When people buy American made products they do so for a number of reasons. You might buy them because of the excellent quality that “US Made” represents, or maybe it’s the pride you feel in supporting your country, or maybe it’s the satisfaction in helping those families that have dedicated their lives to the idea that making something is still an important part of who we are. Whatever the reason, I can’t think of a better thing to do on the 4th then support all the businesses local and on the internet that make an effort to sell products still Made in the USA.
The very next day…
Congratulations on your first Epstein’s Day! You guys made it a great success. You also gave us a ton of work to do, but I guess that goes along with the whole success thing. I am still busy drawing on boxes but am making great headway. I am hoping to ship all of the box art requests out by the latest on Wednesday. Again, I want to thank Bull and everyone for making this happen. I think you guys sent a really good message to all the tool manufacturers out there, that there is still a demand for great quality USA tools. Don’t think that they didn’t take notice, because we’ve had calls. Also, I want to thank all the companies that donated t-shirts/merch for the event: Wilde, Wright, Vaughn, Dalluge, SK, Occidental and Picquic. These guys will wear your shirts with pride.
There’s an awful lot of emphasis on buying presents for your loved ones this time of year but what about the people you don’t like but are still obligated to shop for? What do you buy for them? Might I suggest this very large, extremely obscure, possibly useless, slightly rusty transmission pliers. This holiday season send these peripheral people in your life that you find slightly irritating but impossible to avoid a present that says “Hey, our wives are friends so I guess I had to buy you something only because I thought you were going to buy me something. I didn’t want to show up empty handed so here you go. There’s no receipt so you can’t return it.” The kind of present that says, “I find our friendship tolerable. You live in close proximity to my house. I see you often enough but I can’t remember if your name is Mike or Matt so I’m leaving the card blank.” The kind of present that carries the not so subtle message, “Please contact me in emergency situations only.”
The beauty of this transmission pliers is that it is large enough so they will feel guilty throwing it away. They can’t regift it and they can’t pawn it off on their other friends as no one would want it. It will sit in their basement as a constant reminder of your not so fruitful relationship that is based solely on the fact that your cousin is their mother-in-laws brother. And next year when the holidays roll around again, if you are brave enough, you will buy them the exact same thing. Just imagine, two giant transmission pliers in a row! They would be speechless. You will watch them open their gift, their face growing more and more perplexed as the realization that they will have to find more space in their house for another one of these enormous pliers. They will go back home and have a long conversation with their significant other about the meaning of such a gift. “What does this guy think I do for a living?” they might ask. “Did I mention at some dinner party that I liked obscure transmission pliers? I really don’t remember?”
If for some reason you think that the person you are buying a present for might actually have some use for this pliers we also offer this Niagara Sheet Metal Hand Groover, which is pretty much just a giant block of steel. What better way to say, “I am observing the customary exchanging of gifts and nothing more,” then with a giant hunk of steel. The exciting part about this present is that it has the weight to make it seem like it could be something really cool. Imagine getting a small really heavy box. What could it be? After they’ve opened it and are still trying to figure out what this is, you could say something like, “You know. For sheet metal,’ and they will nod in unsure approval. “Oh, of course,” they will finally respond. “Sheet metal.”
Whatever you decide to buy this holiday season, we here at Epstein’s hope you put a lot of thought into your purchases because presents are a great way to express those mushy internal emotions of love into something physical that shows you understand the people in your life. Of course they can just as easily act as a not-so-veiled threat to your neighbor that you haven’t forgiven him for borrowing your chainsaw and never returning it. Either way, we hope everyone in your life get’s everything that they deserve.
Note: Somewhat ironically, we are now sold out of both of these items. It appears more than one person took my advice.
I’ve been thinking about this more and more often and I just wanted to share a few thoughts on the “transaction relationship”. We are constantly confronted with it. We want to buy something. We have to exchange money for it. A person is there to help us through. I see it in various forms from the incredibly personal (here at Epstein’s) to the ultimate impersonal (checking yourself out through a computer at the grocery store). People often try to add some kind of negative connotation to it because it involves money and money somehow makes the whole thing insincere but judging from my experience at Epstein’s I would say this doesn’t have to be true.
I think it is a pessimistically narrow view of business to say that it reduces people to money. Business in fact starts with money and builds on top of it. It can create incredibly rich relationships between complete strangers for no other reason then a guy needs a tubing square or a 1/2″ combination wrench. While I am aware that we are making a small profit with each sale, I am also equally aware that there is an opportunity for genuine human conversation. It is the way in which we handle this delicate balance of sharing a human moment and also making a buck that is so important to all of us. It is so important because we spend so much time doing it. Think about how much of your day is involved in making transactions. It’s a lot!
The great part about the transaction relationship is that we are presented with this situation over and over again and each time we are given the opportunity to humanize it. It doesn’t matter if we are in a Walmart, a McDonalds drive-thru or at a family owned small business. Treating people respectfully and engaging in sincere dialogue is not only good business, it is one of the joys of being alive. While everyone needs money to keep the lights on, the satisfaction of having a real human interaction with our customers is what keeps us going. It is a great exchange because in treating our customers like human beings, we get to act like human beings. Everyone wins!
It is easy to participate in this way when you have a brick and mortar store (just come in, saddle up to the counter and start talking) but it is another to try and have this same interaction online. We’ve all heard the saying, “Computers have connected and separated us.” A lot of the interactions we have with our customers now happen virtually over the internet. We don’t get the chance to look them in the eye, to sit down with them and talk about whatever happens to be going on in their life. We don’t get the chance to swap bad jokes or talk about the state of the world. Even though this new form of internet communication is limiting, it doesn’t have to be inhuman.
We’ve tried to reach out in a few new ways, through the Daily Dispatch blog, through our box art, and through the telephone conversations and emails we have with our customers. The question before us, before everyone, is whether internet shopping is going to continue the trend of sacrificing this human interaction for a cheaper and cheaper price or whether people are going to start valuing the quality of the interaction as part of the product. Looking behind us, it is easy to see that people have overwhelmingly in large numbers gone down the “cheaper” road.
A good chunk of our business used to be selling to the mom and pop farm stores all over the country, supplying them with tools and scrap leather. Unfortunately not a lot of them are around anymore. As Americans, we were asked what was more important, the social relationships that we formed with small family-businesses or buying something for a little less. We chose again and again to buy things for less. Online shopping can either be an intensifying pressure on this trend or a means to reverse it. We have seen signs of both.
As a store that primarily sells US made products, we’ve seen demand for higher end quality goods rise. We’ve seen US manufacturing become more competitive and we’ve seen smaller more specialized markets open up. We’ve seen the rise of customers that see purchasing not just as a means to an end, but as a moral act. The most obvious trend is related to buying US made products and in the growing support for small business. There has been an incredible welling up of support in forum communities like Garagejournal and the Gazette. They’ve realized that their coordinated purchasing is a powerful tool. Thanks to Bull, a member of the community, they’ve organized an Epstein’s Day as well as a New Years day sale for Westling Machine. To me this is a beautiful moment of US consumers finding their voice in an organized movement. It is saying, “I am not just buying a product. I am sending my money to people and organizations that I believe in, that I think are valuable, because they in turn value me.”
However, we’ve also seen the trend of the growing forces of Amazon, of other online retailers, that prize speed and efficiency over human relationships. While we readily participate in selling on Amazon, we are definitely aware of the stark divide between our Amazon customers and our website customers. On Amazon there is almost no communication unless there is a problem. The communication is usually abrupt or the person is unsure of who they are actually dealing with, because in the end, they’ve bought something from someone they don’t really know. While maximizing speed and efficiency are necessary for any business to survive, we feel there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed, that you shouldn’t completely depersonalize the shopping experience in the quest for maximum profit.
I am very hopeful about the future of our business. I feel more connected to our customers then ever. I can sit at the counter and listen to Sam tell another story about buying accordion parts in Italy then I can go back to my computer and read the discussions about “country of origin” on the tool forums. I am hopeful that the trend to support small local business is here to stay. I think as Americans we are waking up to the fact that the transaction relationship is a complicated one that has serious consequences on the reality in which we live. We have seen the effects of going down the “cheaper” road and hopefully we have learned an important lesson, that buying things cheaper has a pretty hefty social price tag attached to it, that living in close knit communities is important to a happy life, and that our collective humanity has a significantly greater value then saving three dollars on bulk toilet paper.