who owns and operates the chain with her brother, Thomas, to give me a rough idea of the company's annual advertising budget. Her answer was more specific than I had expected.

"Null," she said.

That's German for "zero."

The Durans never advertise. They never offer promotions or hire marketing consultants. Nor have they ever pursued a re-branding effort. They don't need to, for the simple reason that they possess and maintain the one brand that is timeless and universal: when the Viennese think "Duran," they think "quality."

Which brings us back to manufacturing. In the United States, "quality" is too often a mantra without meaning -- an empty promise of sloganeering that bears no relation to the physical reality of the goods produced in plants and factories around the country. The sad truth is that we just don't make 'em like we used to.

For Europeans, however -- and for Japanese, Koreans and a growing number of consumers worldwide -- quality is as fundamental to life as oxygen. They not only expect it; they demand it. In many parts of the world, anything less than perfection is considered rubbish.

To American consumers, quantity trumps quality every time. So why wouldn't American manufacturers reflect the same bias toward "more" rather than "better?"

It is no coincidence that domestic manufacturing started to lose its global competitive edge when the Old World craftsmen who had immigrated to the U.S. decades earlier began to retire from the workforce. But craftsmen just like them are still alive and well -- and working -- in Europe, in Japan, in Korea and elsewhere. They know quality, and they see no reason why they should ever have to settle for anything less.

American manufacturers who ignore this most basic principle of global business do so at their peril. When they trim engineering, R&D, quality-control and personnel budgets to save a few bucks up front, they are being penny wise and Pound/Euro/Yen foolish

Hoping to sell your wares to the increasingly sophisticated consumers of a broad and growing portion of humanity? Consider a simple, family owned sandwich shop in Vienna. The Durans have succeeded for three decades because they supply customers with the one thing they truly want: a quality product.

Anyone with an ounce of brains should be able to see that.

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