Q-Lab Corporation is a manufacturer of scientific chambers for testing the long term durability of paints and plastics that are exposed to sunlight and corrosion. They have achieved market success in their industry because of the rigorous adherence to a simple business philosophy: Old-fashioned Midwestern values.
It’s a philosophy Q-Lab President Doug Grossman learned from observing his father, company founder George Grossman. When George returned to civilian life after serving his country in the U.S. Air Corps, he began his career selling supplies and equipment to paint labs in the Cleveland area. Using a customer-first approach, George was always asking “What do you need that you can’t get from your current suppliers?” After customers responded that they needed a consistent, reproducible test surface, George founded Q-Panel Lab Products in 1956 to fulfill their need.
Why the "Q"? When designing his first test panels, George needed a way to place a logo on his product that would not be obscured when the lab technicians sprayed the panels with paint. He decided that a “Q” shaped hole would do the trick, and would represent the quality and quick delivery he wanted for his panels.
George took a hands-on approach to his business, running Q-Lab until 1985, when Doug took the helm. Since then, the company has grown from less than 20 employees to a powerful staff of over 250 experts in engineering, manufacturing, logistics and customer support. They serve over 5,000 high-tech customers in over 120 countries.
“With our manufacturing and corporate headquarters in Westlake, Ohio, we also now have offices in England, Germany, China, Florida and Arizona – that gives us the dynamism of a large multi-national company with a relatively small size that allows us to retain a human scale,” says Doug.
It was clear that old-fashioned values worked well when Q-Lab was a very small company. But the younger Grossman has found that it works equally well in a larger, growing company.
"My father was incapable of lying, or in fact any kind of deception,” says Doug. “And he hated raising prices. It turns out that business values like that are a superb way to build a base of long-term repeat customers.”
Honesty is truly valued at Q-Lab. If the company notices a mistake in its product or in an order, it will immediately alert the customer, even if the customer didn’t notice it themselves. And internally, employees are not reprimanded for honest mistakes so there is no incentive to hide a potential problem.
“The only person who never makes a mistake, is the person who isn’t doing any work. Embracing our mistakes is how we learn to become better,” says Doug.
All products and processes at Q-Lab are focused on the company’s long-term mission – Make Testing Simple for the Customer.
“Chemists and engineers purchase from us because our products make their lives better at their work. Their bosses approve those purchases because our products improve their company’s bottom line,” says Doug.
When designing high tech products like Q-Lab’s test chambers, one easily can be seduced by the desire to add layer upon layer of increasing complexity. But Q-Lab’s products are first and foremost designed for reliability and ease of use.
“We have a large engineering staff, and around 60% of their efforts are devoted to making our existing products more reliable and easier to use. The other 40% of their time is devoted to designing new features,” says Doug.
While conventional wisdom says a company should charge the highest price that the market will bear for its high-tech products and services, Q-Lab sets prices relatively low so that its customers always know they got their money’s worth. That has helped expand the market for Q-Lab’s products. Q-Lab sales people are also trained to recommend what’s best for the customer, even if it’s not what’s best for Q-Lab.
“I love it when I hear one of our sales team tell a prospect that he should buy a simpler, less expensive tester than what the prospect originally thought he wanted. It means we’ve proven ourselves worthy of that customer’s trust,” says Doug.
Q-Lab gives the same treatment to its parts and repair prices. Customers are often surprised to learn the company still stocks repair parts for testers sold as far back as the 1960s (even though it can be difficult to get a supply of these obsolete electromechanical components).
Furthermore, every Q-Lab tester is designed so that if needed, the customer can repair it themselves. The company recently launched RepairPedia, a unique online expert system that helps customers all over the world more easily troubleshoot their own testers.
While Q-Lab is focused on success, it looks at long-term, not quarterly, profits. Q-Lab has never bought into the prevailing fixation on quarterly profit figures, and never makes decisions based on the next quarter. Instead, all planning is done on a 3-year, 5-year, or even 10-year time horizon.
Despite its worldwide footprint, Q-Lab does all its manufacturing in Westlake, Ohio, where it was founded.
“The depth of talent and expertise in Northeast Ohio is unbeatable,” says Doug. “We’ve been everywhere, and we feel that for us, this is the best place in the world to manufacture. We’ve proven that our people can compete toe-to-toe with anyone on the planet.”
When hiring employees to join the Q-Lab team, the company selects for what it calls “Mission of Service.” That means employees who are inherently motivated to help others, whether those “others” are customers or colleagues at Q-Lab.
Q-Lab’s appreciation for those who help others also extends to the community. For the past 3 years, the company has hosted an appreciation day featuring a steak and seafood cookout at the company’s campus for Westlake police and fire personnel. The idea is to express gratitude for the brave men and women who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to keep the community safe.
Q-Lab has been working with McDonald Hopkins and tax and benefits attorney Jeffrey Consolo since 1983. “As Q-Lab grew and became more complex, we found that McDonald Hopkins has expertise in almost every area where we’ve had issues. They’ve given us effective help in employment law, real estate, litigation, M&A, business agreements, and retirement plan law. We’ve always found that the attorneys give us clear, sensible advice. They respond promptly, and they do a good job of working together," says Doug.