Lately I've been heavily focused on all things analog. Writing supplies (pen/paper/pencil), shaving hardware, belts, jewelry, etc.
It's been a very fun journey but along the way I realized something that may not be obvious : the 'mass market' effect is real and tends not to produce 'high quality' goods anymore. 'Unique' is also becoming an oxymoron.
Mass Market / Mass Production
I can go to Amazon, Google, others and do a search for something like, say, a 'razor' and a nice, very long list of products will materialize from thin air. Quality ranges from 'this will last one use' to 'this will probably be handed down to your next of kin' and everywhere in between.
This is amazing. The internet gives us the world at our fingertips and products from globe. A wonderful time. It even encourages 'at scale' production to get a product into the hands of anyone living on our fine planet.
This has major implications
- It gamifies product development, creation and launch
- It creates a race to the bottom
- Unique is a now something of a buzzword
Fortunately there is another way.
Who doesn't love a good game? I think it could easily be argued we all love a good game. What if that game was a product you intended to purchase, use and [hopefully] cherish for a long time?
What if that game involved the buzzwords 'mass market' or 'mass production' or 'economies of scale' or 'return on investment'?
Would you want to participate?
I wouldn't and don't want to participate in a 'game' where those phrases pop up. Too bad that is the current game when it comes to creating, developing and launching a product in today's world.
Companies have been gaming their customers for a long, long time. I've known this but... lately this trend has become very clear to me and I'm not liking what I'm experiencing.
Racing to the Bottom
The gaming of consumers has become a race to the bottom. The bottom is an interesting situation
- Cheapest price
- Maximum reach
- Cheapest cost
- Maximum returns
If you optimize for those 4 variables like the current gamification of consumer products... quality, unique and long-lasting become very secondary concerns. They are likely not going to be present either.
The more I dug into 'traditional things' like pens, pencils, papers, inks, safety razors, belts, buckles, soap and all manner of fun stuff I realized the 'mass market' options are really crappy.
They rarely have substance, they rarely last a long time, they rarely are unique and the overall quality tends to lack.
That folks is the bottom.
It may be cheap up-front but it's not pretty.
We no longer have unique goods, we no longer have long-lasting goods (cheap over time), we no longer have an heirloom, we suffer greatly on the quality front.
We've ceded the good things in life to the mega corporations.
I once received a piece of jewlery from a family member. I was the 4th generation to receive the item. It was hand made by an artisan in a different county. Stunning would be a good word for this piece. One of a kind would also be an appropriate description.
I still have the piece even if it doesn't adorn my person often.
It's a constant reminder that I really like unique and the fact that someone took the time to ensure it was up to their exacting personal standards. Quite the opposite of today's jewelry and other products.
One day my next of kin or a close family member will become the 5th generation to hold and [hopefully] cherish this jewelry. Even if it's not worn often, it'll be a good reminder of what can and should be present when you own a 'thing'.
Today's products are the opposite of this. You buy something and your neighbor 1 block over has the same thing. Where is the fun in that?
The Small Shop (aka Makers and Artisans)
Despite going backwards as a whole, I'll say this: there are a lot of good, small vendors out there. They require a little extra legwork to find but they are there.
The more I've dug for smaller companies the more my faith in quality products has been restored. If you can, buy from a small company. It's totally worth it.
They optimize for a wholly different set of concerns
- Sustainable price
- Reasonable reach
- Reasonable cost
- Maximum uniqueness
The things we should optimize for in our product selections. Especially sustainability. AKA: the people in the company can actually live on what they make by selling their goods.
These are the things that make products amazing and worth buying. The small companies and vendors know the real secrets to success.
Support People, Not Mega Corps
If you can and do buy from small companies, you're supporting people. Honest, good folk like yourself. The Mega Corps are meat grinders for staff and care about very little beyond short-term profits these days.
The small shop is a small group of people who deserve reward for hard work. Support the people, not the [Mega]Corp. That dollar you spend goes far further for helping others and those who are deserving.
Nevermind the fact you'll be supporting someone's dream, will have a unique product and won't line the pockets of short term thinkers.