The NY Times has an editorial, "Hard to Say Goodbye," about Newton, Iowa, the former home of Maytag. The company has been acquired by Whirlpool and is disappearing from town.
Shoppers probably won't notice, but Newton and the laid-off Maytag workers everywhere will feel a void. The economy is growing fast, but American workers are downbeat, and Maytag helps explain why. Jobs can be replaced, but the sense of safety and security cannot. The brand lives on, but the identity is gone.
There's a lot more to the story of Maytag than workers losing their jobs. A lot of consumers ended up with a lot of terrible Maytag products that were poorly designed and manufactured. I'm sure the workers built what they were told, but somewhere along the line, Maytag as a brand came to have little relationship to the lonely Maytag repairman we used to see on television.
While I feel sorry to see the workers of Newton without jobs, perhaps Whirlpool might bring quality back to the design and production of Maytag products. I wrote about the problems we had with Maytag in "Maytag's funeral," and "Maytag & Home Depot 'Customer Service.'"
This is a far bigger problem than Maytag. I'm beginning to think it is a problem of scale. Companies think that there are so many consumers out there that they can get way with lousy products and poor service. In one of my Maytag articles, I mentioned that acquisition by a larger company could have minimal impact on products. I sited Volvo's acquisition by Ford as an example. Little did I know that a few months later I would be swearing off of Volvos forever because of incompetent service. I wrote a post, "High tech car, low tech dealer," about our Volvo experience.
As consumers we all have to get smarter and demand more for our money. The challenge is that as fewer and fewer companies deliver more and more of our major services and products, we may have little choice. When you throw in the price pressure from offshore competition, we may be heading into a future of products that don't last very long and have problems from the start.
I'm hoping there will always be room for products that work better and last longer.