Flutterby™! : Anti-Brands

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2009-05-31 23:44:46.472748+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

I've been thinking a bit about brands and their value recently. A recognizable brand on a coffee, for instance, is a negative indicator of value; not only has that bean been roasted en-mass and sitting for who knows how long in the distribution channel, the purchaser for a large brand doesn't have the ability to say "no" to a batch of beans. So the small coffee companies, especially your local roaster, gets better pick of better beans, and roasts them more closely to when you consume them. If you're buying coffee in a strange city, don't buy a brand you recognize.

In purchasing a lawnmower, I ran into a similar situation. I was interested in an electric, we've got a small yard and I've managed a power cord for such things before, and there are apparently two manufacturers of electric rotary mowers: Black & Decker, and a private label manufacturer that makes "Earth Wise" and "Task Force" and a number of other house brand mowers. Now I know B&D from tools, so I was already predisposed against them, but there mowers also have plastic decks. As I dug around, despite many of the positive reviews, Black & Decker worked as a negative, and I went with the unbranded product.

So while I was doing this I went to Amazon to look at reviews. Saw their alleged discount off list price, tossed the things I was going to buy into the shopping cart to see how much they'd cost, printed out that sheet and then headed off to Lowe's, figuring that being able to examine the merchandise and have it today was worth a few bucks. On the way, thought I should stop at OSH to price things out, and sure enough they had all the items. And when it came to checkout, I'd gotten a better string trimmer than I'd priced at Amazon, and the whole order came to 10% less than Amazon, further weakening the strength of the Amazon brand.

[ related topics: Interactive Drama Books Consumerism and advertising Real Estate Woodworking ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 05:26:27.225104+00 by: ebradway

The wheelbase of the EarthWise/TaskForce/HomeLite was considerably shorter than the B&D. That was our primary consideration in choosing the HomeLite even though it seemed a little cheaper built. The B&D plastic hand a certain ruggedness to it, that actually contributed to greater weight too.

And why can't you buy a small string trimmer anymore? The smallest one HomeDepot sold is 13". I started with a B&D but returned it for a HomeLite because the B&D was painfully loud - louder than our neighbor's gas powered trimmer.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 13:46:57.093085+00 by: petronius

On the other hand, If I buy the Safeway house brand of Corn Chex they taste inferior to the GenFoods national brand. Safeway's house jelly also doesn't taste as good as Schmucker's. Is this a food-only issue? Of course, if coffee or jam sits in the warehouse too long it deteriorates, but edge-trimmers don't.

Where on-line becomes handy is with hard-to-find items. If I google humidifer filters I can find a dozen tiny, hole-in-the-wall suppliers. If I search through the hardware stores of Chicago it will take me all day or more to find the right sort. My rule of thumb is that online is pretty good if you know exactly what you want; not so good it you want to browse.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 15:58:50.914856+00 by: ebradway

Ah... But the Wild Oats house brand goat cheese was exactly the same as the Haystack Mountain goat cheese I would see at the farmer's market. But that's because Wild Oats sourced their goat cheese from Haystack Mountain. Of course, Wild Oats got swallowed up as a brand by Whole Foods - which has ended up forcing Haystack Mountain to reduce their operations to almost nothing.

I think part of the argument is that brands aren't what they used to be. Dan just bought a Mazda pickup. He was talking about how Ford used the same drive train in the Ranger. I pointed out that Ford and Mazda share more than just the drive train. I have a Ford Ranger. The only differences are the front grill, nameplate and some color choices. There are also only about three battery manufacturers in the world. All store brands are made by one of the three. The el-cheapo appearing Safeway-brand battery is likely a rebadged Duracell.

That last comment harkens a favorite quote of Dan's:

"The command-line is perfectly intuitive interface if you already know what you want to do"

So online shopping is like the command line and hitting the stores is like a GUI!

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 16:14:09.405529+00 by: Dan Lyke

Which goes to me wondering if the Safeway house brand cereal really does taste different. I don't know, as I don't buy pre-made cereals. Too much markup in the process of toasting and adding sugars for my wallet.

I could believe that the jams taste different, but I also wonder if a random jar of hand-labeled jam would on average taste better or worse? I guess I'm not asserting that there's no difference in brands, but that a known brand is at best a known quantity, and is often likely to be worse than an unknown brand ("Safeway" is still a brand).

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-01 16:39:17.640005+00 by: stevesh [edit history]

I have some experience in the coffee business, and you're trading peak quality for consistency when deciding on a brand. The local roaster may roast an excellent Sumatra, but the next time you buy it it may have an entirely different flavor, thanks to different lots of beans, and the inherent inconsistencies in small batch roasting.

The big guys are always consistent, but the quality isn't ever as good as the best efforts of the little guy. What you want to do is hit the sweet spot between the two. I used to work for, and am now a distributor for, a 'regional roaster. Two big roasters and one small gourmet roaster, 65 employees. They do a very good job of consistency and quality.