Cheeseburger lessons for UK manufacturing
At a typical high street fast food restaurant chain, you’ll pay in the order of £4.50 for a decent sized cheeseburger with fries and a soft drink. My local slightly more upmarket high street eatery wanted to charge me £12.50 for much the same meal. Granted you pay a premium for an upmarket ambience, but given that fries are fries and the soft drink was straight out of a bottle, most of the product differentiation was going to have to come in the cheeseburger itself, so I was intrigued to find out what the chef would do to raise his product above the lower cost option. And ‘raise’ turned out to be bang on the money, because what really set this cheeseburger apart was its height.
With a huge bun, layers of slaw, lettuce, tomato, cheese, bacon, relish and the burger itself (just the one burger, mind), this beast stood almost six inches high and needed a skewer down the centre to hold it together. It certainly looked impressive, but – and this was a big but – how on earth were you expected to eat it?
I squashed it down as far as possible, but even then there was no way I was going to get a full bite of everything in one go. From the bottom up, I could have a bite of bun with a bit of slaw, lettuce and tomato; from the top down I could have a bite of bun, a mouthful of cheese and bacon with a nibble of burger. I suppose I could have taken it all apart, but then what you’ve got is a grilled slab of meat with a side salad and a bread roll. Tasty, I’m sure, but not what I ordered.
Battling through, what I ended up with was a mucky mouth, gunk on my fingers, relish down my shirt and slaw on my trousers. All things considered, I’d rather have sacrificed the ambience and gone for the £4.50 option. Granted, the upmarket cheesburger came with a detailed description on the menu concerning the high quality of the ingredients, where they were sourced, how they were farmed, etc. But increasingly these days the fast food restaurant chains will offer much the same promise, so as a differentiator it’s dead in the water. In short, I was not lovin’ it.
A classic case, then, of a business looking for a competitive advantage to justify a higher purchase price, second guessing the customer’s expectations, and getting it completely wrong. Whatever area of business we are in, there will always be a competitor product that sells on price and price alone. The rest of us have to define our USPs and establish where we can add value. But that has to be based on genuine customer requirements; not second guessing the customer or playing with technology for technology’s sake. Do those clever functions and features really add value if nobody ever needs or uses them?
We also have to bear in mind that the low cost options don’t stand still. They keep on getting better and better until, suddenly, what you thought was a differentiator for your own product actually becomes commonplace, run of the mill, a basic expectation.
With low cost and increasingly capable products coming in from the low wage economies, UK businesses surely have to focus on the high value end of the manufacturing sector, building on design excellence and making advanced products in the most efficient way possible – products that genuinely address end user requirements.
Mark Simms Editor