Page 1: What is quality?
Most businesses operate in competitive markets: they have to 'take on' and 'see off' rivals. Each organisation must decide for itself how best to try and do this. Not all firms come up with the same answer and for good reason. Firstly, there are several different ways of gaining competitive advantage. Secondly, businesses need to play to their strengths and not all businesses have the same strengths. Thirdly, many markets are segmented and what is important to one set of customers may be less important to another set. So businesses need to decide which segments of the market they are targeting. Ways of seeking to gain competitive advantage include:
- offering lower prices
- offering clearly superior products at above avaerage prices
- delivering products more quickly
- offering superior customer service, including after sales service.
This case study focuses on how Portakabin has set about gaining a competative advantage in the hire and sale of temporary or permanent accommodation by concentrating on quality.
Portakabin has positioned its products at the top end of the market: it looks to provide high levels of quality at premium prices.
Quality is associated with consistency. A customer who is happy with the first buying experience needs and wants to be equally happy on each further occasion. Portakabin has the motto 'Quality - this time - next time - every time'.
The company believes that clients who really care about quality are willing to pay that bit more to obtain it and see 'the extras' as worth the additional expense. Today the company operates in a range of European countries as well as the UK.
What is quality?
Quality relates to 'appropriate use': how well a product does what it is intended to do.
Portakabin's 'Ultima' building illustrates quality well. The Ultima specification includes:
- modern design
- high quality materials
- layout and fitting of the building to clients' requirements
allied to :
- rapid construction
- a smart modern working environment
- an image that reflects the status of the client.
The 'appropriate use' quality comes from two sources. One is internal to the company. Portakabin has developed its range of buildings around its own market research, which discovers customers' precise needs. The company knows how important it is to offer optional extras, such as high quality carpeting, fitted furnishings and climate control systems to provide a quality working environment. Simultaneously being able to offer not only the building but also the aforementioned accessories, gives the customer a quality 'one-stop-shop' service.
The other source of quality control is external e.g. national building requirements and standards. Portakabin's products, whether interim or permanent, comply fully with all appropriate building regulations. They also meet the demands of ISO 9001: Quality Management Systems. This is an internationally recognised standard which acts as a form of guarantee that everything the company does is managed to the highest quality standards.
The group's Quality Systems Manager (QSM) is responsible for ensuring that Portakabin has in place systems that guarantee quality throughout the Group. To manage quality, the QSM has created an electronic system that all PCs throughout the whole company can access. One of the system's key features is the 1-page Quality Manual that defines the requirements of the Quality Management System. This is easy to communicate both within the organisation and also to customers.