Editorial: Quality, responsibility and the right words

Mark Twain, one of America’s most quoted writers, had this to say about choosing one’s words: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.”

I sparked a little lightning with my October column, “The Customer Is Not Always Right,” by not choosing words carefully enough. While the column did generate some positive feedback, it also generated some negative response, which is to be expected when taking a stance on any issue.

In this case, I blurred the difference between will-fit and counterfeit and lumped them together as “substandard in quality and manufactured with little regard to safety and compliance.” I should have been more clear. Will-fit components have been a necessary part of the aftermarket for about as long as there has been an aftermarket. They have their place on distributor shelves and on customers’ vehicles, for those who choose them. Counterfeit parts are the result of stealing intellectual property, infringing on patents and knowingly bringing a product to market to deceive the customer. They have no place in the aftermarket.

My point then, as it is now, is that the marketplace bears the responsibility of doing what is right when it comes to sourcing and selling parts. I believe that the industry – from manufacturers to distributors to end users – are more aware of that now than ever before and are largely doing what is right. The reputable businesses do their due diligence when it comes to quality control.

The case of the New Jersey-based importer of Chinese-manufactured light-truck tires clearly shows the potential risks a business faces in today’s global market. Produced by China’s second largest tire manufacturer, the tires were alleged defective and blamed for two traffic fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered a recall of the approximately 450,000 suspect tires, for which the importer is responsible. Financially devastating, not to mention the potential liability for the accidents.

On a recent visit to one of the companies who took me to task on my October column, I saw the tools and processes this company used to source and test the products it manufactures and imports. During the tour, the vice president nicely expressed my intended point: We don’t sell products with our fingers crossed.

Can we all agree it is the distributor’s responsibility to sell value, to sell quality, to give every customer the best possible solution and support? Let’s hope so. After all, I would hate for lightning to strike twice.

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