Lots of people are confused about the price range of microfiber towels. They can look the same and feel the same, but the prices can be wildly different.
Why are there $0.50 towels and $5.00 towels that weigh the same and feel the same?
Costco/Kirkland towels are just as good, right?
Microfiber is microfiber. It's all the same!
Well… as with most types of products there is more than meets the eye (or, in this case, feel... or scratch!).
When it comes to the manufacture and distribution of microfiber towels there isn't one “factory” or company who controls the process from start to finish. There is a whole stack of vendors in a chain, which complete separate parts of the process.
It goes something like this:
- Raw material
- Finishing: Cutting/Sewing
- Quality Control
- Trading companies*
Most of the links in the production chain are completed by separate companies who are business partners. Some companies take on multiple roles.
For example, at Autofiber we Design/Create, QC, Packing & Distribute, and function as our own, in house, Trading Company. We work with various knitting/weaving factories, dye houses, and cut/sew operations, and we source yarn from various manufacturers.
We have a multi-dimensional production chain so that we can optimize our various products to our customer needs.
In each link of the chain we make decisions regarding the manufacturing specifications as they relate to COST.
- We can choose cheap an inconsistent yarn, or expensive and consistent yarn.
- We can have exacting control over the knitting and weaving or we can be loose with the specifications.
- We can use a high-end dye house with quality dyes and who meets high environmental standards, or we can use an low end dye house with low quality dyes and low environmental standards.
- We can have quality finishing (cut and sew) with experience workers or low quality with low standards by inexperienced workers.
As the product designer we get to decide the material specifications and production tolerances as they relate to cost.
If we choose low cost options across the board then we will get a lower cost product which will not perform as well, if we choose high cost options across the board then we will get a high cost product that might be too expensive for the customer’s needs.
So… when a Big Box Store (BBS), like Costco or Walmart, goes to their Trading Company (not a factory) and asks them to supply a product with the lowest possible price, the Trading Company makes decisions across the production chain with that goal in mind.
- The major decision-making factor for the Big Box stores is COST, because that is the value they bring to the table.
They pick thicker filaments and lower grade yarn, which is less consistent. They have wide specification tolerances on the knitting machines, they use a dye-house that is less precise in their fiber splitting and environmental controls, and their finishing processes are less consistent.
All of these decisions add up to a lower quality product which is less consistent. This is why you will get some towels that die after one use, or have excess lint, or scratch everything, or do not absorb.
To further complicate the process, the Big Box Store buyer, in their constant pursuit of lower cost, puts pressure on the Trading Company to provide lower prices. The Trading Company then puts pressure on the factories to do the same, this leads to a bleed of quality standards over time. The factories oblige and start skimping on materials to meet the request. Quality deteriorates, the BBS gets customer complaints and returns, and puts pressure on the Trading Company, and they switch to different factories to bring their quality back up.
The BBS are, in effect, constantly switching factories and suppliers, in their constant pursuit of lower cost. Which leads to wild product inconsistencies over months and years.
They create a product supply that is constantly changing (inconsistent) over short time frames (in the same package, or batch), because the filaments/yarns are inconsistent, and over long time periods (from month to month, year to year) because they are constantly switching factories.
Now… don't get me wrong. I am not bashing their product or saying you shouldn't use it (I shop at Costco weekly, just not towels), they provide a specific (cost based) value to the marketplace and to detailers, specifically.
At Autofiber, we don't try to compete at the low end of the market (even though we do sell low cost towels, like the Cost What?! Shop Rag). Our goal is to provide high quality products, with innovative designs, at reasonable prices, and to solve problems for Detailers, and help them become more efficient.
We have been working and growing with our factory partners for 10-15 years and have helped to drive their innovation and improvement.
For every product we are making targeted decisions in the production chain (not focusing on cost at every stage) so that we can meet a reasonable balance between price and quality (and problem solving).
Our products and production decisions are made based on detailer and customer feedback. For example, the reason many of our towels use ultra-fine 70/30 yarn, is that detailers, who were tired of chasing micro-scratches, told us. We worked with yarn manufacturers to make products that wouldn't scratch.
The bottom line is that there is a huge difference between cheap and expensive towels, especially when you are doing precision work and trying to increase efficiency. Our customers demand high quality because it makes them more efficient in their business, so that is what we supply. Big Box Stores supply low prices (and the consequences of that) because that is what their customers demand.
It doesn't make them bad or deceitful, and it doesn't make you less for buying/using them. But it is good to know some insider information which can help explain some of the problems you may see and experience when using cheap and low quality towels.