Last year, a customer purchased a Burley trailer from our shop. He told us that had done extensive research before selecting the Burley Solo, a nice trailer meant for transporting one child. And by and large the trailer has been working just fine for him. However, he has recently experienced wear-and-tear issues. There has been some tearing of the fabric seat along a seam (the mesh fabric has worn away from the stitching). The trailer hitch arm, meant to be used in two different positions depending on whether you're towing it as a trailer or pushing it as a stroller, is stuck in the stroller position, making it harder to use as a trailer.
This customer came to the shop asking for help with what he clearly saw as a warranty issue. I promised to contact Burley and see what I could find out for him, but I also advised him that Burley, like everyone else, is having their trailers made in China and as a result some warranty issues might take longer to resolve.
The customer was shocked: "What do you MEAN they make their trailers in China?"
I explained that this had been the case for some time, and that in fact, to my knowledge no company was mass-producing trailers in North America anymore. The customer became visibly upset, not at me but at the company. He explained that he had decided upn a Burley trailer because he was under the impression that the company was still based in Eugene, Oregon and still making their products there. Further, he had wanted to support a co-op and, well, Burley was a co-op, right?
I gently explained to him that Burley had ceased being a co-op about six or seven years ago due to the increasingly difficult economic climate, one in which paying over a hundred worker-owners a true living wage had simply become impossible. Further, Burley had been in the process of moving manufacturing operations overseas for nearly a decade; and if Burley were still making their trailers in Eugene no one could afford them. He told me he felt really upset, even betrayed; and suggested that Burley had perhaps misled him (based on the ad copy at their web site).
I shared this with the fellow at Burley's warranty desk and we both shrugged and sighed deeply. If this guy had really done his homework he'd would know that even Chariot, the Canadian company which makes great trailers, had to stop manufacturing in Canada because the cost-to-retail ratio was unsustainable.
If anyone is making a top quality child trailer in the US, that trailer would have to retail for well over $1,000 in order for the company to realize enough of a profit to stay afloat. Burley's flagship trailer, the Chinese-manufactured D'Lite, now retails for over $600, and already US consumers are whining.
In the retail world, nothing has changed.
Americans want good stuff that will last for many years, with ironclad warranties that will cover every conceivable mishap.
But they are not willing to pay more money to get whay they want, and when they're told that quality costs more, they balk.
When we tell them what we charge for labor rates on bicycle repairs, they think we're ripping them off (and we're one of the more affordable shops in town).
Frankly, too many American consumers think they have it all coming to them -- good stuff, cheap prices, free or cheap labor -- as some sort of God-given right.
I love bicycles -- always will -- and I love helping people get onto bikes as transportation, but I'm very happy to be phasing out of full-time bicycle retail.