Between the last version and the current version of several beloved kitchen and other gadgets I own, I can read the history of the manufacturing shift from the US to China, and it’s a story that is a real letdown.
- Say your company makes blenders and has a great product. But to produce the blender in the US would cost $40. Sell it to the department and discount stores for $60 and they have to sell it for $120. Since you aren’t Waring, and you don’t want to spend the money on a retro-modern design to justify the price, you can’t charge that much. People
- they want Made in America products, but they vote with their wallets.
So you put out feelers to China, where you can manufacture it for $15. Your problem seems solved. You outline rigorous specifications, make factory visits and arrange for someone to be on hand occasionally for the manufacturing. The first samples look great. Maybe the housing seems a little thin or brittle, but by this time, the schedule is running out of days, so you green light it.
- The blender shipment floats on the slow boat from China to Long Beach for 80 days. During that time, the lab discovers that the blender’s seal doesn’t really seal properly, because even though the right rubber/polymer was used, the tensile strength of the seals made in China doesn’t quite meet what’s needed. So liquid leaks when the unit is set on “low.” But by the time someone discovers this, it’s too late.
I just made up the scenario, but consider it a myth — not true itself, but generally speaking, truthy. I’ve seen it in my kitchen and in the bath, where a set of hot rollers identical to the previous, 10-year-old set, failed within months. Oh, they still get hot, but the velvet layer covering the searing hot metal wore off within a couple of months. I kept the old rollers, still velvety after 10 years, and threw out the new ones. I couldn’t even find a consumer number for the hot rollers, and I can understand why. You only need to visit Amazon and read page after page of product reviewsto see that the China problem affects all kinds of products.
- I’ve seen the same thing in book printing, so much of which has shifted to China. Besides price, there are attractive reasons to print in China: hand work is cheaper, meaning die-cut books shaped like frying pans or t-shirts are affordable. Sewn-in bookmark ribbons are cheaper. China hasn’t outlawed dioxin or inks with heavy metals, so the paper is blinding white and the colors are rich and saturated. You can see the seductive logic.
But what if the lavender tablecloth in the cover photo that’s perfectly coordinated with the flower arrangement sitting on it actually prints closer to lilac? If you think the Junior League president won’t notice, then you haven’t met many Junior League presidents in the throes of a book project.
- What if the end sheets are technically the right paper, but it’s got a more open molecular structure than paper used by US printers, and absorbs all the ink so the color doesn’t match the chip, and isn’t even close? Hold it up next to a Rainbow endsheet, and it looks like school children tinted unbleached paper towels with food coloring.
- What if the colored sidebars are varying shades of the PMS color, rather than all identical?
- And if you get a sample that’s unacceptable, well, it was sent via FedEx three days ago, and by the time you call, it will be day after tomorrow, so if you want to hold on to your scheduled print slot, you’re under pressure not to make non-critical changes.
- The Oster toaster in the photo above actually does a good job of toasting, but the LED indicator light for “toast” burned out after 1 year of occasional use, and now you have to push the button twice so you can be sure you’re not accidentally setting the toaster for a frozen bagel. Again and again in testing equipment for Fine Cooking, I encounter major brand-name products whose shoddy workmanship must cause eye twitching and insomnia among the executives who approved the prototype.
- I can only lay it at your feet, consumers. Quit cheaping out on appliances and buy well-made things. Everyone will be happier in the end.