Customer lock-in shouldn't be a jail sentence

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Recently I purchased a Toyota Hilux "bakkie" (utility vehicle). I like it. It feels safe. It's big. The drive, for a bakkie, is good.

I took it to for its first service when it had reached 10,000km. This was fine and professional. But during the process came to truly understand the term "never stop selling". These guys (and I say this in admiration) found many ways to extract money from my wallet beyond my service plan: wheel balancing, a window crack repair (this is easy to do through your insurance and the repair guys will come to you).

So I left holding onto my wallet. Tightly. Zipped up. Chained to my waist. Like, in the old days, when you traveled in Italy and were terrified that you'd be pick pocketed or your backpack would be sliced and your valuables stolen.

Not great.

Yes, I understand this strategy is key to getting your margins up. And these guys are not dishonest. Just really aggressive sales people.

This post-sale strategy is not unusual. Think cheap printers and ultra expensive ink cartridges (probably listening to customer feedback, Epson and Brother have reversed this strategy and now sell expensive printers with very low cost of ownership using ink tank technology).

In developing our Earth Cycler composting machine we deliberately utilised standard off the shelf components in order to make the machine easy and cheap to repair (ironically, we wanted this to be the Toyota of composters - easy to repair because of part availability across Africa and repair/maintenance simplicity).

Spares for our Earth Bokashi bins are cheap. So cheap that we often give them away free (especially if a dog has chewed on the tap – we love dogs!).

Shit happens. Lids get lost. Taps chewed on. Bins dropped.

Because we are anti-waste, we also want to ensure that if something goes wrong with a part the whole unit doesn't need to be replaced.

We strongly believe in the right to repair.

Which is why I get really angry when I own a product which is specifically designed to exploit the owner when it comes to a repair.

In my mind this is what Zodiac Pool Equipment do; and specifically their Zodiac MX8/6 automatic pool cleaners.

These are expensive. But pretty cool. They work on tracks and don't make a "tok tok tok tok tok" noise as they do their work in your pool (we have a bio-pool with fish and were told that this noise would drive the fish MAD).

And they never get stuck in the corner of your pool, or against the stairs - they can work themselves free.

But when the break, or a part wears then you're in trouble.

Parts seem to wear easily and are expensive to replace.

But the most irritating repair I made was when a small little hose connector attached to the unit cracked.

So I thought: "no worries, I'll just get a replacement" and trekked off to the pool shop.

"No", I was told, "you have to replace the whole assembly and not just the connector". "How much?", I asked. "R730" was the answer. This is nearly 20% of the cost of a new unit!

And not only that, I had to then dispose of the whole old assembly.

So wasteful!

Do I still love my MX8? Do I like it?

Not as much.

Am I loyal? Would I recommend this unit?

Not anymore.

Cost of ownership is too high both in waste and cost.

If you want loyalty and good word of mouth, make sure your product is reliable and easy and cheap to repair.

If your business model is to make money on the services, then make cost of entry cheap. This way people won't feel ripped off when they have to make an expensive repair.