Small Business Lessons for Putting the Spotlight on Quality and Value

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Every business needs to pay attention to quality and value. And even the tiniest micro-enterprise can learn lessons from a bigger corporation about using these factors to build and enhance their brands. That’s why we sat down with Scott Young, senior vice president of product and business development at Staples, who is responsible for Staples® Brand Group, to talk about how his team ensures that every product bearing the Staples® brand name is high-quality and delivers good value.

Whether your business is large or small, whether you sell goods or services, you’ll find valuable insights and actionable ideas that apply to you.

How do you define "quality" and “value”?

Scott: We know that quality means different things to different customers, but overall, we define “quality” as intelligently designed to meet or exceed customer expectations of value. Value is the relationship between quality, features, price and service. We’re going to make sure we match up features, materials and design against the relative products in the market and deliver better prices for those same features and design. And service is also a component. Of course, some customers want the features and benefits they want at a fair price. But for other customers, value may mean the ability to get something right now, or to order online, or to have a standing order.

We group our products into three broad categories: Differentiated products, which offer a unique set of features and higher quality than other name brands. Examples would be our Better® binder or OneTouch™ stapler and our licensed products, such as Martha Stewart, Teen Vogue and Nickelodeon. Next would be our national-brand equivalents, which are benchmarked in terms of features against national brands and priced more economically. Examples of these include Staples® brand paper, envelopes and writing tools. Finally, we have our entry-price product, which is designed to be competitive with opening-price products available on the market, and which provide the lowest total cost to customer for the applicable product set.

Lesson for Small Businesses: Customers want to feel like they’re getting the most quality for their money. “In my experience, the quality and value of a service, product or brand will always trounce the price,” says Brandon Seymour, owner of Beymour Consulting, an SEO, content marketing and Web development company in Boca Raton, FL. “As a business, whether you're buying printer toner or hiring a Web design company, cutting corners could wind up costing you more than you would have spent if you had chosen quality over cost the first time around.”

How do you decide which products to offer under the Staples® brand name?

Scott: We do a lot of research around customer needs and the features and products that meet those needs. Our own brand products make up an increasingly large percentage of many categories, and we want to address the needs of customers looking for high-value Staples-brand product. Also, we have an extremely strong brand in our core categories and a brand which can be extended to many of our new emerging categories, so we want to leverage that brand strength as we work on new Staples-brand products. Then, when we’re designing, we constantly test to make sure the product actually delivers on those needs. We also watch trends closely for other ideas. For example, our line of Sustainable Earth products is a response to increased environmental awareness and customer demand for products that are more earth-friendly.

Lesson for Small Businesses: The more you know about your customers, the more relevant product or service options you can offer. “Understand your customers’ lives — you need to know their lives to serve their lives,” explains Los Angeles–based customer service expert Jeanne Bliss, author of I Love You More Than My Dog: Five Decisions that Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad. “Understand what they are going through, what they are trying to accomplish. Think of your business and interactions with customers as the opportunity to create an indelible memory by improving their lives. This memory creation is the currency of your brand.”

Why offer price match and customer satisfaction guarantees?

Scott: They illustrate our value and quality commitments. The Staples Price Match Guarantee and our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee give customers the comfort that they’re saving money and time while getting a quality product. They don’t have to worry.

Lesson for Small Businesses: Price and quality guarantees create trust in and increase loyalty to your business. “Frequently replacing things that don't work or stop working can be prohibitively expensive,” says James Bregenzer, owner of Bregenzer Group, a Chicago-based private equity and capital management firm. “The smart business owner will buy things like appliances and other essential, expensive equipment from stores with a satisfaction guarantee.” Same for pricing, says Laguna Beach, CA–based interior designer Danielle Tarango. “Price matching is wonderful because the truth is, I am like most consumers and I generally practice both brand loyalty as well as loyalty to the retailer. If I know I can get the brand I want at the lowest price guaranteed, I will always buy it from the retailer that offers the best customer service.”

The attention to quality, value and service seems to be paying off for the Staples® brand.

Scott: Yes, and that’s not just me saying so. Every company is biased in its marketing. They’ll tell you the positives. But actual customer feedback is an independent review. I’m really proud that Staples® brand products have the highest customer ratings in so many of our core categories.

Lesson for Small Businesses: Customer reviews help customers make better buying decisions, and help others promote your business. “By providing me with quality products and great value, you will ensure that I return and do business with you time and time again, and I will also make sure to recommend you to others,” says Jeff Zelaya, manager of Triblio, a content marketing platform developer in Reston, VA. That’s why Bliss says building a reliable customer experience is the best growth strategy for small businesses. “If a customer can’t tell another customer — whether you’re a business-to-business or business-to-consumer company — what they get from you, how they receive it and how they feel, then you won’t earn the right to their recommendation and referral,” she says.

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