The Lessons of Lobster

lobster 2I’d like to talk to you about lobster briefly.  What’s lobster got to do with manufacturing, you say?

Well, hear me out, because that odd little crustacean – and our unique relationship with it – may just hold an important lesson for us manufacturers.

I bring this up because there is something truly special about lobster. Whereas other foodstuffs, including meats like beef and pork, are commodities through and through, and as such experience price fluctuations that vary as the market dictates. Lobster, on the other hand, while still a commodity, never seems to be subjected to fickle marketplace whims like supply and demand.

lobster 3Consider; even though in the past decade the global supply of lobster has exploded, perhaps due to a warming of the waters in which it breeds, the retail price for lobster has not fluctuated accordingly. Even though a glut of lobster at the point of harvest has caused its wholesale price to plummet from around $6 a pound to just over $2 a pound, the retail price has remained steady, and in some cases actually risen.

What’s more, and far more important to my point, is that lobster is still perceived as a high end, highly coveted entrée that carries with it all sorts of implied value and social status.  To say one is eating lobster tonight is shorthand for saying that this evening I am sparing no expense in the pursuit of luxury.

lobster 4Why is that?  Well, that’s a complex question. And part of it, no doubt, has to do with the pricing strategy many restaurants employ. Listing lobster as “market priced” and not posting any set price on the menu, instills in it a certain allure and sense of mystery. And when products carry such things, price becomes more an emotional consideration than a microeconomic one.

In addition, having one item on the menu so much higher priced than the others, it makes all other entrees seem more affordable.  Plus, with the wholesale price so relatively low and the perceived value so high, it is possible to add new kissing-cousin items like lobster rolls, lobster mac ‘n cheese, lobster salad and lobster soup to the menu, and charge a premium for them, even though the inherent costs of such items is comparatively low.

But the fact remains that lobster has found a way to circumvent the whims of the marketplace and to rise above such otherwise bourgeois considerations as price.

lobster 6People buy lobster, and often don’t care what they pay for it, because in the end it has held its perceived value and remained a desired, coveted and even aspirational dinner option.

And how many of us, with manufactured goods to sell in an increasingly fickle global environment, wouldn’t benefit from that kind of relationship with our customers?

Yet, how do we achieve that kind of relationship?  By instilling in our products the kind of visceral, emotional value that lobster has.

And how do we do that?

Well, that too is a loaded question.  But we could start by being uncompromising in our pursuit of quality and relentless in our implementation of quality control.

lobster 7By providing service, maintenance and follow-up that goes beyond what is expected and regularly traffic in the unexpected, while testing the outer reaches of the customer’s sense of what’s possible on our end.

By standing behind our products fearlessly and with few, if any questions asked.

And by viewing any new sale or any new order as the highest form compliment in our sector, and by working to repay that gesture and show our gratitude for the balance of the life of that customer.

lobster 8The long and the short of it is, my friends, as manufacturers we need to start to find ways of instilling in our products the absolutely highest perceived value, and to get our customers viewing what we manufacture with their hearts as much as their minds.

Because once a sufficient number of companies in this country start doing that, and a sufficient number of companies start producing goods, products and components that build an emotional bond with them men and lobster 1women in charge of buying them, American manufacturers will have taken a giant step is making a Made in the USA label mean something much more than a rallying cry for those who would have us close our borders, bury our heads in the sand, and pretend the global market is simply a bad dream.

Enough companies do that, my friends, and I promise you; Made in America will suddenly mean as much to the global marketplace as a certain little crustacean still means to us.

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