Jul 2, 2012

What's the Opposite of a Grudge?

A couple of weeks ago, I listed ten (just to keep it short) companies, products, and concepts that have earned my long-lasting distrust. During the following week, I ended up at my neighborhood motorcycle accessory store buying replacement summer gloves and discovered that I naturally passed over several brands because of mediocre past experience and immediately picked out a couple of versions from the one brand the store carries that I generally like. From that experience, I decided to list a few of the companies, products, and concepts that I have (probably) unreasonable faith in
  1. icon -- icon is, in fact, the company that provided the motivation for this rant. Some time back, I reviewed a pair of mid-priced icon gloves. Five years later, those gloves are still providing good service. A few years later, I reviewed a pair of icon ventilated pants that I still wear, often. Both products have been reliable, tough, and functional. When I stood in front of that rack of gloves, icon was my only real options, since I've been burned by TourMaster, Alpinestars, and FirstGear. Joe Rocket was an option, but the first pair of gloves I picked up had failing seams, I went for the icon twenty-niner and have been very happy with the choice. Lousy gloves are a memory that sticks with a rider for a long, long time. Good products have the same sticky quality.
  2. Aerostich -- Just mentioning this brand is 'nough said. Aerostich makes great products and I've reviewed so many of them that it would take a page just to list the wonderful products I've bought from the company. Even the products they carry that are manufactured by other people are checked out as thoroughly and supported as consistently as their own stuff. Aerostich/Riderwearhouse is a great American-made company.
  3. Yamaha -- Over the years, I have owned a variety of Yamaha motorcycles and scooters.The first was my wife's MX100 which gave her spectacular service for years before she sold it. She has nothing but fond memories of the bike and out grandson still wears her old bumblebee yellow Yamaha jersey. My first Yamaha street bike was a 1982 XTZ550 Vision that suffered at least 50k miles of LA commuting traffic before I sold it and bought a 1986 Yamaha XT350 that I still regret selling almost a decade later. Along with the XT, I owned a 1983 Vision that moved me from California to Indiana to Colorado and, finally, was sold for a profit to a guy who drove his truck all the way from LA to Denver to pick it up. My 1986 TY350 was and is, likewise, one of my all-time favorite motorcycles along with the pair of 1992 850 TDM's I owned and loved. The current mechanical love of my life is my WR250X, the most fun motorcycle I've ever ridden. The Super Ténéré I reviewed last week joined the list of impressive Yamaha motorcycles I've experienced. I've only owned one Honda, but it was an equally excellent motorcycle. My experience with Suzuki has been less consistent. My two Kawasaki's have been disappointing.  Yamaha has done very well by me and that makes any Yamaha vehicle look a little better than the rest, in my view. 
  4. Dell Computers -- I own four of them: two Latitude 410 laptops, a desktop tower, and the 1012 Netbook I'm working on as I write this. The Latitude 410's were the convincer for me. After wearing out a half-dozen laptops on my motorcycle trips, including two of the grossly misnamed Panasonic Toughbooks, I stumbled on the 410 just before I left for Alaska. 70,000 miles and hundreds of hours later, that first unit is still working. So, I bought another. And another. And . . . Dell's customer service has been exceptional and knowledgeable, on the rare occasion I've needed it. 
  5. Avon Tires - Way back in the 1970's, I was commuting about 60 miles a day in a VW Beetle. The Nebraska roads were poorly maintained, there was often black ice and drifted snow to contend with, and I went through a VW motor about every 60k miles and a set of tires every 15k. A rally driving friend recommended Avon tires and I bought a set. They outlasted the VW's motor and were great on those crappy roads. The whole time I lived in California, all of our cars wore Avons, but I didn't discover Avon motorcycle tires until I put a pair of Distanzias on my V-Strom. After getting 3-5k out of the previous rear tires, I doubled that with the Avons. I don't drive that much these days and my car tires usually dry out and start weather cracking before the treads are 2/3 used. I put pretty much anything that fits on the cage and, sometimes, I go cheap on the bike when city commuting is the primary task. When I'm going long on the bike, I'll go with Avons. I have never been disappointed with an Avon tire.
  6. Chase Harper - Currently, I do not own any of their products. However, I have had several in the past. Their product support (warranty and repairs) is second to none. I owned a pair of Grand Millennium 4000 saddlebags for 30 years and wore them out, twice.  The company not only repaired the bags under warranty both times, but they upgraded the bags to current design standards each time. 
It's a short list, I know. I imagined I'd come up with at least ten companies, but I didn't come close. I've hung on to this post for a couple of weeks, hoping that I'd remember a few more companies on my preferred vendor list. There aren't many to choose from. Forty years ago, a Peavey sales manager explained to my partner why Peavey products were such crap, "Dan, there will never be a pre-CBS (Fender or Harley) Peavey market. We don't want any of our current products having to compete with our older products." Most modern corporations can make that same claim. None of their new stuff will last long enough to leave a memory for the majority of consumers.

An executive I worked with three decades ago once complained that "customer loyalty" is dead. He was the kind of guy who believed that warranties are made to be ignored and all of the inventory of a crappy product should be sold before the product is abandoned. He argued that our customer warranty database was a waste of time and effort, even though we were one of the few companies that stored the data customers filled out on those usually-worthless warranty registration cards. For ten years, I beat back this guy's arguments and we developed a loyal customer base that had high expectations of our company and paid a small premium for our products. A few years later, the company moved production to China, shipped a collection of marginally reliable and under-performing products, and wiped out thirty years of reputation in a few short years. Now, they are one of many equally positioned companies and battle for the lowest cost point, since customers are no longer loyal to the brand.

Customer loyalty is a two-way street. To get it, a company has to be loyal to its customers. Most companies can't even manage to be loyal to the country that provided the resources for their existence, let alone the customers who buy their products. The cost for that disloyalty is that the products become a commodity that can be purchased equally reliably -- or unreliably -- from any vendor. Once you're in that world, the only advantage you can offer is price and that means quality is sacrificed even more and customer loyalty slips away even further.

The high price for maintaining customer loyalty is beyond the capability of most corporate management. In my life, that has been the most obvious thing that is slipping away from US corporations; management with ability. The skills that we have lost and are least likely to regain are intelligent, skilled management with foresight. We can't build stuff because manufacturing management requires the most energy, talent, and commitment. Any lazy idiot can invent fraudulent security "instruments" and sell them to other fools; as long as we're willing to give up on being a nation ruled by law. The few companies that still do business responsibly and are customer-oriented deserve our business more today than ever.

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