Inside the Real Repair Shop 8

From brand snobbery to The Queen – Matt’s talking about what lies beneath in some products and asks if they’re worth it.

Do you know a brand snob?  I bet you do. Maybe you are one yourself. Who knows, but let me tell you this; manufacturers and retailers have got you and me wrapped around their little fingers.  Of course, this is nothing new, and badge engineering has been going on, well, forever.  We tend to think of brand engineering as a relatively new phenomenon, linked to our fast-paced consumer led lives, but it’s just not the case. Indeed, preserved street food shop branding was found on previously submerged buildings in Pompeii, during a dig in 2020, having been previously covered by a volcanic eruption in 79AD. I mean, what have the Romans ever done for us‽

FixItWorkshop, Worthing – well, Pompeii – somewhere

Nowadays, a brand’s application, values, promotion and maybe even worship is a very sophisticated affair…see Apple’s iPhone! Allow me to explain. I might even make the odd reference to sustainability, repair and the forthcoming Jubilee, an odd combo I think you’ll agree.

Am I worth it?

A slight twist on a well recognised slogan there, but with a serious point. The well know French manufacturer of hair and skin care products that rhymes with ‘low-heal’ (sort of) sells high quality, well-engineered products at a premium price on the promise that said product will deliver benefits way above anyone else’s say, shampoo. And you can afford it, because ‘you’re worth it’, quite possibly the best marketing slogan of all time, in my humble opinion! However, they’ve been taken to task around the world by various agencies for making over ambitious claims about their products, which are potentially misleading. 

It’s something we need to think about when seeing adverts featuring famous film stars, endorsing the latest eyelash enhancing widget that they claim we all need in our lives. They don’t do it for the love and it must be said that one can have the same beautiful shining locks using a bottle of shampoo from Lidl.

Hang on Matt, what’s any of this got to do with repair or sustainability, anyway.  Good point. I must get back on track. But first…

Hands up; how many of you have bought a product on brand reputation alone?

I have, and I’m sure you have too, but have those purchases always lived up to the promises made on the packaging and propaganda that influenced our choices?  Sometimes. Here’s the thing though, many items such as toasters, kettles, TVs, lawnmowers, clocks, laptops, cookers, washing machines and irons (I could go on) are either similar or identical inside.  The makers’ mark, colour and name of the product may change on the outside, but the insides can be the same.

How do I know this?  Well, I must have opened up 1000s of products like this during repairs over the years, and have got to understand who really makes what.  It’s really nothing new and manufacturers have been doing it, since er, Roman times. Always in the interests of good value, I want to make sure I and others are not paying too much, if one must buy something new.

FixItWorkshop, Wothing, May 2022, A Smeg toaster in bits.

But how can you tell if two seemingly different toasters are basically the same without taking them apart, one at say £99, the other at £39? It’s very tricky. By having your wits about you and an interest in detail, can save you cash.  Pay attention to the position of the knobs, switches and dials and have a good look at the toasting slots especially.  If they look more than similar, chances are they were at least made in the same factory. At the end of the production line, one had an expensive badge applied, the other had the cheaper relative. If the expensive one comes with a longer warranty, then it may be worth it, if it doesn’t well, that’s for you to decide.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May 2022 – Queen in her trusty Land Rover Defender – or is it a Land Wind?

In other news, it’s the Queen’s Jubilee this year, and in case you didn’t know HRH is a big fan of the Land Rover, well, the Defender anyway.  As a lifelong devotee to one of most reverered motors of all time, maybe The Queen will be celebrating her time on the throne with a little bit of repair and maintenance by doing the odd oil change and tappet adjustment on her trustee motor.  Incidentally, the Land Rover marque is much admired and carries much kudos, so much so that manufacturers literally copy Land Rover vehicles in China, where intellectual property rights may not carry as much weight, in order to sell their cars. And that’s just another example of a brand’s power on the mind.

If you’ve read my articles before, then you’ll know that I’m a fan of good quality, simpler and supported repairable products.  In general, it means that one doesn’t have to keep replacing things like toasters every couple of years – wasting energy and materials.  However, in the interests of balance, some branded things are usually higher quality and perform better than the wannabes. Take a set of high-quality Bowers & Wilkins speakers or a Brompton folding bicycle*, both good examples of, repairable items made to last a lifetime. They may seem expensive in the first place, but will give many years’ service, perform well and still hold their value, when you come to sell them on.  Something to think about the next time you need to splash out.

*Not a brand endorsement, just an example.

As always, until the next time. Matt.

The perfect blend…

An Optimum 8200 Blender, escapes the chop!

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, August’20, Optimum 8200 Blender… in red.

When I agreed to ‘have a look’ at a customer’s beloved broken blender, I had no idea that the market for blenders was so, well, juicy.  One can spend anything from £50-£1800 – a huge price range.  You have to ask yourself a question; is the juice made by a blender costing 36 times more than a cheaper one, any better?  Hmm, the virtues of blender technology, robustness and efficiency could be debated in a future, exhilarating article, maybe. But for now, our attention is on this one, the repair of an Optimum 8200 Blender.

The reason I mention the huge price range is that prices for spare parts also vary wildly too.

Make and model: Optimum 8200 Blender

Fault reported: Leaking, noisy, crunchy, horrible

Cost of replacement: £300.00

Manufacturer support:  5/10

Cost of parts: £18.95

My repair time: 1.5 hours

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter, heat shrink, soldering iron etc

Sundry items:  paint, contact cleaner

Cleaning materials: Bleach, bicarbonate of soda, washing up liquid, car polish

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Cups of tea: 2

Biscuits: 2 X custard creams

I received this blender with a broken drive coupler/ socket (the bit that transfers the power to the blades in the jug) and a rough, leaking blender jug.  This high-mileage kitchen appliance had been used until it would work no more.

Upon taking the blender into the workshop, I suggested to the owner that ‘it must have been sounding rough’ for a while… There then might have been a small admission of guilt.

Now, I realise that I’m unusual.  I regularly service my vacuum cleaners, sandwich toaster and kettle and I know that this isn’t normal, so my views on machine maintenance are a little outside the bell curve.

The owner had done her own research on repairing her blender.  She’d located a spares provider and had identified the parts required, to get the blender back making smoothies, which is more than many folk do.  The trouble was that the total amount for all the new parts required, was more than the price of a reconditioned unit.  This is often the case as some reconditioning agents have access to cheaper parts, not available to regular punters, through economies of scale.  To make this repair financially viable, I was going to have to work smart.

As mentioned earlier, blenders vary widely in price and there are established names out there that command a high price.  However, look beyond the logo and things are a little greyer.  Badge engineering, colour and subtle style changes can literally add hundreds of pounds to the asking price for the same basic machine.  This is nothing new.  Manufacturers have been sharing designs and production since the dawn of time and when it comes to buying spares for an expensive machine, there can often be a cheaper route for good quality alternative spares that are compatible, intended for the cheaper variation.  The skill is knowing where to look.

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A picture paints a thousand words as they say and the slide show above shows the stages that I went through with this repair.

Using the original parts listed for an Optimum 8200 blender, the best deal the customer and I could find was:

  • Replacement drive socket, £39.95
  • Replacement blade and bearing, £69.00
  • Tool for blade removal, £11.99

Total, £120.94 (more if you want speedier delivery). Source:  froothie.co.uk

Shopping around for alternatives…

  • Replacement blade and bearing, £18.95 for a Vitamix blender (Amazon.co.uk)
  • Repair to existing drive socket (I drilled and tapped a new grub screw), £ my time
  • I used a tool I had already to remove the old blade (a plumbing bracket) so no need to buy one

Total, £18.95, plus my time

I chose a Vitamix blade as I noticed that some Optimum and Vitamix blenders shared the same jug design.  I actually saw the blade assembly for £7.99 on eBay, but decided that the warranty offer on Amazon.co.uk, was a better deal.

Now, I know I haven’t been that scientific here, but one suspects that there is little or no difference in blender blade robustness and all the ones I’ve ever seen to date contain the same bearings you might find in a scooter or skateboard.  I suspect that the blade assemblies are all made in the same factory, somewhere.

My guess here is that the aftermarket parts supplier must charge a comparitively high price for some items to:

  • Cover staff and site overheads
  • Provide a sense of reassuring expense compared to the original purchase price
  • Potentially recover a high charge from the manufacturer

The trouble with this strategy is that many domestic appliances are worth little once unwrapped compared to the original ticket price.  The comparative high prices for aftermarket parts would likely in many cases, put a customer off doing the repair at all.  The customer then weighs up the cost of:

  • Finding someone to do the repair work
  • Doing the repair work themselves
  • The price of parts
  • The price of labour

Often, when added up, it’s cheaper to replace, rather than repair which in my opinion, not the way to go.

As a repairer, the statement I’m always grappling with is:

Value Repair ≤ Replacement Product Purchase or simply: VR ≤ RPP

So, when someone brings me an item to repair, I’m always looking for:

  • An overall repair that costs-in for the customer, encouraging the customer to keep the existing machine for longer, saving it from the dump
  • A repair that’s likely to be reliable in relation to the condition of the machine
  • An upgrade to the original design (where possible) taking advantage of the innovations or modifications to the original design that enhance longevity or performance

It’s a careful balancing act and one that doesn’t always work first time, but that’s the challenge!

I’ve gone a little off subject but it all relates.

Back to the blender, I saved the customer money on the purchase of a new appliance, saved money on a potential repair elsewhere and saved the broken blender from the chop.  The customer was happy.  As with all items I receive for repair, I also cleaned and polished the blender to make it shine like new.

 

Footnote: The repair was over, or so I thought.  A week or so later, the customer contacted me again to tell me that a new fault had started.  Speed control was now a little erratic and was making the blender hard to use.  I said no problem and agreed to have a look.  Likely to have happened during my repair work, a small lead on the printed circuit board had become loose.  A quick tighten up and normal operation resumed.  Phew!