This is an age-old question in business, and there really are no hard and fast answers. The decision to replace (or upgrade) equipment can have far-reaching effects well beyond the cost of equipment.
For example, do you buy now, or wait for next year, when snazzy new features might be incorporated into what you are buying? Or will waiting give your competition too much of an advantage, from which you may never recover?
It’s been my experience that the decision to buy new equipment usually makes itself pretty clear, especially when we’re discussing straight profit-enhancing equipment (like manufacturing equipment, better software, new delivery trucks, or similar.) When buying new equipment makes your company (and/or product) better, faster, and more efficient, it’s usually a pretty clear “buy now” scenario. The advantage of having reliable delivery vehicles or machines that can turn your product out faster is easy to see.
But what about equipment that isn’t directly tied to making profit? When is it the right time to buy new desks, new break room / cafeteria equipment, new cubicle fixtures, or even new carpet? How about signage – when is the right time to buy new signage? Or to upgrade the look of your front entrance?
These things might not be so clear, especially in the day-to-day sense. And it’s easy to let them slide. After all, a desk from 1965 still performs its intended function just fine.
True story – there was this manufacturing plant in my hometown, and I knew a lot of people that worked there. Kind of like that place that almost defines a town. It was a fairly modern plant in terms of machinery, but the “front offices” were right out of the 1960’s. They even still used a “switchboard” in the 1990’s, with an operator plugging calls in. While they prided themselves on the fact that a human still answered the phone, I can only imagine what potential clients felt when they saw the antiquated furniture and old-style telephones. They stayed current in raw production, but everything else, from communication equipment to computers to the desks, never improved. They went out of business around 2005.
I’m not saying new desks would have saved this company. I *am* saying that the lack of mindset that buys new desks and keeps the company face looking contemporary definitely contributed to their demise. It’s just like your clothing – you need to look the part you are playing.
My advice to executives? Look around at your industry peers, competitors, and clients. You should be right in that upper-third in terms of “look”. I’m not saying you have to be the sleekest, but the company that doesn’t have nice furniture or a good looking sign is not one many people want to do business with. Looks aren’t everything, but they do say a lot about your company’s health.