Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My new toothbrush is a Ford Fiesta

While in the UK last week, I went to buy a new electric toothbrush for my mother. Having bought electric toothbrushes before I went straight to the electrical section of a large 'sells everything' store. No toothbrushes to be found - toasters, kettles, hair tongs, all kinds of electric gizmos but no electric toothbrushes. Finally I asked and was directed to the toothbrush shelves where they are to be found for £3 next to old fashioned electrically challenged toothbrushes. Last time I bought an electric toothbrush, the refill brushes cost more than that!

I was on the lookout for new brushes for my 5 year old toothbrush but got a new one (as I was supposed to) instead. This new toothbrush feels cheap to use - like putting a Ford Fiesta in your mouth instead of a BMW. Personally, I am a less happy consumer. I would prefer to have the BMW toothbrush for 10 years (with new brushes) than drive the Ford Fiesta round my mouth morning and evening, but I guess I will get used to paying more (overall) for less after a while.

So I understand that the commodisation of electric toothbrushes is a 'good thing'. More goods produced, more jobs, higher GDP, Hurragh!

But it's not so good for me personally and the general approach of making things cheaper to buy and more costly to maintain is not so good heading into a recession. If money gets tight, you want the flexibility to spend less of it for a while. No new coat of paint for the house, cancel the subscription to the weekly magazine and buy an old fashioned toothbrush when the cheap electric one breaks after 6 months. But that still leaves cartriges for the ink jet printer, sky subscription, tivo subscription, new video camera as the old one records but can't get the movies off...

The same is true for many businesses with just in time ordering and tight cashflow - bills only paid when suppliers start chasing. Is there is too little financial flexibility left in the way we run our lives or businesses? What options do we have when so many capital purchases have been turned into overheads?

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