Thursday, April 22, 2010

do we have a right to cheap stuff?

A customer called me today and informed me that our shop was still being listed as a dealer for "Brand X" bags, 3 1/2 years after our co-op had made the decision to stop carrying their product. We'd made the decision because we decided that we would try to promote, where possible, products made in countries where fair wages and good working conditions were the law of the land. This meant that we could no longer sell bags made in China or most of SE Asia. So out went "Brand X" from our inventory.

Obviously, we cannot make this decision with everything we sell. Case in point: All of the inner tubes in the entire world are made in one of TWO factories, and neither is located in what would be considered a fair-wage country. So we're SOL as far as inner tubes -- and most tires -- go. But when and where possible, our shop chooses to promote products made in our local region, or the US, or a fair-wage country. So today, we are sitting on some very nice US-made bike bags that aren't selling very well -- because they cost noticeably more than the bags offered by "Brand X".

When the customer asked why we stopped carrying "Brand X" and I explained it to her, she thanked me and said she would look for another store that would sell her the bag she wanted. "I think your policy is out of step with the real world," she told me, "and I would invite you to reconsider it. If you don't sell affordable things no one will shop there."

Which leads to my quandry: Do we really have a right to demand and expect cheap stuff? And if we don't, why are corporations and governments acting as though we do? And now that we've started this cycle and developing countries are following our lead to perpetuate it -- who's going to try and stop them from having their turn at rampant prosperity and consumerism?

I am really wrestling with my work these days, and wondering if I could possibly do it in a way that makes it any more appropriate (for society and the planet). Today I am having my doubts.


rickrise said...

I would say that people--including me!--have no right to demand cheap goods if such goods are produced at the cost of someone's misery. I have my own stuff (Bicycle Fixation) made in LA, at a factory that pays its people fairly well, and I make them affordable (as much as they are affordable) by taking a smaller cut for myself.

I think that for every pricegrinder you lose, you will gain a conscientious buyer who will remain loyal to your shop as long as you remain loyal to your principles. The lady you lost would have dumped you anyway, the instant she found what she wanted somewhere else for ten cents less, so you have lost only one sale, not a customer.

You will make less than the retail wolves, but you will make enough. And the world will get in step with you eventually.

bikelovejones said...

Thanks, Rick.

This begs the bigger (and harder) question. In a previous post, I guessed that we wouldn't have a critical mass of folks interested in utility cargo biking unless we brought the price down, a LOT.

How do you keep the price down? You have your product manufactured in a country where the wages are super-low.

We cannot hope to see a mass-produced cargo bike retailing for under a thousand bucks in this country unless everyone involved in the enterprise is willing to work for peanuts. That's tough to do in a country where the cost of living is so high.

It's a quandry. Thanks for joining in the discussion.