Quality underpins everything we do here at Harrison. We caught up with some of the members of our quality team recently to find out more about their work, our company’s approach to quality and the main quality-related challenges facing the retail industry.
Liam Naran is Harrison’s Senior Quality and Compliance Officer. On a typical day, his works involves a mixture of data gathering, investigation and general quality control activities.
“I’ll start by looking at anything that’s a top priority to the business,” he explains. “If any issues have been reported, I’ll open an investigation if I need to and begin pulling some data together for that.
“I’ll then look at any products that may be coming in on order and whether any quality assurance inspection needs to be performed on these types of items. We do have certain known products that are quality-sensitive where audit inspection is routinely required.”
Working on compliance documentation is another regular part of Liam’s role. “These may be documents relating to accreditations like ISO 9001 or quality control Standard Operating Procedures for the business.”
But, when it comes down it, what is quality? How do we measure it and what steps are we taking to ensure that our products and services are delivered to the highest of standards?
Mark Adams has overall responsibility for quality at Harrison and believes that a holistic approach of embedding quality principles into each part of the business is fundamental to building long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Perceptions of quality
“The question of how to define quality is an interesting one to consider. We support a wide variety of customers and clients at Harrison, across a range of industries and countries around the world, and everyone perceives and understands quality in a slightly different way. For us though, it falls into two main categories: quality of product and quality of service.
Quality of product is, fundamentally, how good a product actually is. Has it been finished to a high standard? Has it been produced to the required specifications? Will it fulfil its purpose? If the answers to these questions are positive then the product can be said to be of a high quality. Steps like sample approvals, prototype testing and first-off production inspection are all ways to help ensure that these high quality standards are met each time.
Quality of service is much broader. It encompasses not only the support that we provide to customers after a product has been purchased, but also how they interact with our business throughout the whole customer journey. The impact and effectiveness of our communications, messaging, imagery and online presence are all part of the quality of our service.
Quality versus specification
One of the most important distinctions to make is the difference between quality and specification. Simply put, specification is how sophisticated a product is and it takes into account everything from a product’s material and dimensions to its features and finishes. Quality is about adherence to that specification.
So whether you have a simple stock product made from low-grade materials or a complex bespoke product made via innovative emerging technology, the quality of these two products should be identical, zero defects. Communicating this effectively to our customers helps to reassure them that a lower specification doesn’t mean lower quality.”
Quality challenges in the retail industry
Sustainability is one of the biggest challenges facing the retail industry both generally and in terms of quality too. Retailers across the board are under pressure to reduce their plastic use and to recycle what they do use. However, maintaining the required levels of quality and specification while switching to sustainable alternatives represents a significant challenge.
The maturity of the recycling economy and attitudes towards sustainability vary dramatically around the world. Some markets haven’t embraced recycling to the same degree as others and this includes a number of major supplier locations. There can be an absence of reliable, recycled raw material streams in these countries, making it difficult for companies to source sustainable raw materials that have the same level of consistent quality as their less sustainable counterparts. This is an industry-wide issue.
It’s a situation that requires careful management and the prioritisation of quality over cost. At Harrison we’re finding ways to be commercially innovative in order to deliver sustainability whilst maintaining our competitive market position.
Packaging is another major area where quality problems can be experienced. Given the prevalence of overseas shipping and the number of steps that can be involved in any supply chain, it’s not surprising that shipments run the risk of getting damaged in transit. This can have cost, quality and reputational implications for any company.
Proactive attention to packaging design at an early project stage and close collaboration with our supply chain can help to mitigate these issues. However incidents of damaged goods are occasionally encountered, necessitating a willingness to quickly address and resolve any problems to the satisfaction of the customer or client.
Quality challenges in the retail industry
Building quality into our processes
Mark’s team are part of a much wider company focus on quality that goes beyond the product.
“Here at Harrison, we aspire to a quality-first culture. Each member of the team should embrace the value that quality is of the utmost importance and seek to build quality into every area of our business.
In terms of product development, we include pro-active quality planning at every stage. This allows us to identify any issues and address them then and there, rather than unconsciously passing them onto the next step in the process. It’s about asking the right questions at the right time and learning from the lessons of the past.”
Ensuring supplier quality
“We source products from all over the world through our global supplier network. Before a new supplier joins that network, we’ll assess their quality procedures and ensure that their management values are compatible with ours. We’ll also review their international accreditations and references from other customers to ensure we can have full confidence in their approach to quality.
Advances in digital technology give us the opportunity to maintain a close relationship with our suppliers regardless of where they’re based. Virtual factory tours, regular video conference calls and shared documentation are all ways in which we can collaborate remotely and address any quality-related issues promptly and effectively.
Additionally, we carry out regular product audit reviews with our suppliers to ensure that the quality of their products remains consistent. This allows us to be confident that the product they’re supplying a year down the line is identical to the product that was originally signed off for production.”
The first thing that a potential customer looks for in a supplier is a quality accreditation. We hold ISO 9001 certification, which demonstrates our ongoing commitment to a quality management system. A robust and functional QMS is the foundation for consistently providing products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements. ISO 9001 is based on a number of quality management principles including a strong customer focus, the motivation and engagement of senior management, a process-oriented approach and continuous improvement.
Sustainability sits alongside quality as one of Harrison’s main priorities and so we also hold ISO 14001 certification. This accreditation maps out a framework that a company or organisation can follow to set up an effective environmental management system and underpins the steps we’re taking to reduce our environmental impact while maintaining our high-quality levels.
We are a certified carbon reduced operation, and are continuing to work at measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of our direct operations. Our commitment to continually improve our business practices and corporate social responsibility management, has also recently earned us a Gold EcoVadis Sustainability Rating.
It’s clear that there are lots of perspectives and factors to take into account when it comes to overseeing and understanding quality. But for our Senior Quality and Compliance Officer Liam and his day-to-day work at Harrison, it ultimately all comes down to two main aims.
“My role is about ensuring that we supply the best quality products to our customers that we can,” he concludes. “And ensuring that the relationships we have with our customers and suppliers are the best that they can be.”