Sunday, May 5, 2013

The throw-away society

Yesterday I received yet another request to sign a petition to help out the cause the creator thinks is important and that they believe will make the world a better place.  Most times individuals and organizations target me pretty well.  Even this one on the surface sounded like a good idea to get behind.  Another case of the "little guy" getting beat down by "The Man".  Workers at Guitar Center are disgruntled since their employer was taken over by the evil Bain Capital.  Their commissions have been cut and their benefits have dwindled.

On the surface this sounds really bad.  Initially I was ready to support them in their effort to unionize and fight "The Man" and then it hit me...Guitar Center is just another big box store that has done serious damage to small business in America.  It is just another contributor to encouraging the "throw away society".  The one that has put so many tinkers, cobblers, milliners and tailors out of work and filled our dumps with tons and tons of materials that didn't have to be there in the first place.

Starting with my childhood, I remember Mom rounding up everyone's shoes to take to the cobbler for new soles and heels.  As long as my feet didn't grow too fast, my mother could make a pair of Buster Brown oxfords last an entire school year despite the fact that I walked about four blocks every day going to school, coming home for lunch, going back to school and coming home.  I also wore those same shoes to church every Sunday.  They took a pretty good beating.  Today I have a couple of pairs of shoes I really like but the soles are shot.  I keep holding onto them hoping I find a good cobbler to get them fixed.  It killed me when my kids were younger constantly throwing out shoes that were too shot to even put in the Goodwill box then having to go to the nearest Payless to buy more.

As far as repairing clothing, my Mom was fortunate to be gifted with the talent of sewing.  Not only did she fix torn garments she also made a lot of my clothes.  My friends moms were the same.  McCalls and Simplicity made a lot of money from parents and grandparents who were handy with a machine.  In fact, Wheeler and Wilson manufactured sewing machines in Bridgeport, CT.

Speaking of manufacturing in the U.S. sadly even the factories became throw-aways.  Today throughout my home state there are many vacant hulks that are in desperate need of demolition.  They are beyond repurposing as they have stood far too long with broken windows and failing roofs leaving the interiors unsafe for habitation.  My question is, how did the state allow the former owners to just bail and not take their buildings down or sell them?  Sadly many of these decrepit manufactories are in larger cities and only served to become hangouts and hiding places for gangs and drug dealers.  Some have been torn down but were replaced by retail spaces that sell tons of throw-away cheap goods manufactured outside of the U.S.  In CT, the huge Scovill brass mill became a mall and when the sponge rubber plant burned in Ansonia it became Target.  In the latter's defense the company did stay in CT and moved only two towns over and I'm as guilty as the next guy of shopping at Target.

Back to Guitar Center and why I didn't sign the petition.  Any musician worth their salt will tell you that most instruments are like wine, if well cared for they will improve with age.  One would much rather play and/or listen to a vintage violin, trumpet, piano or guitar.  Musicians who cherish their instruments will come to the stage or march down the street with woodwinds and brass that look like they just came brand-new out of the case.  Many of them still own the instrument they first learned on.  Would-be musicians in poor countries would give anything to be presented with the instruments we take to the landfill.  But big-box and mail order companies have hopped on the band wagon (pardon the pun) of convincing first world musicians at least in the U.S. that constantly replacing a worn or damaged instrument with a brand new (cheaply made) one is the way to go rather than having their current one repaired.  This puts all the great instrument manufacturers, repair people and musicians with a true knack for matching a person with the right instrument in the application line at the large-scale retailers.  The big box brick and mortars have also damaged the sheet music business too as they don't stock much and no one in these places knows how to special order anything.  If the musician or vocalist is lucky enough to have some lead time to secure their music thankfully J.W. Pepper is a great mail order company but if they're in a pinch, there are not many local shops that can help them.

I challenge Guitar Center employees to pool their resources, find an open space in the area (gods know there's plenty thanks again to the throw-away mentality), talk to a bank and do some crowd funding and open a new store.  A store that offers quality instruments and a wide selection of sheet music.  Let the staff that excel at sound production open a different store that sells mics, amps, etc.  Have the new instrument store offer high quality service and repair or open a third store in town.  Work with the music departments in all the area schools including colleges to educate kids and families on instrument selection, care and feeding.  Have a booth at area arts festivals.  Offer an exchange program that will get gently used equipment into the hands of schools or musicians on limited budgets.  As for benefits-there are insurance co-ops for small businesses.  Research options to be able to offer healthcare for the whole staff.  Prove to yourselves, the community and to large-scale retailers that your business is the better choice.

We've gone beyond trying to get "the man" to see it our way.  Now it's time to take this country back from Citizens United.  Small business and American manufacturing was what made this country great.  Now we are just a consumer society for the rest of the world.  We've even sent our customer service overseas.  Job creation should not be more minimum wage retail jobs.  We need to bring back trades.  Yes, you will pay more for things made here but considering some of that cost is to cover manufacturing processes are safer to the employees and the environment than in other parts of the world, put your neighbor to work in a job that allows him to pay rent and eat healthy and pays U.S. taxes...well you look at the benefits.  If I could actually find a piece of clothing manufactured in the U.S. and buy it in a local mom & pop store, I would save the money to purchase it over one made overseas. The same goes for TVs, computers, and phones.

I challenge you, at least once a month, try to find a local business to purchase or have something repaired at.  Avoid the big box store or buying it on-line.  As someone who works for a manufacturer...buying a product on-line may seem convenient and cheaper at the moment but if you have a problem with your purchase, taking care of it will become costly and time-consuming.  If you had bought it at a store, you could have returned to the store for help, repair or replacement at no cost to you and had it taken care of in a timely manner.  Let me share an example with you, not even of my employer's product.  A family member purchased their first new guitar at Sam Ash.  Admittedly Sam Ash has spread over 16 states since its humble beginnings in Hicksville, NY in 1924 but the beauty of this company from my experience is that they still operate like a mom & pop.  About a year after purchasing the student line of Ovation's, the guitar teacher noticed the bridge was lifting off the body.  The guitar was taken back to Sam Ash, the store more than happy to honor the warranty.  First they thought that it could be repaired but learned it could not so it was shipped back to Ovation.  Not only could the manufacturer not repair it, the model had been discontinued.  They shipped the current version of the guitar back to Sam Ash very quickly.  The family member was only without their instrument for a few weeks. I would be very curious to see how Guitar Center would have handled that with the Ovation 12-string the family member purchased from them or worse, with an instrument purchased from an on-line dealer.

Post your experiences and let me know if you take the challenge and how it turns out.  If you are contemplating starting a business or recently have started one, also post.  I'll help pimp you out and grow that business.  Peace out.


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