Warning: this post may sound like a rant (although I prefer lament). It was brought on by something quite unexpected.
Sparta had an original wall-mounted space heater in the bathroom manufactured by Broan Mfg. Co. I pulled it during demolition three years ago and stashed it under the trailer hoping I might be able to use the shiny chrome grill in my project. The heater itself, a standard 120v coil and fan apparatus typical of that era, seemed shot – covered in grime and seemingly seized-up. With the bathroom now coming together, it was time to address the subject of heat so, on a whim, I brought the old heater home yesterday, cleaned it thoroughly, applied a squirt of WD-30 and plugged the raw wires into a GFI plug in the kitchen (don’t try that at home). To my great surprise the heater sputtered to life and ran just fine. In fact, I left it on for 30 minutes and it performed quietly and effectively, even warming up the kitchen. I put a thermometer on it and it blew a constant 200 degrees.
So what’s the problem? At the risk of sounding (yet again) like a grumpy geezer, they don’t make ’em like this anymore. In fact, they don’t make them in Hartford, WI at all. Oh yes, Broan Mfg. Co. is still around and occupies the same building it moved its 60 employees into in 1956 (about the same time my heater was made).
But Broan has diversified somewhat and now has operations in 7 countries – with most of its 2500 employees in China and Mexico…Shocker! Its modest revenues have grown to $700 million. There are now 800 Broan employees in Wisconsin. Growth, to be sure, but hardly commensurate with sales growth – even accounting for inflation and diversification. Just out of curiosity I checked a jobs search tool to see what my employment prospects in Hartford, WI might be. Most of the jobs at Broan were admin. and corporate positions with a few openings in “assembly”. There is that word again and in today’s parlance it has become a thinly-veiled euphemism for outsourcing. The FTC maintains that in order to be made in America, a product must undergo a “significant transformation” on American soil. Something tells me that Broan falls short of that test, esp. given the relatively small number of ee’s in the US versus China.
So, where is this all leading? Well, as I loosen my Chinese-made Trump necktie I can’t help to reflect on quality as a condition of a company’s success. Back in 1956 I think success could be measured by making a product so durable and reliable that the product itself could conceivably outlive the company. Now, it’s as if the reverse is true. The successful companies (who sell merchandise at huge margins by virtue of cost reductions enjoyed by outsourcing) almost always outlive the utility of their products. In fact, obsolescence is essential to continued revenue growth (think iPhone).
I went to the Home Depot website and searched for Broan bathroom wall heaters. Yep, they still make ’em but based upon customer reviews it is clear that they are of inconsistent quality. In fact, there were quite a few “one star” ratings including some where the unit arrived broken right out of the box or died within days of installation. You can be sure that not a single one will be operating in 62 years.
*make appliances great again