The other side of Quality Assurance ....
Thank you for the kind words. We here at Harbeth UK really appreciate them.
Originally Posted by cello
Since you bring the subject up - and I've never felt able to discuss this before - I'd like to reveal a one aspect of how we are able to achieve and maintain such a high standard. It may shock you. To witness it yourself would I'm sure (as it does me) make one feel physically sick. But this is what's going on in the background to keep the standards up.
From time to time on production we (sometimes collectively, many issues are extremely marginal) say to ourselves here that a particular component, a cabinet or a screw, whilst functionally perfect just doesn't look as good as we think our customers expect or deserve. As you know with woodworking, every tree and every veneer leaf has its own characteristics. In truth, there is no such thing as a perfect tree or perfect cabinet because nature encourages randomness in everything. But some cosmetic issues whilst entirely natural may look ugly or like man made mistakes to the untrained eye. Those features result in considerable tension between our suppliers and ourselves, much exchange of high resolution photos or even videos discussing a particular point on a particular cabinet. For example: we may say to the supplier that such and such a veneer characteristic looks like (for example) a scratch. They say, possibly truthfully, that it is a natural veneer characteristic of that tree, perhaps stressed during growth in a way that created a microscopic fissure in the grain. They explain that this feature runs deep into the tree and hence through an entire leaf-bundle from which many cabinets have been veneered. In this situation we have to take a commercial view on this. Does the feature look natural? Would it concern a customer who has no understanding of trees or veneer and the range of variations that we know are perfectly natural and normal? What can we do about it? Should we accept it and make-up the speaker?
Remembering that every veneered cabinet has been made possible by the sacrifice of a living tree, we are conscious of our environmental responsibilities. But there comes a point when the cabinet maker digs his heels in and will not budge, will not offer to re-veneer or rework, and we are not entirely happy with what we see. A commercial stalemate has been reached. What then?
As a teenager I was greatly intrigued by the TV advert for John West tinned fish. The strap line was "It's the fish John West reject that make John West the best". Remember it? The actor swept a pile of unmarked tins off the table leaving only the premium John West cans. (Can't find this original 70s advert on YouTube). And that approach is exactly the one we use in extremis when we have reached the end of the negotiation with a supplier: we just have to throw the parts away and absorb the cost. So, for the first time, photographed a couple of months ago at the end of our financial year, you can see for yourself what we have to do to remove parts from stock and to be sure that they won't re-emerge in the supply chain.
This is the hidden cost of assuring you of the highest possible Quality, the conversion of many thousands of pounds of cherry, rosewood and ebony cabinets into scrap wood loaded into two skips. This took one and a half days to perform. I was hands-on for the first day. A tragic waste but the lengths we go to to protect our brand reputation and your satisfaction. And not only did we take the hit on the material cost, but as we couldn't burn these cabinets (the bitumen would have caused unacceptable environmental damage) we had to pay GBP 500 to have the scrap taken away to a refuse site.
We have many videos of cabinets being scrapped that we've filmed over the years, but rather like watching aircraft being cut-up, it's rather distressing and not really suitable for here.
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK