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  Potted History Of Appliances

There are a lot of times when we have to explain this to customers or we want to, but can't so here goes.

In the 1960's a washing machine cost many times the average week's wages and few people had them.

In the 1970's, especially in the late seventies the prices of appliances came down to allow more consumers to be able own one. At that point it was still not common that people had a dishwasher and built-in appliances were rare.

The 1980's saw major changes in the industry, better mass manufacturing techniques were employed, roboticised plants were built and production levels shot up. The washer dryer was born (or reborn) to pander to, in particular, new flat developments where drying facilities had to be offered but space was tight, this was the answer. Dishwashers became more commonplace during the financial boom years as well as people could afford the luxury of one.

Towards the end of the eighties the manufacturers and, we are sure the retailers, realised that now that the vast majority of people had the appliances they sold the future of their sales looked bleak indeed. There was no new market left in Europe for appliances really, just the replacement market so gradually the appliances got cheaper in real terms, "grades" became more commonplace and deals were to be had.

Also in the very late seventies and early eighties the extended warranty was born, or at least we first saw it then coming into play and many of the original companies that offered one are no longer in business. The rate and cost of failures bankrupted them over the years, as well as a few retailers like Clydesdale.

So, into the 1990's. Appliances have gotten cheaper, we as service agents notice a downturn in quality, some of the appliances in this period were shockingly bad! For one manufacturers appliances it was not unusual to be making 10-15 calls a year on, but they were cheap and sold like hotcakes to replace the appliances bought during the boom of the 1980's. But the customers were not aware that the appliances were not built as well as the previous they owned were and did not have the same expected lifespan.

We generally leave it up to customers to figure this one out using three basic questions:

How much did the same appliance cost you ten years ago? (Generally the answer is £300-350)
How much did you pay for this one? (in virtually every case it's less, usually a lot less)
How do you think they do that?

Bear in mind here that domestic appliances are primarily mechanical devices, like cars, built from steel and iron, with many moving parts and the raw materials to build them have not dropped in price. What has happened is that the steel has been made thinner and lighter, in many cases stainless steel outer tanks have been replaced by plastic, which always seems to sport a fancy name but essentially plastic. Components have been sourced as cheaply as possible and many form weak points, in particular electronic components in our experience.

The 1990's also saw the many of the big players in the industry buying up all the smaller ones that were struggling to survive in the new financial climate and some of these were a surprise at the time. Typical examples were Merloni, both of them who have been snapping up struggling brands left and right, Candy bought Hoover, Electrolux bought AEG, the list goes on (and on!).

Onward into the new millennium and the appliance fall in price again! Given the facts explained above, draw your own conclusions on how good or bad many of the low cost appliances are. But had the basic and, we do mean basic, washing machine tracked with inflation etc over the years since early in it's mass-produced life the most basic of washers would cost between £800 & £1000 these days to get the same quality of appliance that you had in the 70's!

An interesting side note to all this is how it has affected the service and insurance industry. Is it really worth taking out an insurance policy on a machine that costs as little as £180, the warranty to cover it for four years costs more than half the RRP of the appliance, how can anyone justify that?

Additionally what quality of service do customers expect on an appliance at this price level? They expect a skilled tradesman to attend the appliance when it suits them which is fair enough, but tell us, how much do you honestly think that those skilled tradesmen are being paid to do this given the retail price of the appliance? Now, given those facts what sort of level of service do you think that the agents or even the manufacturers can offer at this pricing level?

Our service trade is often compared with the plumbing industry for some reason, you'll note that virtually no plumbers will touch a gas cooker, a washing machine or any other domestic appliance other than to install services for it and, in most instances the cost to install an appliance is disproportionate to the actual cost of the machine, just as repairs are these days in many instances.

So after all that, can you see why people are leaving the whitegoods service industry in droves? It has gotten so bad that one of the primary problems facing the industry, like many others, is skilled staff. We cannot pay the salaries to attract people into the industry and we cannot afford to train people only to have them head-hunted by someone else prepared to offer a higher wage. The effect on the end user is poor service simply as no-one can afford to provide the service that the customer wants or expects.

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