Ten Year Belts

Monday, April 12 2004

I was putting my belt on this morning when I got to thinking. Do belt manufacturers conduct market studies that help them decide how many holes to put into a belt? Statistically, does a belt sized for a 32 inch waist grow by x amount of inches per quarter, and are belt buckle holes placed to maximize profits?

Of course, if I’m thinking about belts and profit margins, I can’t not think about something like my toothbrush. Now, I know toothbrush manufacturers are counting on that toothbrush to wear out. I’m sure Colgate has done extensive research on bristle stamina, how long competitors’ toothbrushes last, and have come up with a scientifically derived Golden Mean of Toothbrush Longevity that, combined with things like Tornado Tips and Cross Action bristles maximizes profit.

So, turning back to the belt – I’m not sure belt manufactures think about these things. You can easily spend thirty bucks on the cheapest belt, and it might last you ten years if your waist line doesn’t change drastically. But imagine if belt manufacturers figured out that if they used cheaper material, and spaced their belt holes appropriately (based on Extreme Scientific Research), and priced them at about five bucks. They’d have a product with planned obscelence. And while they’d sell the product at a cheap price of five bucks, the next time around, “cheap” might be seven bucks because of inflation or because the cheap belt market heated up enough to allow expansions in profit margins. Heck, form a belt cartel, and start pumping out single hole belts for five bucks a pop. Surely you’ll sell more belts.

And it doesn’t stop at belts. Work the model into everything. Cars, computers, cell phones, digital cameras, lawn mowers, mechanical pencils, washing machines, rubber bands, computer software, music. Spend piles of money on figuring out how to make things decay so they keep running back to you over and over again. Make it easier to throw things away so that the initial cost is less, but over the long term, the cost is staggering. Hire me as your strategist and I’ll make you billions.

I’m totally conflicted. While I’m building this whole “cheaper up front kills quality” rant, I’m realizing I think I prefer “cheaper up front”. I like products that work well, but I’m not sure I care if they last five years or twenty. If I had a car that lasted thirty years, I’m sure that ten years into it I’d be bored stiff by the car. I want to replace my old technology with new technology. If my toothbrush lasted ten years, I’m sure I’d lose it before I wore it out. I’d rather spend an incremental few bucks at a time then spend hundreds on something.

But then, I’m aware of the toll that “cheaper up front” has on everything. More waste, more pollution, higher long term costs, higher dependance on companies like Colgate that produce cheap, yet effective products.

Ultimately though, I don’t think I have much of a choice, especially when it comes to cars, computers, anything electronic, or tooth brushes. But where I do have a choice, I think I’ll start to prefer things like belts that last ten years but cost thirty bucks up front.