The View from Faraway Farm: The problem with preferences


We all develop preferences in a consumer society with so many choices. You probably prefer one brand of product over another, not because you like anything with the brand's name on it, but because there has been a set of consistent qualities in the brand that appeal to you. It's like guys who prefer Ford trucks over Chevy trucks. As long as the brand continues to deliver the attributes that the consumer likes, they'll keep buying.

Take sleepwear, for instance. Other than folks who sleep naked, we all tend to develop preferences over what kind of clothing we wear when we sleep. Mine is rather odd, but it works for me. I preferred long sleeve cotton tee's worn over regular old pajama bottoms for years. Now my preference is long sleeved polyester performance tees. The stretchier the better. They seem to regulate my body temperature better, and I like the way the fabric feels against my skin. No big deal, it's simply a preference. How about socks? Give me Gold Toe socks any day. It is a comfort thing; they just feel good. Once you find something that works for you, there's a tendency to stick with it as long as the product is available, or until the manufacturer changes it in some way.

I just sold my Volvo 240 to a family that loves the older 240 series. They are rock solid, dependable cars known for racking up 300,000 to 500,00 miles with good, regular maintenance. I miss it, but my preference for four wheel drive overrules owning a "brick" as folks affectionately call them. After the 240 series, a lot of the faithful felt that Volvo changed their product too much. Old 240s are still very much in demand because a strong preference developed for them. If Volvo resurrected the 240 they'd probably go out of business in a decade because the darned things last too long, so repeat sales fall off.

That's the problem with product preferences. The products themselves change or become unavailable. That's why I like the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham and Weston. The Orton family figured out a long time ago that people want quality goods that last, so they carry all kinds of things that have become difficult to find elsewhere. Somewhere along the way, I developed a preference for Munsingwear kangaroo briefs. Without getting into too much anatomy, the kangaroo design is, well, unique. When other retailers moved on to the latest, most popular men's briefs, they often gave up carrying the Munsingwear line. Well, the Vermont Country Store stayed with the product and I've been able to satisfy my preference.

Over the last few years, I've tried different fuels for heating my home. I have a propane powered system for our heat, but we have used wood stoves as well. If a furnace fails, I don't have to worry about being unable to heat my home, I just burn wood. Our wood stoves also do not require electricity to operate, so when the power goes out, as it often does, we stay warm. The propane units are really there as back-up as far as I'm concerned. I found a way to burn pellets in the wood stoves and while it worked well it seemed inefficient compared to a dedicated pellet stove.

Then I tried those blocks of sawdust they call bio-blocks or enviro-blocks. I've developed a preference for them because they are clean, easy to handle, and provide a more consistent heat than split wood. The blocks I buy come packaged in threes. Last season the store where I buy them ran out in March and did not bother to restock until the next fall. That didn't set well, so I bought a cord of wood as back-up. This year I figured I'd stock up, but that didn't happen, and wouldn't you know it, the store has run out and won't be getting more for a week. Now I don't trust my source. Preferences; they're often problematic, complicating the simple order of things as I see them.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.


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