Made in China
Ok, so now the secret can be let out of the bag. We had some Cats made with the Made in China logo on them rather than the made in Italy logo. We were testing lenses and a new print app. But, the factory is the same one that made them before and to a great extent I was testing the impact of the made in Chine logo on percieved quality.
What I found interesting is the reaction to made in China. The feedback I got was positive for the most part and we asked for suggestions for improvement. But I was surprised how many times the feedback was prefaced a variation of "the stuff you got from China" or "unlike the Italian product"... even on this blog there are plenty of snarky "what's that made in china crap" cracks. I assume most are just friendly ribbing. But it does represent a real bias against Chinese factories.
The bottom line is just by putting "made in China" on the Cat, the product tester and customers percieved a drop in quality. Maybe more specifically, they were more critical of some aspects of the eyewear that they weren't when the logo said "made in Italy". In product testing that actually worked out well, because they made suggestions for improvements I suspect they would not have made if the frames said made in Italy. I think that is correctly labelled an irony.
The challenge for us is to make a quality piece of eyewear for that $59.99 pricepoint that is popular right now. Many of the competing brands at that level skimp on stuff the average consumer wouldn't know to check: lenses quality, optical clarity and frame quality. Instead they load up on great sounding features the consumer can readily see. On the long run, that hurts them because few people will buy a second pair. But in the short run it sells glasses.
I won't compromise lens quality, clarity or frame quality. Which puts us at a POP disadvantage since that means we have to offer fewer easily identifiable features. Shipping the product to Italy to have it printed as made in Italy costs a lot of money per pair. I had hoped that by skipping that step, we could reinvest in some improved features that have a real practical impact on the functionality of the eyewear and athlete's experience. But what I learned is that the Made in Italy stamp adds percieved value to the eyewear greater than any of the other features I was hoping to add.
Made in China clearly evokes some negative expectations. But my experience is that the factory is the key, not the country. The reality is Made in XXX is pretty meaningless: most of the Made in Italy products you buy are actually made in Brazil or China. Hell, most made in Taiwan stuff is made in China now (and no they aren't the same). And even at a given factory, it depends on the customers instructions. Yes, the Rite-Aid Special is a cheap pair of glasses. Low quality design, lenses, frame material, etc. But that's because the customer (Rite-Aid) wants to sell at the $5-12 price point. If they asked for better product, they could get it.
Also, those who know me know that I am an advocate of good eyewear. While I love our stuff, I am more concerned with getting people under good product in general. I believe in quality eyewear. Which is why most of the $60 and below price point stuff bug me. Because most of it (not all) keeps the cost down by skimping on core areas of eyewear that directly impact the functionality of the eyewear (kind like selling a car with a crappy engine but a lot of options). There is no magic way to reduce costs. Quality costs money, and reducing costs means reducing features.
But as frustrated as I get by that (because, at a fundamental level I feel it cheats the consumer by playing and *encouraging* their lack of optical knowledge) it also great because it has really challenged us to squeeze every last ounce of functionality out of our current cost basis. That's exciting for me, because I love design and finding solutions to challenges like that. And it's great for the consumer because it means a company like ours will step up and really try to deliver *quality* eyewear with a nice feature set in that pricepoint.