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You can’t get there from here

My dishwasher died this week. It was installed 8.5 years ago and, according to the repairman, dishwashers now last 8 to 12 years. Eight to 12 years?? I’m thinking, Whatever happened to QUALITY!! My lawnmower was made in ’82 and is STILL plugging along!

“Planned obsolescence,” he said, reading my mind. “It’s alive and well.”

So I went online to do some comparison shopping, figuring if I’m going to spend hundreds of dollars for clean dishes, I’m going to be as informed as possible.

A few hours later, I had a short list and an 800 number for the nearest Best Buy store. Best Buy had the most competitive prices, and I wanted to see some dishwashers in person.

After nearly half an hour with a nice young woman named Ashley in appliance delivery–whom I thought was at my local Best Buy store–I learned that she was at a call center hundreds of miles away, had no idea what was available at the store, and couldn’t transfer me to the store because the only number she had was for the call center.

I sat for a moment, a bit dumbfounded. “So, you’re telling me there’s no way we can reach the local store by phone?”

Long pause. “No,” she finally uttered. “I don’t like it either.”

I let the silence do its work.

“We used to be able to call the stores,” she said in a much softer voice, “but they took that away from us … sometime last fall.”

All kinds of things were echoing through my brain. “The stores were getting too many calls,” she added hastily.

Think about THAT dilemma — too many potential customers calling!!! I would’ve given anything for that dilemma in the early years of my business!

Seconds of silence passed. “So is there anything else I can help you with?” she asked, a tone of recovery in her voice.

I said I didn’t think so, thanked her for her assistance, and ended the call.

So now I’m sitting with a 21st Century conundrum: big box businesses, it seems, have put customers on the periphery and local competitors out of business. Which forces me to look at my own role in this sorry state of affairs.

I wanted to save a few dollars, so I went to a national chain, as I’ve done for several years. I was supporting my own interests. I was also defining them too narrowly. I want to see and touch what I’m buying, to feel a connection with the company I’m buying from, to know who to call if problems arise.

So after my Best Buy venture, I searched for local dealers. Only the big box names turned up. So I resorted to old school technology: the yellow pages. All I found were big boxes and “new or used” appliance stores in low-income neighborhoods. The local dealers who were household names for 40 years have gone away. Not enough local support to sustain them, I suspect.

I contributed to their demise. And that makes my disappointment even more local. I didn’t question my own motives. I bought the spin. In serving what wanted, I failed to include the importance of local community. And now I’m reaping what I’ve sown.

So tomorrow, after calling Lowe’s about a new dishwasher, I’m shopping for groceries at the local market. I may not be able to bring back local appliance dealers, but I can look for every opportunity to support other local businesses.

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