Harvard professor David Garvin identified 8 factors that customers use to assess quality in his landmark 1987 Harvard Business Review article, “Competing on the 8 Dimensions of Quality,” his manifesto promoting Strategic Quality Management.
The main thrust of his quality theory was that quality should no longer be thought of as a defensive tactic to minimize waste in materials and time from broken or failed products. Instead, Garvin advocated a more strategic, customer-focused role for quality:
“One thing is certain: high quality means pleasing consumers, not just protecting them from annoyances. Product designers, in turn, should shift their attention from prices at the time of purchase to life cycle costs that include expenditures on service and maintenance—the customer’s total costs.”
— David Garvin, Harvard Business Review.
I like Garvin’s expanded views about quality because they align so well with our own. Skyline is hard-wired to provide higher quality trade show displays, because we know how tough trade show travel, set up and packing can be on displays, and even more because our customers’ reputations are on the line when they exhibit at a trade show. Yet sometimes our higher quality can be overlooked in favor of a cheaper price tag. Gavin’s 8 dimensions make the value of our quality more explicit.
Therefore, I want to discuss each of Garvin’s 8 dimensions of quality, how they affect exhibitors, and how Skyline has significantly invested in equipment, processes, materials, and expertise to provide higher-quality displays and experiences. My goal is to prove that there is so much extra provided by our higher quality, that we offer exhibitors the best value in the marketplace.
GARVIN: This first dimension of quality refers to a product’s primary operating characteristics – how well does it perform its intended tasks, compared to its competitors? Sometimes performance can be compared across all products in a category – such as how quiet a car is – and some performance characteristics are better performed by a subset of products in that category because they are designed for a specific task. For example, a pickup truck will haul more than a car, but how does one truck compare to other, similarly-priced trucks?
EXHIBITORS: For trade show exhibits, performance can mean how well does it represent the company’s brand, capture attendee’s attention, set up and dismantle easily, and weight (and thus cost to ship).
SKYLINE: We invented the Skyline WindScape® Exhibit System (winner, EXHIBITOR Show Buyer’s Choice Award, 2014) to perform better on most of the primary operating characteristics of a trade show display. Compared to other displays of the same size, WindScape packs much smaller (a 10-foot display packs into a carry-on luggage bag), weighs 2/3rds less, sets up several times faster, and lasts longer (we set up one around 500 times at a 5-day show in Germany, then brought it back — and used it again at another show). And yet most people are surprised to find out its structure is made of an air-filled frame, not metal or plastic. We spent 4 years developing this revolutionary system to give exhibitors higher performance.
To make trade show graphics for other Skyline products that look better, Skyline commissioned our own proprietary fabric for graphics. Performa® fabric graphics are engineered with a tighter weave and special shaped threads to better block out light from showing through. The threads are made with a whiter fabric so printed graphic colors are truer. They also make backlit graphics that minimize hot spots. We also have commissioned Superfecta® stretch knit fabric, for similar accurate graphic color consistency and superior fit and finish on our exhibit systems like Envoy® and Fabric Structures whose complex shapes require a tighter fit.
GARVIN: Features are the extra things that differentiate products from competitors. While these features may not be available on every product in a category, they can still be used to judge products against each other. Greater choice and customization can be seen as part of this attribute of quality.
EXHIBITORS: For trade show exhibits, preferred features can include modularity, merchandising, backlit graphics, wire management, storage, and more. It can also be the service accompanying the physical product, such as online exhibit asset management.
SKYLINE: Skyline designs many extra features into its products to give them additional value, be it cases that can be converted into tables to save on drayage and wait time, banner stand systems that can hold shelves to display products, or hanging signs that set up without tools to save on labor costs.
One large feature woven through all our systems is that Skyline engineers all its structural exhibit systems so they can be interconnected and use common accessories. Our various modular exhibit systems are all painted in-house with the same color electrostatic powder paint, so when combined into one exhibit the paint color matches. These two features give Skyline systems a higher level of modularity and extend the use of features across multiple systems.
GARVIN: Reliable products are less likely to fail the user, which matters for durable goods. According to Garvin, “Reliability normally becomes more important to consumers if downtime and maintenance are more expensive.” He cites for example how the short harvest season for crops as why reliability is critical for farm equipment.
EXHIBITORS: Exhibitors face a similar critical situation as farmers. Exhibitors spend months and thousands of dollars preparing for a few days of peak time to “harvest” leads at a trade show. Therefore, their trade show exhibits must be extremely reliable, or else they may miss their short, valuable window of opportunity.
SKYLINE: So, to prevent errors before a product goes to market, we have a full-time test engineer whose job is to try to break stuff. He simulates exhibiting using new product samples, and if he breaks it or it performs below our standards, then it is redesigned before launch. Portable products are tested 200 cycles – simulating 20 years of use. We simulate the rigors of trade show shipping, putting the new product samples through a 3-day heat and humidity cycle, and bouncing it in a shipping simulator. Compare that to some Internet-purchased banner stands that last so little time that they are almost disposable.
We don’t just test new products. Our test engineer also tests existing Skyline products that have material changes to ensure they still perform to specs. For example, a panel adhesive was recently discontinued due to a new government regulation. To find an appropriate replacement, the existing product was re-tested with 7 different new adhesives to find the best one that would keep parts stuck together through 200 cycles.
And we test our products during the course of the year through the changing seasons. We measure every 2 weeks to verify panel sizes have not changed appreciably due to changes in temperature and humidity.
Because of our volume (and our obsession for quality), we work with our vendors directly so if we find errors from their parts, we can drive improvement directly. But our competitors, such as internet sellers, buy from middlemen, so they have no control over their vendors and no ability to drive improvement.
A measure of our service reliability is that Skyline ships orders on-time 99.5% – amazing, considering we operate in the mad-dash, last-minute trade show world. And if the order is shipping direct to show we always go the extra mile to ensure client success.
GARVIN: This 4th measure of quality relates to how well a product meets its own design specifications or standards. This is close to the original idea of manufacturing quality, and refers to how closely a batch of products is built within the range of acceptable tolerances.
EXHIBITORS: For trade show exhibits, that means fit and finish. Are the surface materials even and unblemished and with proper edges? Do the parts fit together well? Are graphic panels aligned well, are the colors accurate, are the images sharp? An exhibit with this aspect of high quality will look better, helping a company represent their brand at a higher level, which can lead to more sales.
SKYLINE: Because we are printing colors that need to be accurate to represent our clients’ brands, Skyline has implemented industry-leading color management for our graphics. Our system can print graphics whose colors will match the specified color, and the color on another graphic, even if that second graphic is printed on a different printer, or using a different printing technology, or printed at a different location, and even the date when it was printed.
To further improve color conformance, we print pop-up mural panels with a laser photo imaging machine, which produces crisper images, especially for backlit graphics, compared to standard ink-jet panels. And we test our spot lights to choose only those with the best light color temperature so they illuminate the graphics without shifting colors on the display graphics.
To make graphics fit and line up better and thus look better, Skyline has invested significantly in equipment to cut panels to exact sizes. For example, we use a computer-controlled cutter for laminate pop up display panels, so we can cut them within 2/1000ths of an inch. For a better fit and finish on large fabric graphics, we place the graphic on a large table and then project its shape pattern onto the fabric with a laser, for more accurate cutting.
We measure incoming parts to ensure they are built to our specifications. Our measuring equipment is kept in a climate-controlled room to maintain the high accuracy of the testing equipment.
GARVIN: Garvin defines durability as “the amount of use one gets from a product before it breaks down and replacement is preferable to continued repair.” He points to Maytag as an example of durability: in 1981 Maytag dryers lasted twice as long as the worst-performing competitor, while Maytag washers lasted 3 times longer. That meant that they were worth at least 2 to 3 times as much – and even more when you consider the cost and difficulty to dispose of the old washer or dryer, and purchase and install the new one.
EXHIBITORS: Trade show exhibits require a high level of durability, especially portable displays that are used anywhere from 1 to dozens of times a year, with most exhibitors replacing their displays after 4 to 7 years of use. Trade show exhibits have to survive shipping, install, use, dismantle, packing, return shipping, and storage, traveling through changing temperatures and humidity, sometimes with extreme changes over short time periods. If you’ve ever seen the crazed expression of an exhibitor at the end of a show who wants to get their display packed quickly so they can get to the taxi line, you know how much abuse a display can receive in those few frenzied minutes.
SKYLINE: Skyline designs that higher level of durability into our displays. In 2014, I met a client from a billion-dollar professional services firm who was still using the Skyline Mirage® display that he purchased in 1984. He was finally considering replacing his 30-year-old Skyline display, not because it had worn out, but because we were offering a new display system that was lighter weight and faster to set up.
To make our backlit fabric graphics more durable, Skyline Performa® fabric graphics are made to be stain resistant – you can spill soda pop on it and the soda will roll off, rather than be absorbed. You can even wash Performa fabric graphics and the graphic still looks vivid.
GARVIN: Garvin goes beyond measures of quality that only consider manufacturing when he includes serviceability as the 6th dimension of quality. He describes serviceability as “the speed, courtesy, competence, and ease of repair.” It’s important to consumers that broken items are repaired quickly, and repaired right the first time, and for some buyers (again, as when discussing reliability, he brings up farmers at harvest time), it’s essential that repairs are made very fast.
EXHIBITORS: Trade shows provide a unique challenge for serviceability, as most exhibitors use their exhibits at locations hundreds, and sometimes thousands of miles away from where they live – and where they bought their exhibit. Thus, getting fast repairs if damage happens at a trade show can be at best problematic.
SKYLINE: Here is an astounding example of serviceability gone wrong: an employee in our Technology department told recently how a simple plastic part on a $10,000 computer server had broken, but he could not buy that inexpensive part to repair it – his only choice was to buy a whole new $10,000 server. That is not the case with Skyline exhibits. We have invested in making thousands of service parts available so that simple repairs can be made in the event a part breaks.
The modular design of our exhibit systems allows easy changes and add-ons, preserving the value of the initial investment. Even our pop-up display frames are field repairable. And with service centers in the major trade show venue cities, and service departments at our dealers in 128 cities worldwide, fast, emergency repair is just down the street at virtually any trade show.
GARVIN: While not as objectively judged as the previous dimensions of quality, aesthetics – how a product appeals to the 5 human senses — does play in how consumers consider the quality of a product.
EXHIBITORS: For trade show exhibits, how exhibits look and feel are especially important. Strong visual appeal attracts potential buyers, and a welcoming tactile experience helps make potential buyers comfortable. Are graphic images sharp, with vivid colors, and a finish that doesn’t reflect too much glare? Is a counter stable, with a pleasing surface, at the right height?
SKYLINE: What is considered aesthetically pleasing continues to evolve. Structural, industrial-looking exhibits are now less favored – clean, minimal lines are more desired. Recent examples include our Envoy® exhibit system (winner of the best new product award at the 2010 Exhibitor Show), which is designed to have a visual style similar to an iPhone. Our PictureCube® system creates walls, towers, and hanging signs that appear to be completely backlit with virtually no frame showing.
8. Perceived Quality
GARVIN: When a consumer lacks complete information about a product’s actual quality, they instead rely on the company’s reputation for quality. Even if a product is new for a company, that company’s good reputation for quality will carry over to the new product.
EXHIBITORS: Veteran trade show exhibitors, who have seen the problems that low quality displays can wreak upon their trade show program, are more focused on asking their peers about the inside story on potential vendors.
SKYLINE: Skyline was rated as having the highest quality compared to other makers of portable displays by a survey of about 1,300 trade show managers done by EXHIBITOR Magazine. That reputation for quality is well earned, as we follow strict processes to ensure we continue to produce high quality displays into the future.
Quality that pays for itself
I hope this article has helped you see the many ways higher quality is worth the extra investment for trade show exhibitors, and how Skyline goes farther to create greater value for exhibitors with our higher quality displays. Skyline’s significant, continuous quality efforts ensure our clients build their brand with better looking displays that look better at their first show and the shows in the years that follow. Greater features ensure a better experience while at the show. And our quality makes our clients’ lives easier with longer use without downtime or the hassle of re-ordering, and saves money in the long run with years of viable use.
Trade shows offer a short, make-or-break window of opportunity to engage with buyers. Companies often invest the largest part of their marketing budget to exhibit at these events. High quality trade show displays – backed by a worldwide network of experts — reduce the risk of failure during that expensive and essential window of time.
Skyline exhibits may not be the lowest cost, but their high quality makes them the best value.
About the Author: Mike Thimmesch is Skyline Exhibits' Director of Customer Engagement, with over 25 years of Marketing and Trade Show Display Marketing experience.