Cost and Flow Controllers

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9-101-092
REV: AUGUST 5, 2003

ROBERT S. KAPLAN

Wilkerson Company
The decline in our profits has become intolerable. The severe price cutting in pumps has dropped our pre-tax margin to less than 3%, far below our historical 10% margins. Fortunately, our competitors are overlooking the opportunities for profit in flow controllers. Our recent 10% price increase in that line has been implemented without losing any business. Robert Parker, president of the Wilkerson Company, was discussing operating results in the latest month with Peggy Knight, his controller, and John Scott, his manufacturing manager. The meeting among the three was taking place in an atmosphere tinged with apprehension because competitors had been reducing prices on pumps, Wilkerson’s major product line. Since pumps were a commodity product, Parker had seen no alternative but to match the reduced prices to maintain volume. But the price cuts had led to declining company profits, especially in the pump line (summary operating results for the previous month, March 2000, are shown in Exhibits 1 and 2). Wilkerson supplied products to manufacturers of water purification equipment. The company had started with a unique design for valves that it could produce to tolerances that were better than any in the industry. Parker quickly established a loyal customer base because of the high quality of its manufactured valves. He and Scott realized that Wilkerson’s existing labor skills and machining equipment could also be used to produce pumps and flow controllers, products that were also purchased by its customers. They soon established a major presence in the high-volume pump product line and the more customized flow controller line. Wilkerson’s production process started with the purchase of semi-finished components from several suppliers. It machined these parts to the required tolerances and assembled them in the company's modern manufacturing facility. The same equipment and labor were used for all three product lines, and production runs were scheduled to match customer shipping requirements. Suppliers and customers had agreed to just-in-time deliveries, and products were packed and shipped as completed. Valves were produced by assembling four different machined components. Scott had designed machines that held components in fixtures so that they could be machined automatically. The valves were standard products and could be produced and shipped in large lots. Although Scott felt several competitors could now match Parker's quality in valves, none had tried to gain market share by cutting price, and gross margins had been maintained at a standard 35%. ____________________________________________________________

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Professor Robert S. Kaplan wrote this updated version of “Destin Brass Products Co.,” HBS No. 190-089, prepared by Professor William J. Bruns, Jr. HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management. Copyright © 2001 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of Harvard Business School.

101-092

Wilkerson Company

The manufacturing process for pumps was practically identical to that for valves. Five components were machined and then assembled into the final product. The pumps were shipped to industrial product distributors after assembly. Recently, it seemed as if each month brought new reports of reduced prices for pumps. Wilkerson had matched...
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