What’s in a (brand) name?

Perception – the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.

I spend a fair amount of my free time catching up on worldwide trends in the machine tool industry, using overseas magazines, the University of Google and some internet forums.

I came across a thread on an American forum, where a well-known factory manager, from a well-known company was asking advice on which mid-range machine tool he should buy. He had narrowed the list down to six machines. When I read the list I was surprised at the brand names he considered mid-range. Five of the names on his shortlist, I perceived to be high-end and there was only one brand name I perceived as mid-range. What also struck me was there was one brand name missing from his list of what I considered to be the peers of my high end range (his mid-range).

Interestingly enough I wasn’t the only one whose perceptions were misguided and someone asked about the missing brand name. His reply, I consider that a low-range machine!
Turns out that one can’t choose a machine by its brand name anymore, you have to choose it by its series.

Let’s use cars as an example. We can buy a low-end, mid-range and high end car from the same manufacturer, but it would be a mistake to think that the low-end car (read cheaper) from that manufacturer would be the same as a mid-range car from another manufacturer that doesn’t have the same high end car (and hence luxury brand name), as the first manufacturer. The mid-range car from the perceived lesser manufacturer would be much better than the low-end car from the perceived high end brand name.

It’s a little more complicated with machine tools as many high end brand names are manufacturing machines in lesser factories and using their branding to keep prices high.
So back to the original story, this manager chose a VX series from a high end Japanese brand name, well aware that the machine was made in a factory in Taiwan and the only part that came from the Japanese factory was the spindle. He was also aware that if he wanted the exact same machine, with better linear rails, couplings, castings, etc., he needed to order (at triple the cost) the VPlus from Japan. He had no perceptions of the brand name, he understood exactly what he was buying and from where. He’s also well aware he could have bought exactly the same machine from the same Taiwanese factory for 10% less, but he knew the spindle was worth the 10% premium. He didn’t pay 10% more for the brand name he paid 10% more for the spindle. His words to me, “I would have been fired for spending 10% more on a brand name, when I know the machines are identical”

In South Africa we are too focused on brand names and we let this cloud our judgment. We need to understand exactly what we are buying, where it is made and what it offers over similarly priced units. Don’t immediately say “XYZ” is a high-end brand, as this is not true anymore. Look into what components (especially the moving ones) are used in the machine, where these components are manufactured, where the machine is assembled and tested. Look at application support, spare parts availability and service support. These are far more important than saying I own an “XYZ”.

We need to become savvy buyers, not fashionistas. In our industry, there’s very little in a name anymore.

This is the viewpoint of Steven Andrews, Technical and Sales Director at EDM Shop, who holds a Mechanical Engineering degree from Wits University.