I was in a hotel one morning and as I was putting sugar in my coffee, I came up with the idea for this column. If you read the writings of a frequent contributor of virtually any publication, I bet that one time or another, sooner or later, you wonder how the author continues to come up with ideas for columns, month after month. I’m always thinking. So, for me, I come up with ideas all the time and those ideas are sparked by an infinite array of triggers. This column was triggered by sugar in my coffee.

When I pour coffee into a standard size mug, I put 4 packets of sugar into it as well. I know that I have just made some of you nauseous and some of you are thinking things like; “Hey Don, do you like a little coffee in your sugar” and other such ‘wise guy’ remarks, but bear with me for a minute. I have a point to make.

It used to be that a packet of sugar contained “one level teaspoon.” And it said so on the package. It doesn’t say that anymore and has not, actually, for years. It also used to be true that a pound of coffee actually weighed, well, 1 pound. It doesn’t, and has not for years. When a packet of sugar contained a teaspoon of sugar, I used 2 of them. When I actually bought a pound of coffee — a real 16 oz pound — it went 25-30% further than it goes now. The people that sell these items — arguably — aren’t deceiving you. It says “13 oz” on the coffee can and it doesn’t say “1 level teaspoon” on the sugar packet. No deception involved, but perhaps a clue that prices haven’t gone up as sharply as they actually have. I haven’t a clue what a restaurant pays for a case of sugar packets now or what they paid for them in the old days.

My point is that they are giving you less. They may want to fool you for as long as they can, but in reality, they have reduced what you get and charged you more for it.

  1. Are you doing that with your shirts?
  2. Have you stopped replacing buttons to keep the costs of a button inventory and a button machine out of the equation?
  3. Have you stopped repairing your shirt equipment because the parts are too expensive?
  4. Have you reduced the wages of your employees so that you can charge less for shirts or so that you can make more profit?
  5. Have you begun to under-portion your detergent with the hopes that customers won’t notice the shirts getting a little bit dingier month after month?
  6. Have you stopped using the collar cone because the light bulb burned out and replacing it simply isn’t in the budget?
  7. Have you quit replacing pads and covers with the knowledge that customers never see that shredded cover or blown-out air bag.
  8. Have you quit attending trade shows, seminars or peer-group meetings because they offer no value?
  9. Have you started to stuff 10 shirts into a poly bag to keep that supplies budget in line?
  10. Have you quit using hot water, arguing that you are simply flushing it down the drain?
  11. Have you become an innovator and decided to reuse mark-in tags by simply hand-writing a new number on the back of the old one?

My bet is that you haven’t done a single one of these things. In fact, you have continued to do everything that you have always done in order to be certain that your customers get the same thing that have always received from you. Yet, because of the pressures from the world around us, we drag our feet when it comes to raising prices. I submit that this is because we aren’t prepared to explain why, if and when we are approached.

The reasons why are simple. It continually costs more and more to maintain our desired level of service and quality, regardless of how high or how low our standard may be. Absorbing that costs — even once — can have deadly consequences.

If we are resistant to increasing prices, we, in turn fear that our customers view rising prices like we do. We have become an industry of survivors. This may have come about because we view one supplier as pretty much the same as his competitor. Both sell hangers that do the same thing. I’ll buy the cheaper one. Both sell poly. What’s the difference? I’ll buy the cheaper one. You’ll buy a truck load of things from the catalog because you’ll save a bundle. As a direct result, we assume that our customers will go elsewhere to save a dollar here and there.

You may be quick to insist that they will. Although in my heart of hearts, I want to disagree, let’s go with your thought that they will drop you without a second thought. You must believe that when they visit your competitor they will notice a difference. What kind of a difference will it be? You have control over this if you think about it for a minute. If you fear that your customer will be more pleased with your competitor than they are with you, then you really need to raise your standards, don’t you think? Maybe your “packet of sugar” no longer contains “one level teaspoon.”

“If you do what you’ve done, you’ll get what you always got.”