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Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone of Brand Loyalty

by on October 09, 2018 4:30 AM


You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

I recently had to buy a vacuum cleaner for our house. For many people this is likely not a major consumer decision, but for me, buying a vacuum cleaner is a big purchase.

When I write a “big purchase,” it doesn’t have to do with the price of the item, because in the end I spent less than $100 on the vacuum. What a big purchase is to me is something that I have to put thought into and spend time researching. A purchase that will have an effect on my outlook on life because I’ll be living with that purchase on a regular basis. I might even need to justify the thought process behind this purchase to others in my family as they too may be interacting with it. A big purchase requires validation for its existence in your life versus the other choices available.

Certainly some big purchases, such as cars, boats and RVs, have large price tags. However, items like vacuums, dishwashers, refrigerators and televisions aren’t in that same ballpark as far as price goes, but are still big purchases. Granted they may have large price tags in comparison to a fast-food dinner, but generally you are not going to cause yourself monthly financial household heartache if you spend $100 too much on a clothes dryer.

But you can cause yourself regular household heartache if the big purchase with the smaller price tag fails to perform properly.

In the case of my vacuum cleaner purchase, I made a choice that two years ago I would not have made. But I had learned a new trick.

With big purchases, in home life as in business life there is a tendency to go with the safe, responsible, respectable choice. As the old business adage goes, nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. Meaning, the brand itself has such cachet that even if the product or service doesn’t work, no one can argue that it wasn’t a reasonable choice.

And for me, in the big-purchase-for-the-home category, that brand was General Electric. GE. Makers of dishwashers, refrigerators, clothes washers, dryers, ranges, microwaves, and on and on. As our family has moved from home to home and lived our lives, we have had to purchase a few of these appliances, and all things being equal I was happy to buy GE. One home we bought even had a General Electric heat pump/air-conditioning unit. I wasn’t aware that GE even made such things but when I saw the house had one made by GE, I felt more comfortable about it.

My rationale for this brand-loyalty was based on the sum of the parts. GE manufactures all sorts of things – including huge and complex things such as locomotives and jet engines. GE is one of the largest producers in the world of jet engines – machines that operate in extreme temperature ranges from well below freezing to scorching hot, have manufacturing tolerances measured in microns, operate at speeds of thousands of RPMs for hours on end, and produce thousands of pounds of thrust (their newest engine creates more thrust than the first U.S. space rocket), all while keeping the lives of thousands of people a day safely traveling the globe.

If your company can make something that complex and that tough, and have virtually no breakdowns, then how hard can it be to make a refrigerator?

At least that’s how I always looked at it.

So a few years ago when we moved to a new home and had to buy a clothes washer and dryer since the departing homeowners took theirs, the choice of which brand was easy. It was simply a matter of how much did we want to spend. Feeling a bit adventurous we splurged on a modern-looking front-loading washer and dryer with a digital display.

Except the washer didn’t last three years.

Never before had I had a clothes washer break down, and most had many more than three years of service on them, but here was a GE appliance kicking the proverbial bucket. The cost to replace the board and get it working was more than the cost of a brand new conventional washing machine.

I was shocked. Saddened. Chagrined. I couldn’t understand it.

Until I did a little research. It turns out that GE had been trying to sell its appliance division since 2008. It eventually did sell to the home appliance maker Haier Group in 2016. And I thought, well, if I had a job making quality GE appliances but knew that the company was trying to sell and I might lose my job – all company assurances aside – might I be less than 100 percent focused on my job? Might quality suffer just a bit?

Of course this is all conjecture on my part, and perhaps we were just the recipients of the one-in-a-thousand glitch, but it gave me a freedom I didn’t feel comfortable exploring before. We bought a new conventional clothes washer. Not a GE. It’s been fabulous and we’re past the two-year anniversary.

Which brings me to the vacuum cleaner. I had a similar loyalty in vacuum cleaners, although not one as firmly rooted in logic as the jet engine story. But we had a bad run with a few. Plastic breaking. Filters unavailable. Some operator-error issues.

So I decided to try my new trick. Not going with my previous allegiance. Instead going w

with a brand I had mentally relegated to the “As Seen On TV” wasteland of $19.95 products that give you an extra set free and the bonus gift you can keep if you decide to return the product minus a small shipping and handling fee.

Yet here I am a year later just ecstatic – if owning and operating a vacuum cleaner can be described as ecstatic – about my choice. No pieces breaking off. All the filters are cleanable. Operator-error issues are easily fixed. And the ease-of-use is wonderful.

I’m glad I learned a new trick!


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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