I brought my Snapper lawnmower in for service and Quentin, my lawn guy, writes me up a ticket, says that will be $99.00 for the pre-season special, including engine tune up, blade sharpening and balance, oil, gas, timing, etc, etc, etc. Probably all the things I should be doing myself, but just don’t have the time or the expertise.
“When you sold me the mower,” I said, “you said that it would last me thirty years.”
He says with smile, “If you take care of it, give it a tune once a year, it will probably last you that long.”
I thought a bit and did some addition in my head. At $99.00 a year for 30 years… “that is almost $3,000” I blurted out.
He smiles a little and says, “Sometimes, it just isn’t the right thing to look at the big picture.”
That got me thinking a little bit about stuff we produce and how our American economy is put together. We make stuff as cheap as we can and sell it for as little as possible. And it almost always breaks shortly after we just get used to the way it works, with the best repair option being to get a new one. It really doesn’t matter what it is; lawn mower, weed-whacker, car, computer, dishwasher, kitchen mixer.
What if instead, we built durable stuff that was repairable and maintainable. Then, instead of always selling more stuff, we sold services to maintain and fix the durable goods. Would we then be able to sell a lawn mower for $3,000? Quentin did and I didn’t even know I was going to pay that much. And since we would not be throwing away as much, we would have less need for land fills. Since quality goods would cost a little more, we might not be so careless with the way we stored and treated things.
Skilled service jobs can’t be outsourced. When they are in demand, skilled jobs are respected. Anyone who has screwed up a plumbing jobs knows that no matter what the plumber charges you, it is probably worth it.
If we want to move into a service economy, perhaps making less stuff — but higher quality stuff — and focusing on the “service plan” might be the way top go. Probably a flaw in the thinking here somewhere, but deserves some thought.