When I was a kid, the rumor was that if you bought a McLaren F1 (technically categorized as a “sports car,” but that doesn’t do it justice), they would custom build the center seat to your body. This is the car that was a three-seater, with the driver position in the center. THE CENTER! That was incredible. Not only would they custom fit the seat to your body, but you had to sign a contract promising to drive it at least 10,000 miles per year, and that “Mr. McLaren” would personally come to check the odometer to confirm that you were holding up your end of the deal. How cool is that! Not only is the driver seat in the middle, but it is such a work of art that the manufacturer needed you to sign a contract promising that you were actually going to use it and not just keep it in your garage. It was like you were buying a prize stallion, and you had to promise the breeder that you were going to let him out to run, not just put him out to stud. I couldn’t comprehend who would buy a car for the sole purpose of driving around. I needed a car to get to school or pick up groceries. You could not pick up groceries in a McLaren F1. Could you imagine some little kids playing with a shopping cart in the parking lot and denting your $1M+ car?!
Naturally, this memory made me think of AV systems.
I had put together a nice little system for a college. It was a very simple divisible classroom. I had chosen a couple of presentation switchers that supported all the sources they required. It had a few spare inputs. The audio was adequate for a classroom. It met all their needs very well, and it did so relatively inexpensively. If I’m being honest, I was kind of proud of myself that I was able to pack so much functionality into such a tiny price tag, and everything we reviewed at the programming meeting was addressed. So, I sent them the proposal and couldn’t wait for the reply.
Granted, the proposal was for a Toyota minivan of AV systems. The entire family fit. It was safe. It rode well. There was very little sex appeal, but it had like 20 cup holders! However, the customer wanted a McLaren. Instead of an entry-level presentation switcher, they wanted the bigger model with all the bells and whistles. Instead of an Energy Star amplifier that would deliver classroom-level audio (70dB-SPL, A-weighted with 10dB of undistorted headroom), they wanted an amplifier that was ridiculously overpowered for the system. Instead of modest program loudspeakers to distribute seldom-used presentation audio from instructors, they wanted theater-quality, full-range loudspeakers. In one respect, this is a dream client. In another respect, they are wasting the college’s money since these capabilities will never be used.
I later found out that a relative of some dean had provided a quote for the classroom system with these devices included. He had thoroughly convinced the dean that these overkill devices were necessary, but his price to provide them was astronomical. That’s why my contact had asked me to revise my proposal. Due to the politics of the situation, he couldn’t change the bill of materials because the dean “needed” them. However, colleges can always get a second price.
Here’s my problem though: There is nothing wrong with suggesting the McLaren to someone who just needs a Toyota. If they are willing to pay for the McLaren while being aware that there are Toyota options available to them, they are informed buyers. In this case, their needs would have been met and exceeded with the more expensive equipment. My design would have met their needs. I am not sure which is better.
Quality-minded companies suggest that meeting needs should be the goal. In business, we have contracts that state what will be provided by the vendor, and when provided, the client will pay a certain amount. If needs are exceeded, someone (either the client or the vendor) paid too much. Either the client paid too much for equipment and services that will not be used to their full potential, or the vendor paid too much in time and resources to provide extra services outside the contract.
Sometimes, however, paying too much for a service feels good. From the sage advice of Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle at the Pawnee Parks & Rec Department, sometimes you just gotta “Treat Yo’ Self!”
Seriously, though, spending an exorbitant amount on a flagship divisible classroom to draw students could be a wise investment. However, this flagship status should be mentioned as a need during programming so everyone is on the same page. (In my college example, it was not.) Likewise, going above and beyond a contract to keep an important client happy might ruin the profits for that single job, but improve the relationship leading to more work in the future (lose the battle to win the war). This makes sense, as long as you are aware of it. It does not make sense to spend outlandish amounts of money on all your classrooms; nor does it make sense to spend more time than was budgeted on every single project just to be a nice gal. Neither is sustainable.
Awareness is the key. If the client is made aware of their options, and they still want the overdesigned system, then, by all means, they should get a classroom on steroids. It does get a little nefarious when they are not aware of the other options available to them and get sold a bill of goods. If I were in the market for a family truckster, and someone tried to convince me that the McLaren F1 was my only option, I would start out a little shocked at the price tag. It certainly would exceed my needs. I don’t have to be able to speed to the store in under 12 seconds (two minutes is fine). I don’t have to have the custom driver seat in the center (although it is super dope). I do get to drive a McLaren F1, and that has its advantages (0-60 in 3.2s; 218mph top speed; being a legend in my small town, etc.). I’d be very excited to drive it off the lot…until I went grocery shopping and parked next to a Toyota Minivan.