Kevin’s Quality ?? Clothespins…

I have been doing some serious thinking on a subject that has been very important to us here at Lady and the Carpenter…Quality. BUT… What does that mean and how does it relate to what we do and the decisions we make?

 (This is going to be a long read. I am hoping that you will bear with me and most importantly you will leave some feedback in the comments. I am willing to beg, I just don’t enjoy it)

Pug Begging

Pug Begging

Before I get back to the quality question let me share some background…

Kevin’s Quality Clothespins was starting with two basic premises: 1. The clothespin had to hold clothes on the line well and 2. they had to last for a long time.

So we worked from what we knew, we built from what we had and most importantly we listened to every comment. Now I have to be honest, we have made and shipped many thousands of clothespins in the continental US and overseas. Most people never say a word positive or negative. So we carefully watched the returning customer percentages which stayed within manufacturing norms and from that we deduced that most things were okay. Once in awhile we would get a suggestion and after some carefully deliberation we would either incorporate it into the business plan or log it for later and move on with the day.

Many things have come up for discussion. Nothing has been held as sacred…but here are some details.

 Things like wood use…  Maple or walnut or hemlock or …… Those are preference decisions. In my neck of the world maple is a renewable resource and every property has at least one maple tree on it. Okay not every property…but I have made a lot of sawdust.

funny logging picture

Things like mouth opening distance, now that is a number that matters. Many people are using hardwood clothesline holders and most of those use a 7/16 dowel. If I can keep the mouth opening above 1/2 inch life is good.

Zebra mouth opening

Things like spring strength and material are almost nonnegotiable. Stainless steel is a no-brainer for material due to its rust resistant properties. The size of the spring is a important discussion because the thicker the spring…the stronger it will grip. However, you have to watch the trade-off.  Some of the people who will be using our clothespins do not have the hand strength that I have. I can get a spring made that will hold the tidy whities in a Level 3 Hurricane but you will need a hydraulic tool to operate the clothespin. That might be a little overkill. The other side of that coin is the crap coming out of China that follows apart when you look at it funny.

hurrican pics

Where is this conversation leading? Back to the question:  Is Quality a perception, an expectation, or a minimum set of features?

I ask because out of the tens of thousands clothespins that we have shipped there has been less than 5 complaints. I know it is 5 because I took every single one very seriously. It takes 15-20 happy customers to get a referral and it takes 1 unhappy customer to ruin 10 sales.

Two of the complaints I wrote off as anomalies. I don’t think that the two people were related to each other but they had the same thought process. To them quality was about duplicating precision. I got detailed emails with supporting documents that showed exactly where the halves of each clothespin were different from each other. They measured each half with a micrometer and lamented the differences. But, much to my amazement, I was within +/-  1/64 of an inch. That is a 15 thousands variance. Its just enough that you would feel a slight change if they were placed side by side.  Questions: Does that variance show in the final product? Does it change the performance of the clothespins?

Let me explain…I say I am amazed because I run hundreds of board feet of lumber every week; some for clothespins and the rest for other projects. I can setup a machine and run two similar boards and get two different results from the same setup. Why? because wood is organic. It reacts with every change you make to it. Some species will swell after cutting which would make them thicker  than I intended. (Maple is devilish for motion.) I can plane a 10″ wide board and make it perfectly flat and parallel. I then set it on the workbench, go inside for a drink of  water and when i come back in less than 10 minutes that same board is cupped by 1/2″. Some days I think that making clothespins out of maple is like herding cats. if they would hold still for just a moment everyone would be happier.

cat herding

The other three complaints were due to manufacturing processes that were defective and fixed immediately. Two where the linseed oil had puddled on the pin and dried on the outside but was still wet on the inside of the puddle. It transferred oil onto their garments. We made it right by the customer. We fixed the problem…I no longer install oil in temperatures less than 45 degrees and we wipe off the excess oil before letting them air dry. The third complaint was that the pins were rougher in texture then they were expecting. I again made it right by the customer and changed the grading process along with upgrading some of the machines to produce a smoother product.

I bring you this long diatribe to set the ground work for what is coming. A customer has brought me an idea that is worth exploring but before I do….

I need to know….. What is quality to you? and What makes a quality clothespin?

PLEASE give us your input in the comments. This is invaluable information for us. Thank you for all you do.

What is the idea? Give me a couple of days to roll out Part 2.



A.K.A. The Screwy Carpenter