Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

Like so many others, we’ve taken our quarantine as an opportunity to make some much-needed home improvements. We haven’t done anything major, but one room that has needed attention for a long time is our laundry room.

So recently we decided it was time to do something. Our washing machine was 30 years old, and for the last 20 years I’ve had to turn the selection dial with a screwdriver. That in itself wouldn’t be enough for me to buy a new washer; however, for a long time now I’ve though a vast improvement to my laundry room could be had by simply buying a stacked washer-dryer. And then recently the old one started to leak. (Hooray!?!)

My house was built in 1985, and as was often the habit of builders then, minimal space was dedicated to such areas. There is room for a side-by-side washer-dryer, a laundry tub and enough floor space to put a hamper and a trash can in the room. That’s it.

So I started looking for an appropriate stacked system to maximize the usable space in the room. What I found was a problem I hadn’t considered. I’m not tall enough for the typical units that stack one on top of the other. All the dials on the dryers are at the top. Why didn’t they think about this? I think you’d need to be 6 feet tall to comfortably read the controls. Otherwise, you’d need a footstool to really see where to set for cottons, delicates, permanent press, etc. – you get the idea.

We finally found one that works for me. If you’ve ever lived in some kind of college housing, you’d recognize what I bought. It looks like the all-in-one my daughter Cat had in a grad school studio apartment – a one-piece top-loader with the dryer above (with the dials at the bottom of the dryer). My new one is just bigger.

This brings me to the crux of my problem. In the appliance industry I don’t understand the logic of how they do things. When we bought our very first dryer, when it was delivered, it had no power cord. The delivery guy said, “Oh, that’s extra.” Excuse me? Extra? Without a power cord, what you have there is a large, useless hunk of metal. It’s not a dryer until it has a way to make it work. Am I wrong here?

Fast forward to our most recent purchase. When they delivered my new appliance, the man who brought it said, “We can’t honor the warranty unless you buy new water lines from us. Now realize in the last month or so we had that leak. And at that time we bought brand new, state-of-the-art water lines from the repair folks. In fact, because the leak had ceased right after the repairman came, we had never installed the new lines. So here we were with water lines still in their original, pristine packaging, but if we didn’t buy different new ones from the company where we bought the washer, they wouldn’t guarantee it. I don’t get it.

Then, as if to emphasize my perspective, this past weekend I went with my friend Susan to buy a new stove. Her stove was obviously original to the house. It is a color called Golden Harvest. For those of you old enough to remember, Golden Harvest and Avocado Green were colors introduced in the ‘70s and determined to be past their usefulness or fashion in the early 1990s. So it was time.

Susan found exactly what she wanted online, and we headed to the big box that carries it. As she was finalizing her deal, the sales person said, “You’ll need a new oven power cord. Susan immediately protested that the one currently in use in her house was perfectly fine. To which the person said, “But we can’t guarantee that one will work with the new stove...”

Here we go again. Susan protested, but to no avail. She said exactly what I thought when buying that dryer 40 years ago: “Without the power cord, isn’t this just a large, unhandy piece of furniture?”

In my opinion, yes. Think about it. When you buy tennis shoes, does the clerk say, “Oh, you’ll have to buy the laces separately.” No. When you buy a dress, does the clerk say, “Oh, the buttons (zipper, snaps, whatever) are extra.” No. When you buy a watch, does it come without a band? Do you pay extra for a band? No. (Okay, in 2020 when many of us have Fitbits or Apple Watches, we do buy extra watch bands for fashion sake, but the original device does come with a no-frills, utilitarian band.) It only makes sense.

I think the appliance world should consider the PR factor. Even in 1974 when we bought that first dryer, I remember saying, “It makes sense to me that Sears would be smart to add the $12 to the cost of the dryer and not charge ‘extra’ for something that most reasonable human beings expect to come with their appliance.”

I think it still makes sense. While the names have changed (add Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc., to the list), and while the cost has changed (more like $25 for that cord today), the sentiment is the same. The buyer would not feel that he/she’s been hoodwinked somehow if the seller absorbed the cost of an item critical to the function of said item.

Again I ask – am I wrong here? The good news for me is that over the last five years we’ve now replaced all the major appliances in our house. If these last another 30 years, I probably won’t have to fight this losing battle again.