31 May, 2012

On Quality and Product Development

We just received another box of samples and prototypes from several factories. Our agent consolidates these and overnights them to us every so often. Of the four items we've received recently, only one will make into our inventory. Product development is tricky business. If we can get 70% of our new projects to the point where functionality, quality, appearance, and price are up to snuff we're thrilled. The reality is that the figure is closer to 50%. Here are some recent examples.

An aluminum bell we wanted to import just didn't look good enough. Tone and durability were fine, but not appearance, so we'll drop that idea.

A leather saddle bag we have high hopes for needs more work, The opening is too low so items could fall out if not opened carefully. And the shape is not quite right as it rubs on our thighs. Re-design time, too bad since the quality is pretty darn nice.

A new VO chain guard with a cross-check pattern on it won't be produced because there is no way to get the pattern exactly right at reasonable cost. We'll give up on that one.

Another chain guard, however, looks fantastic and will be available in a few months.

We find that we're getting more concerned with quality every year and becoming ever more picky. And we continue to make little improvements with almost every production run.  I'm really proud of the quality of our fenders, for example. I feel that they are as good or better than any made. And the quality, strength, and durability of our racks stacks up against racks that cost twice as much. The same can be said of our brakes, seat post, and stems.

But it takes time and a lot of little, often unseen, improvements to get products to the point that they really are the best. Here's an example: Casey was testing VO Moderniste water bottle cages, actually pulling them apart to see where they would fail. He figured out that if we made a small change in the location of the butt-joint in the tubing, the cages would be a lot stronger. At the same time we're increasing the wall thickness of the tubing used by 0.2mm. We're actually having custom tubing drawn just for our cages. I'll bet not one of our customers would have noticed those two minor changes.  But the cages will be much more durable.


Anonymous said...

I commend you on the product improvement initiatives, even if it means delays getting things to market. You don't want your customers doing the testing for you. I definitely would have noticed the change to the bottle cages - i bent a couple of them to unusable status by getting my pant legs caught on them.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the update! i have been thinking about getting a chain guard, but will wait until the new design is in. though i kind of like the plain & simple look of the current one.

also glad to hear about the water bottle cages -- in fact, i just had one of my VO cages break on me over the weekend, on a particularly bumpy patch of gravel. the cage broke just below where it is welded to the mounting plate.

thanks again for designing and carrying the VO line of products. both of my bikes are heavily VO equipped, and i've definitely appreciated the aesthetics, functionality, and affordability of your products over the years.

dwainedibbly said...

Keep bringing the unique products to market! It sets VO apart. I'm really thrilled about the chain guard, by the way.

Anonymous said...

You all do make great products, and very unusual, but still practical ones. Is there any info on what the new chain guard(s) will be like? What about working with front/rear derailers? I like the porteur chaincase style, covering the chain fully near the cranks, but would love something like that for a derailer system.

James said...

It's cool to see new products come out that we all want to buy.

It's been a while since you asked for product ideas but a couple of the items I'd like to see are "classy" or vintage solutions to trying to use nice older vintage frames for modern use.

Lack of nice-looking options for frames without braze-ons is amazing. Plastic zip-ties and zip-tie like solutions don't cut it. they are ugly.

A nice metal strap that would simply hold a bottle cage instead of the horrible plastic solutions that are avialable would be awesome. Something that looks like the nice chrome-plated metal cable-routing clamps that Problem Solvers sells but with a bend that would go over the water bottle tabs and hold them in place. Sort of a classy hose-clamp that looks bike specific and sized for common frame tube sizes.

Also a pump boss for old-time larger frame pumps. The old FSA umbrella clamps can still be found on PayBay & still look nice but something that had a modern pointed tip to fit into the hole on the end of the pump would be awesome. Again, sized for the common tube sizes.

Captain Blight said...

In keeping with this idea, here's something that might sell: repros of the MAFAC integrated brake post washer/wheel guide. Not only would they fit on MAFAC, they would fit on *any* cantilever brake. I'm sure you could sell like ten thousand of them in a couple years.

How about a version of the Pass Hunter for rear mounting as a saddlebag support. Sorry, but I just don't trust the Bagman and its ilk, nor do I like its look.

And I've got to agitate for the re-introduction of the SunTour Command Shift levers, which could easily be engineered to work with Shimano. These things are the missing link to make half-step gearing sensible and accessible.