Wednesday, November 21, 2012

They sure don't make them like they used to

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving, one and all.  Hope you'll have the opportunity to enjoy the holiday with family and friends.

The recent news that Hostess is probably going to liquidate its operations, meaning no more Twinkies, HoHos and Ding Dongs (and, no, I was NEVER willing to call them "King Dons") made me start thinking about things that endure versus things that don't.  Let's start with luggage and briefcases, in a generalized way.  When I was a kid I remember my dad used to travel overnight once in while and would use a medium-brown faux-leather suitcase.  You remember these, semi-hard sides, double clasps, the stiff cloth dividers with the turnbuckle closures.  I happened into a shop recently that sells antiques and vintage items (hard to tell the difference, frankly) and saw a couple of suitcases that looked eerily similar.  And he used an attorney-style brief bag, which he always called his "grip," for work papers and such.  Both appearsed to be made of iron or something similar, as I never remember any difficulties with these bags' durability or functionality.

Fast forward to today, and what I use for my business travels are a Briggs and Riley rolling suitcase and a Tony Perotti TSA-approved leather laptop bag.  Both are suitable but have not been as good as I had hoped.  The suitcase, which Briggs and Riley claims to proudly warranty for as long as I own it (no questions asked, they say), has required repairs FOUR times in the slightly more than four years I've owned it.  Most of the problems have been with stitching that has come undone where the lining meets the frame of the bag.  Nagging but irritating problem.  On the last such occasion, I contacted Briggs and Riley and was told that I would again have to pay for shipping and insurance BOTH WAYS in order for Briggs to repair my bag at their own expense.  Some warranty.  When this bag finally gives up the ghost, which I expect will happen during the next twelve months of typically heavy business travel, I likely won't be replacing it with another Briggs bag.

And the briefcase, which is a very handsome honey color, began splitting along one of the bottom seams less than six months after I began using it.  Since the bag carried a one year warranty, I first contacted the dealer from whom I purchased it, and was told that warranty issues are between me and the manufacturer, which made sense.  So I then contacted Tony Perotti (the company) and was told that if I was willing to ship the bag to them at my expense they'd examine it and then would let me know IF they would stand behind their product and either repair the defective area or replace the bag.  I argued, logically (I thought), that they should at least pay for the shipping, since this was within the warranty period.  No, I was told, not company policy.  And they would not guarantee that they would stand good for repair or replacement, either, and I would be asked to provide a credit card number so that they could charge me with the return shipping costs.  So I took the bag to a local leather shop, who has now repaired this split twice and I've done so a third time.  Not acceptable, so I'm in the market for a good leather briefcase that will accommodate my various travel essentials, with Tony Perotti now off my list of possibles.

Here's another one that we don't think about all that often....vacuum cleaners.  When I met my wife, she was using a Kirby upright vacuum.  If you don't remember these, they were great vacuums in their day, looked like an antique but really did a nice job cleaning the carpet.  Heavy duty and built to last, they were sold door-to-door, which I suppose isn't done anymore.  When we finally realized it was worn out we explored the possibility of buying another, and were stunned to learn that a replacement would be well over $1000, and that parts were becoming rarer all of the time (if anyone knows differently, please let me know, just for curiosity's sake).

So we bought a Hoover WindTunnel.  Then another.  Then a Sears model that was made by Panasonic.  Those three lasted a total of about seven years.  Out of frustration we agreed to spend more in hopes of finding something that would work and that would last, and wound up spending quite a bit for a Miele cannister vacuum from Germany.  That was over five years ago, and all we've done to this vacuum is change the bags periodically and the filters once.  That's it.

I could go on (as I tend to do) but I think you get the gist of my remarks.  And this applies to shoes, clothing, lawn equipment, furniture, and lots of other things we use regularly in our lives.

I swear that a manufacturer of anything could do very well, if only they'd do these things:

Make the product easy to use, yet durable and functional
Stand behind that product in the event that something goes wrong with it
Act as though you care about the customer who buys your product, instead of planning obsolescence

Now, is that really asking too much?



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