Lighting manufacturers are lowering their prices for basic halogen torchiere, but product defects are on the rise as a result. The most common defects are in the bulb and the dimmer, so if manufacturers use higher quality parts, the number of returns decreases. About 95% of all halogen lamps are made in China, and prices have fallen to as little as $9.99. The average defective rate is 6% to 12%.
The result is inferior quality
NEW YORK–As retail prices fall on the basic halogen torchiere–in some cases to $9.99–manufacturers and retailers are cutting corners on the product, its packaging and marketing. The result is inferior quality, high return rates and more money lost on an already tight-margin product.
The quality issue and subsequent return rate is a bone of contention among vendors and retailers, because many retailers insist on liberal product-return policies that force the vendors to absorb the lion’s share of the costs.
To avert some of their losses, importers of the product–wholesalers and retailers alike–have called for changes in production, quality control and other areas.
To keep costs down, vendors in recent years have begun to move production to China from Taiwan, where wages have been rising. But that puts a less-experienced work force on the job.
Nearly 95 percent of all halogen torchieres are being made in China, according to vendors.
The metal pole has a thinner wall; the base weight is lighter
Vendors have tried to squeeze everything they can out of the product to cut costs: The metal pole has a thinner wall; the base weight is lighter; fittings are plastic rather than metal; the acrylic part of the globe is exchanged for plastic; the electric cord is shortened. But, there’s a point at which the halogen torchiere can’t be made any cheaper.
“You’re still dealing with a lamp, with electricity, with potential liability,” says Michael Perillo, executive vice president of Dana Lighting. “You can’t ignore what that lamp does.”
“The more you take out, the more you develop a cause for return,” says Michael Dene, president of L.A. Concepts. Dene makes the distinction between defects–malfunctioning or marred products caused by the manufacturing process–and damages–scratches, blown bulbs, torn boxes and other problems caused in transit.
“Defective and return and damages are all synonymous with what goes back to the manufacturer,” Dene asserts. But that’s the name of the game with commodity goods, vendors say.
“Ten percent of all volume in U.S. in portables is done on the single-pole torchiere. It’s common sense that it will create the biggest amount of returns,” Dene says.
L.A. Concepts replaced the problematic dimmer with the “high-low-high” switch, which is used on two-thirds of their production. “Since we’ve been shipping the high-low-high switch, which is seven to 10 months, it has brought down our return rate at least 25 percent,” Dene says.
“It’s a matter of finding the right components,” a mass merchant buyer comments. “We make sure there’s a quality bulb and dimmer. As long as you don’t cheapen those, you’ll be all set.”
All manufacturers boast of quality inspection teams–either their own or independent–that pick up errors at the factory. Many have set up offices in China with trained personnel. “You have to catch [defects] on the front-end and cut your losses upfront,” one vendor offers.
Cheyenne, for example, has offices in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, and a Chinese-educated quality control officer from Arkansas who travels between the factories for 10 months out of the year.
Says David Wooten, vice president: “We reject more than anyone out there. That’s why our pricing won’t be as sharp. We have a lot of monitoring that others don’t.”
The most problematic are the dimmer and bulb. “The large majority of returned merchandise is because of a blown bulb,” explains Norman Schimmel, president of Tensor Corp. Tensor has packaged a replacement bulb in with the lamp, and put explicit directions on the packaging to explain how to change a bulb.
Other vendors pack a swatch of soft fabric or other protective device to prevent the oil from the consumer’s fingers from damaging the bulb.
Packaging is another area that can cut down on damages. “You have to make sure it’s in styrofoam packaging and packed in a master carton,” says the buyer. “If you can control the quality of the lamp and the bulb and the dimmer and pack it right, you control your defect rates and help the bottom line. We try to keep it low–there’s no money in [the torchiere] in the first place.”
Several vendors have backed out of the halogen game altogether, and sell torchieres with an incandescent bulb.
“People believe that it’s such a simple product, it should be high-volume, low-cost–but it’s just the opposite,” comments Bob Pape, president of Kenroy Lighting. “Everyone articulates the need to get away from this, but when you look at it, very few are, really.”