Durable goods, maintenance, the maker ethos, and the first inroad to voluntary simplicity

Durable goods:

Real durable goods last and can be repaired and maintained.Then there are consumables, things you use for a while then throw away.The problem is that some things, in order to be competitive in price, look like durables but actually are designed to be consumables.Take air conditioners for example.

The laboratory where I work bought a a consumer-quality air conditioner for ~$500.It was supposed to run in a hot lab to take the thermal stress of some of the equipment.Within a year it had failed.It seems that the fail point was a single motor among 3 or 4 of the motors in there.Now, there might be a cascade failure situation.But in the end, it’s probably one motor replacement and the thing is back in shape.But we can’t get that one motor.The company won’t sell us just a part, and they want $75 plus transportation to have a rep come look at it without any guarantee he will be able to do anything.

So, what we have here is a disturbingly common situation of a consumable product masquerading as a durable product.What that means is that AC units used to be considered something you install, maintain, fix and keep around.It was durable.Maybe it cost $1000, but you expect that with $100 per year maintenance, it will last forever.Well, this AC unit only cost $500! A great deal! Except it wasn’t a durable good.It doesn’t cost $100 per year to maintain, it has to be fully replaced every year.

This is a different business model.How this works: produce the cheapest possible product in order to compete for foolish consumers’ attention.People are going to impulse buy on credit, so they are not investigating what is the best deal.So the lowest sticker price is going to get the sale.And, if the product is cheap and breaks, that’s all the better.Since it had a very limited warranty and no plan for maintenance (this thing doesn’t even have screws – it’s snapped together) it was virtually guaranteed to produce a second sale quite soon after.

Now I’m far from being the first to notice this trend; there is a growing subculture of people who are saying they want to be anti-consumers.They want to conserve and maintain.It’s a service-oriented culture that looks at making things last rather than making more things.I like that mentality for lots of reasons.It means more thought has to go into the product.It means less stress on the environment.It makes people more aware of their purchases and happy with their decisions.It’s a lower stress, higher reward lifestyle for more people. The people involved are contributing directly to the quality of each others’ lives rather than trying to produce as much crap as possible and trick each other into buying it.


P.S. Here’s the Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping to break it down.