Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Free Toasters

At one time in this country, your dishes and glassware came from the gas station and your toaster came from the bank.  I kid you not.

I mentioned the term "free toaster" before and realize now that it is a term that might not resonate with the younger generation.  When I was a kid, the local banks would advertise free gifts if you opened a savings or checking account (and deposited a certain amount of money into it).  Often, the gift proffered was a toaster. Buying in bulk, the bank got these for cheap, but in an era where everything went through a convoluted distribution chain (and everything was made in America) such "trivial" items were staggeringly expensive.  So offering a "free toaster" was a "deal" to your average consumer.

It didn't end there. In the era of 35 cent gasoline (equivalent of over $3 today), gas stations would have "price wars" - competing against the station across the street for the lowest possible price - often selling at a loss, trying to drive the other guy out of business.  Bear in mind this was long before the era of gas station mini-marts selling beer, cigarettes and snack foods.  The gas station had little else to sell you to make up for the loss-leader in fuel.  One promotion was to offer a free drinking glass or dish after so many gallons were bought.  Over time, you could accumulate an entire set of glassware or dishware - my family ate off such things during my whole childhood.

Or they offered "S&H Green Stamps" or competing "Plaid Stamps" which as a kid, I happily pasted into the little paper "book" they gave you.  You mailed in so many books and you got..... a free toaster. We ended up with two Proctor-Silex toasters this way (we got rid of one in a garage sale after my Dad found a dead mouse, lightly toasted, in it, hence the need for the second one).  It was the "cheapest" reward you could get with the stamps at the time.

Our local IGA grocery store had a dishware promotion as well - you got one dish for every X dollars spent on groceries (and could buy additional dishes to complete the collection).  When the gas-station dishes wore out, we moved on to IGA dishes.  We were not poor, either, but solidly upper-middle-class. Yet back then, simple things were staggeringly expensive compared to today. My Dad bought his first color TV in 1975 and that 25" RCA Colortrak cost a staggering $500 (about $2800 today!).  We were not poor, but the world was a poorer place, at least in terms of consumer goods.

You see a lot less of this sort of free toaster nonsense these days - people are more fixated on raw cash than on free gifts.  Some companies still do this, of course, just to get publicity - like the car dealer who offered a "free" AR-15 with every car purchase.  That sort of thing can backfire (no pun intended) of course, as most folks are interested in the best possible price and may not be interested in (or already have) a firearm.

Airline miles - proving to be worthless - are giving way to cash-back bonuses. Of course, that doesn't stop them from trying - offering appliances or meals or concert tickets in place of raw cash.  But in nearly every instance, the cash ends up being a better deal, as the "price" (in terms of points) of the toaster is far more than what they charge at Walmart in terms of equivalent cash.

I doubt the era of free toasters will return again anytime soon, thanks to cheap Chinese imports of most consumer products.  You can hate on China all you want to, but you and I are the ones buying all this stuff, because quite frankly, the prices are so low and really no one makes these things anymore in America or Europe, other than boutique manufacturers.

And who wants a $375 boutique toaster?  Famous British Quality, too!