Saturday, November 12, 2016

Professional Grade versus Consumer Grade

Buying professional-grade products for consumer use is as pointless and wasteful as buying consumer-grade products for professional use.  Pictured is a "consumer grade" weed trimmer which for $50 will trim the weeds on a suburban lawn.

People are status-seekers, and one way they seek status us to buy "professional-grade" products, whether they are cookware, appliances, or whatnot.   Marketers are aware of this, and will call a product, such as a GMC truck "professional grade" even though it is identical to the non-professional grade Chevy that is made on the same assembly line.

But aside from faux professional-grade products, there are the real thing, and for most of us, they are a waste of time and money and moreover, will provide worse performance than a consumer-grade product better suited for our needs.

For example, consider pressure washers.  If you are going to start a deck-cleaning business, you should buy an expensive gasoline-powered pressure washer, as you will be using it nearly every day and you need something that will stand up to use and abuse.

On the other hand, if you are a homeowner who pressure-washes his sidewalk and eaves once a year, a professional-grade gasoline-powered pressure washer will be far too expensive and actually less useful to you.   If you don't put Sta-Bil(tm) in the gasoline and properly service the motor, it will likely not start next year when you want to use it.  Rather than being better than consumer grade you will find it less reliable as it was designed for constant use, not months of storage.

A better bet for the consumer is a cheap electric pressure washer which will provide years of occasional use and not care whether you let it sit for months on end.  Not only that, the lower pressure of such units will prevent you from damaging the things you are trying to clean.  High-pressure washers can blast paint off a house or car or even gel-coat off fiberglass.

And so on down the line.  If you have less than an acre of lawn to mow, then chances are, some "lame" lawn mower or tractor from Lowes or Home Depot is all you need.   A $15,000 "professional grade" zero-radius lawn mower isn't going to cut your grass better, it will just empty your wallet.  Leave those things to the folks who mow lawns for 8-10 hours a day, every day of the week, every week of the year.

Kitchen appliances are another area which I touched upon before.  My neighbor bought a "sub-zero" built-in commercial-grade refrigerator and we used to kid her that the repair man was living in their guest room.  He was there every month, it seemed, to tinker with that $2000 refrigerator (which in the 1990's was a stunning amount of money).  Wolfe Ranges, commercial dishwashers, professional espresso machines - all that crap - is not really useful to the occasional user.  It will break down more often from lack of use than a consumer-grade product will under normal use.   And it will cost 5-10 times as much.

With cars, the same is true, only worse.   Yes, a high-end sports car with a racing heritage is a really fun car to drive - occasionally.  But the harsh ride and compromises made in NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) will make such a vehicle a pain-in-the-ass to live with as a daily commuter.   Sometimes, a plebe-mobile is a better choice for driving on public roads.   And the cost, needless to say, is a lot less, not only in terms of purchase, but in maintenance and repairs.

Many a "high end" car buyer has been disappointed to find out that their sports model is less comfortable and louder than a Toyota Corolla.   When the guy driving the econobox is having a better time in stop-and-go traffic, you have to wonder if he isn't the smart one, not you.

Off-road and 4x4 vehicles suffer from the same problem.   Joe Blow buys a Jeep Wrangler, which even stock is a brutal ride on the highway.  He spends tens of thousands of dollars making it "Rubicon Ready" but spends 99% of the time driving on paved streets.   All that money spent for nothing, and for a harsh, noisy ride that is punishing.

Even AWD SUVs are somewhat over the top, particularly in places where it never snows.   And in snow country, well, a good set of snow tires beats AWD with "all season radials" every time.

I bought an electric string trimmer to trim the edges of my lawn.  It cost $50 and I use it twice a year - maybe.   It works fine for that application - maybe a half-hour to an hour's use.   It would be horribly inappropriate to cut heavy weeds on four acres of land or to use for a landscaping business.  Anyone who did that would be a fool.

Similarly, it would be foolish to buy a gas-powered trimmer for my very limited usage, even if the latter was more "professional" and "heavy duty".   Languishing in the tool shed, it would be hard to start when I take it out of storage after six months.  And the $200 price tag would not be justified.

Yet I know a lot of folks like this, who live on 1/4 acre to 1//2 acre lots, but have lots of high-end lawn equipment, and none of it works.   The gas turns to varnish after six months in the Georgia heat.  Again, you have to use Sta-Bil in the gas if you are going to store anything.   And even with clean gas, those small engines are a bitch to start and seem to foul their plugs with regularity.

"Appropriate Engineering" is a phrase used by some to describe the concept of matching the level of engineering with the task at hand.   It makes no sense to "upgrade" to professional or heavy-duty products unless you have professional or heavy-duty tasks in mind.   You are just squandering money and will not save money though extended product life.  On the contrary, you will find the "professional" model to be more fussy and expensive to repair.  It wasn't designed for your circumstances.

On the other hand, trying to be "cheap" by purchasing consumer-grade products for commercial use is just as dumb.  One guy on the Amazon site complained that the same weed-whacker I bought was no good, because  after four hours of continuous use in high weeds it didn't work well.   Four hours of use on light weeds is what the manufacturer expected you to use it for in a year.

If you have acres of weeds to clear, then you need a big-ass gasoline-powered weed eater.
And the same is true of chainsaws.  A cheap electric chainsaw is perfect for the homeowner who wants to trim a tree branch or cut up a fallen limb maybe once or twice a year.  It is ill-suited for starting a firewood business.  On the other hand, you don't need a big honking Husquanvarna Lumberjack Special to trim off a 3" limb from your Magnolia tree.

It's OK to buy consumer-grade goods - if you are a consumer.  In fact, you will save a LOT of money if you use appropriate technology this way.

But it goes without saying that it is possible to be too cheap and manufacturers often offer products that are barely functional, much less consumer-grade.  The 0.5 amp weed eater with the needle-thread line isn't going to cut through a dead dandelion, much less edge your sidewalk.   There is no point in buying these things, which are little more than excuses for products as they are products.