Once upon a time, before the Industrial Revolution, before malls, before mass media and advertising, we knew who made the stuff we bought. Well maybe we didn’t but our grandparents and great grandparents did. They were on first name terms with the the baker, the butcher, the cobbler, the tailor even the furniture maker.
The folks who who touched, cooked, sewed, designed, built and assembled the products purchased by past generations weren’t hidden behind brands, packaging and advertising campaigns.
Believe it or not in those days they also had these archaic institutions known as full-service gas stations where cheerful men greeted motorists by their first name before filling their tanks, washing their windows and checking their oil.
The relationships consumers had with brands, product makers and manufacturers then was quite different than the one we have with Amazon now. Or with the kid behind the counter at the Mobil Mart.
Sure some of us buy artisan bread, chat with the meat cutter behind the counter at Whole Foods, or even have a personal mechanic rather than dropping the car off at the dealer. But most of us don’t. And even if we do we’re too busy multi-tasking, checking our phones, and posting updates to actually have a conversation with the person who makes the food we eat, the clothes we wear or the vehicles we drive.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the convenience, availability and price advantages of mass produced products. And I’m thrilled if I never have to talk to a human being in a bank. But sometimes knowing the people who make our stuff makes that stuff all the more special.
So today I stopped by Seven Cycles in Watertown, where I’m having the frame for my new “retirement from Mullen bicycle” fabricated. Long term employee Karl Borne gave me a tour of the shop. He explained Seven’s custom frame-building process — from speccing the titanium and carbon, bending the chain stays, maintaining tolerances, welding the frame, integrating the carbon, completing assembly — and introduced me to Tim Delaney, the craftsman, or better yet artist, who is doing the actual welding.
I was pleased to see that Tim looked just as I hoped he would. Seasoned. Experienced. Focused. And that everyone there took pride in what they made and how they made it.
It left me with an even better feeling about a brand I already love. And it will most certainly make my new bicycle ride better. Somehow I’m not sure that even the best website or brochure or ad campaign could ever do that.