2017.04.22 “the market”?

Saturday 2017.04.22

Happy Spring to you. (Unless, of course, you’re in the southern hemisphere.) Lately I have spent bits of time watching some very entertaining and informative videos by a Canuckistani guy producing videos put out into the world via the AvE channel on YouTube. It’s fun stuff, entertaining for me, and apparently a few other people, and practically informative.

It might be useful, given the abuses of language that are so common and all the resulting confusion that generates, that when I say “practically informative”, that does not mean what some people might take it to mean when you use the word “practically”, which might be to think it means “almost informative”. I mean there is information that is practical, of substantial usefulness.

It is a little weird that it could even be necessary to clarify such a thing, but there is such a casual sloppiness in the use of language now that this kind of clarification is needed too often. I am amazed and appalled way too frequently by situations where people seem completely confused by some of the seemingly most simple things because they cannot even communicate clearly with each other. Moving on from that, there is the whole concept of something being practical, of being useful.

People might take a peek at some of the AvE videos and simply take a casual view of it being merely “some guy playing around in his workshop”, which, of course, it is, in simplest superficial terms. There is a lot more to get from it. One factor is just the idea of a guy doing things in a home workshop, which I think is maybe less common than it has been in earlier years of my lifetime, and it is worth some thought to consider why that might be. More than that, there is the focus on, to put it simply, stuff that works.

One of the regular features of the AvE channel videos is our host selecting some item, usually some sort of tool, and doing a thorough review of it, in the most detailed manner. I mean very detailed. He does a full teardown with piece by piece examination of the parts and overall design. He really digs in deep. These pieces are not what you would find as a typical “consumer report” bit of fluff.

There are some surprises sometimes, although some of the surprises should not be too surprising, and certainly will not surprise a lot of people. An unfortunate revelation to some other people is that there are many manufactured items that are literally engineered to fail. Yes, folks, I am using the word “literally” literally, meaning that part of the engineering brief of some things you can go buy via retail commerce are really and truly designed deliberately in a way that one or more pieces of the thing will, sooner or later, shit the bed, go south, pack up, let go, cease to function.

Why? Well, to encourage “consumers” to buy more of the things, to replace the thing that just puked on their shoes!

What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, in that kind of devious thinking and practice, somebody has the notion that the way to succeed in The Market is to have people repeatedly buying the same thing over and over by making the stuff deliberately badly in some way. Evidently this kind of mindset never considers the idea that “consumers” of the things will toss the malfunctioning widget into a trashcan and vow to never buy anything from those people again.

It seems obviously natural that a part of these reviews is the topic of the particular brand name of the thing being examined. It might be good to point out a slightly subtle point that might have just slipped by unnoticed. I did not say “the manufacturer” involved, I said “brand name”. This is not a trivial point.

Talk about “the market”, and at some point you quickly find yourself in the midst of a lot of babbling about brand names, with people belching out corporate-speak lingo about “The Brand”. We are, now, as we have been for a very long time, in an era where “The Brand” and the actual manufacturer of a particular item are often very different things, even while so many people somehow still have the notion in their head that The Brand and the manufacturer are one and the same.

Going right along with that are notions that The Brand represents a history and characteristics of a particular way of doing things and a reputation for quality and design and ways of doing things that give people a sense of meaning attached to The Brand that they use to make choices about stuff they might want to buy.

All that seems remarkably naïve, and in many cases has little to no basis in reality, as loads of various kinds of manufactured items have some name and associated logo stuck on them that come from God knows what actual manufacturer, and, quite often, a variety of such “Brands” are all being cranked out by the very same actual manufacturing operation. It should also be obvious to anybody with a working mind and paying any attention at all that in a great many cases, this means a product from the Brand that is, to use the words of our AvE channel host, made entirely of Chinesium.

There is, obviously, a serious point to our host’s joking, and we could go into all kinds of discussion about this, not only about where things are made, with all the repercussions and implications, but how things are made. Part of all this I have already just mentioned, the absurdity of identification of brand names and the naïve notions of so many people about the meanings and relevance of the brand name.

People familiar with the corporate retail chain store operation known as Radio Shack got familiar with some of this a long time ago, as they looked at a whole array of devices sold by those guys. It did not take long for anybody shopping around looking at their wares that quite a lot of the products for sale in Radio Shack stores were exactly the same things as items sold elsewhere except for the fact that the Radio Shack stores were selling these items with one of the “brands” of Radio Shack plastered on the front instead of the brand found on the same things everywhere else.

The extra twist that will be familiar to those people was that the “rebranded” Radio Shack products tended to be sold at a higher price than elsewhere, which, in itself, makes a person wonder about the brilliance of Radio Shck executive management. Now, as you might already be aware, Radio Shack has some serious financial trouble, and has for a while. There are visible effects, including what can be easily observed in the fact that where I live, in the metropolitan area of a relatively major somewhat medium sized American city, where there were maybe a dozen or more Radio Shack stores in the past, there are only a couple now, the last time I looked, along with the display of what you find in a Radio Shack store if you go there. They are, to put it plainly, pretty feeble.

The name of that company, in case you do not know this, comes from a common term from the past, often associated with amateur radio operators, where a pile of radio equipment was often literally off in a physically separate little space in a structure best described as a shack. It was actually a case of naming that was suitable and relevant, as Radio Shack stores were a main place to go for many people for a variety of radio equipment, including 2 way communications, along with a decent assortment of general electronics parts and pieces and equipment, very useful for not only amateur radio people, who often built their own gear, but general electronics hobbyists into doing the DIY thing and assorted tinkering and generally playing home mad science for fun.

Now, if you go into a Radio Shack store, it would be a shocking surprise to find store staff who knew anything at all about electronics in any form. Look for radio equipment, and you will find absolutely nothing, nada, zilch, in amateur radio equipment. Would you like a decent general coverage shortwave receiver to listen to all that’s happening in broadcasts and radio communications around the world? Good luck with that. You can barely find anything at all that qualifies as radio equipment. That is, except for the batch of mobile phones, which are, of course, UHF radio tranceivers, although people seem usually oblivious to that basic fact. More about that in a moment.

Looking for electronic test equipment and components to work on your own electronics projects, or for some electronics repair and modifications? Good luck with that, too.

What you will find is fairly ridiculous, mainly in the form of the stores being turned, some time ago, into mostly a mobile phone store, in an era when everyplace in the retail world is selling mobile phones, and a very small and fairly lame selection of what would be called general “consumer electronics” of types of things that are sold elsewhere and usually found elsewhere in a better selection of slightly better stuff sold for cheaper prices.

In short, Radio Shack spent years completely destroying a sort of”market niche” they had, focusing instead and trying to cover what other business operations were doing already and arguably doing much better. It really is amazing to observe and reflect on that story, and the apparent way that Radio Shack executive management has considered, or not, the basic questions about “the market” and the fundamental question “why would people want to go to a Radio Shack store and buy things?”.

Not long ago news broke that Sears, a whole story unto itself in recent years, has decided that the “brand” of Craftsman tools was something of value just as a name, never mind the actual tools and the decent and solid reputation for reasonably priced and functional quality tools, and somebody thought a good way improve the Sears financial ledgers would be to hock the name and associated intellectual property to somebody. It turned out that this was to be sold to the people running the Stanley tools “brand”, whatever that is now. What I do know is that Stanley brand tools, in my experience, are absolute garbage.

Things do not bode well for Craftsman tools.




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