Rating products no EZ task

. . . firm looks to take the aaarrgghb out of easy assembly'


When it comes to assembling products that are labeled "assembly required," Glenn Slovenko is a man of little patience.

If it takes more than 30 minutes to put together or more than 10 minutes to start using once it is assembled, Slovenko will deem it customer-unfriendly.

He has used his 30/10 criteria to form a company, EZ Rated, which now has a roster of clients — many of them big names in electronics, telecommunications, and other consumer products — which pay him up to $10,000 or more to test their products and determine whether their packaging can carry the "EZ Rated 30/10" seal.

"Everyone says that it's easy to put their products together," Slovenko, 42, said in his office on the second floor of 116 Lake Ave., surrounded by shelves of consumer products and instruction manuals for their assembly. "But how many times is it really that easy?"

Slovenko started focusing on ease of assembly in the mid-1990s, when he was president of RD1 Electronics in Valhalla. The company provided many of the TV antennas used by people who didn't have cable or those who had satellite service but wanted to pick up local stations, which at the time were not offered by satellite providers.

"I said, 'Let's call it EZ Dish,’ to show that the antennas were easy to install,” Slovenko said.

He said the antennas took 10 minutes to set up, and "we sold millions of them. I saw we were on to something. People are always in search of making life easier."

Slovenko envisioned applying the idea of easy installation to more than just antennas, but RDI, he said, was not going in that direction.

So in 1998, he decided to venture out on his own. With shoestring capital strung together from personal savings and loans from friends and family, he started EZ Rated . . .

Glenn Slovenko shows how frustratingly complicated it can be to assemble consumer products.

He keeps his list of clients close to the vest, lest word leaks out about who failed the test. "One client told me on the phone that if the product didn't pass our testing and couldn’t get the seal, our relationship never happened," Slovenko said.

EZ Rated's testing is similar to the process used by Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports magazine on Truman Avenue.

There's an important difference, though — Consumers Union is a nonprofit and publishes testing results, good or bad, in the magazine. Also, Consumers Union will not allow companies to cite the results in any advertising of products, and the magazine does not accept any advertising.

Slovenko and his staff recruit a group of people of average intelligence but who are what he affectionately calls "mechanically disinclined." He pays each about $100 to assemble a tested product, which is bought at retail like any consumer would find it.

"You'd be surprised at how frustrated some people get," Slovenko said. "Even though they haven’t paid for the product — they're getting paid — they still start yelling and screaming and want to throw the thing out the window."

The problem is that many, if not most Manufacturers, are so focused on technology and cost-effectiveness they put a low priority on the instructions and consumer-friendliness, Slovenko said. Since so many products are manufactured overseas, the instruction manuals often are translated into English from an array of other languages, and the translators often don't have a good understanding of American-English idioms or syntax. The instructions, then, might come out less than clear.

Slovenko and his staff will advise the client on how to change the instructions or the parts themselves to make things easier for the consumer. That's an important consideration, since "if the customer can't easily put the thing together, or he puts it together and it comes out wrong, he's going to return it and think twice about buying that brand again," Slovenko said.

Sometimes the consequences are more serious than a stack of drawers out of whack. Most gas grills are sold unassembled; if they're not put together properly, the user or anyone else nearby could be seriously burned. Aside from the legal and ethical liability a company could face if its product is not assembled right, there's also a competitive disadvantage, Slovenko said. "If there are two similar products next to each other on the shelf and they're similarly priced, but one has the EZ Rated seal and the other doesn't, which is the buyer likely to choose?" he asked.

Of course, at this point in his company's short history, the seal is not very widely known.

But Slovenko intends to change that, hoping to make his EZ Rated designation as well known as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

"It’s just a matter of time," he said.

 Week of December 8, 2003 YONKERS CURRENT

Reprinted by permission, courtesy of . . .
Yonkers Current--A Westfair Communications Inc. Publication.
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