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Custom is as Custom Does

Tame your product customization process with help from Kurt B. Carr and Visual Manufacuturing

Dell Computers is the most famous example of a “have it your way” company that managed to grow large. Most customized product manufacturers fail to scale in any meaningful sense because they don’t accept that customized product manufacturing is just another competitive technique, a market segmentation strategy. Just as with any other market segmentation strategy, you are looking for markets that are large enough to serve efficiently and small enough to own.

The problem that many custom product manufacturers get themselves into is that they end up trying to serve thousands of Markets of One (from This is a very difficult strategy to sustain. The high cost of developing new customers and products can be overwhelming.

“Roll over Henry Ford. Today you can have any color you want…”
-- James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II

When serving extremely small markets, custom product manufacturers run the risk of devolving into a craft operation. A few years ago, I did some work with a company that manufactured custom equipment for industrial markets. Shortly before I started working with them, they shipped a machine to Asia. While it was still sitting in the port, a tow motor operator decided to customize the machine by driving a fork right through the control panel. Only the metal plate that held the switches needed to be replaced.

Unfortunately that turned out to be a huge problem. While they had delivered thousands of machines with the same basic control panel, none of them were exactly the same! Because the company’s craft-based manufacturing mindset, each control panel was laid out and manually cut by an assembler. No two were alike.

To fix this machine, a technician flew to Asia where he measured the damaged panel. When a new panel was created to the correct dimensions, the technician flew back to install it!

In addition to creating these types of problems, the craft approach to manufacturing does not scale. You can’t grow your company because the individual skills and experience required to be good at any job are nearly impossible to learn. A new hire has to grow into or reinvent the position. You will never be able to hire and train enough people to do the jobs needed to grow (or merely sustain) your company unless you leave the craft mindset behind.

Sometimes the failure to take a disciplined approach to delivering customized products is the result of an “anything for a buck mentality”, a willingness to take any job that promises to pay next month’s electric bill. More frequently, it is an artifact of the way that the company grew to its current size. However it developed, the craft mindset is a recipe for failure or, at best, for creating a squib company; one that never really grows or becomes magical.

I can help your company develop a disciplined approach to delivering customized products in a fashion that satisfies your markets and allows your company to grow. I am Kurt B. Carr and I have years of experience in teaching companies how to use Visual Enterprise as a tool to operate effectively and achieve success. Call (941.776.3830) or email me today to improve the way that you handle customization.

I can help...

  Carr Enterprises is not affiliated with Infor Global Solutions.

Quotes on these pages are for illustrative and entertainment purposes only and are used under the fair-use doctorine of U.S. Copyright law. Absolutely no endorsement of Carr Enterprises services should be implied from use of the quote.
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Contact Kurt Carr at:   or:    941.776.3830