Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Two is none

I'm mailing off the Anova sous-vide device for exchange but thought I'd give it one last try.

Low Liquid. No worries, I can sous vide the old fashioned way so I grabbed my ThermoWorks RT-301WABlank screen. The older units like mine, which I'd bought in 2011, were prone to rapid battery drain so, not a problem; I had bought several of whatever the weird watch battery this thing takes just for this situation.

Swapped the battery out and ... still nothing.

I had it coming; the device only has a 4.6/5 star rating on Amazon. As I wrote before, 4.6 is basically junk. Ninety two percent. Suckered in by the Halo effect yet again. As a cognitive bias it's not an entirely unreasonable one; companies that become a trusted name have an incentive to maintain that trust. It means repeat customers and higher margins, though, there's always a temptation to kill the golden goose through branding leverage hell.

  1. Introduce a thousand SKUs with your company's name on it for a slight markup
  2. Maintain markup through status/luxury marketing. 
  3. Go bankrupt when exposed/fashions change.
  4. Sell trademark to a company that will destroy any remaining value your brand had
see: Polaroid, Eddie Bauer (or any outdoors company really), any of the LVMH companies, Black & Decker, etc.

The ThermoWorks' halo product is the ThermaPen. It is widely considered to be the best food thermometer in the business, or at least that's what Big Kitchen* tells me, so I figured the cheaper made-in-China RT301WA would be a Pareto buy - 80% of the capability for 20% of the cost.

It never occurred to me that ThermoWorks is a small company that is not going to be able to get the top-tier in Chinese factory production. I just figured that the company did the hard work and passed the savings on. But even $30 for a digital thermometer is netting huge margins which is why there are now more players in the space - all leveraging Chinese manufacturing. Worryingly, some of these, e.g. LavaTools, form some of the top picks by America's Test Kitchen and The Sweethome (a meta review site that increasingly looks like it doesn't have the art of meta analysis figured out. Back to consumersearch.com for me).

The RT301WA is no longer sold on Amazon though it is available on ThermoWorks' own site. It's been revised to use a more common battery with larger capacity. Even though you can still buy it, I can't help but feel like it is a fly-by-night product. Should have gone with the Thermapen. Quality only hurts once and all that.

The Thermapen is made in England. I tend to associate general manufacturing quality with car reliability and the fact that the UK doesn't produce cars any more says a lot. The Thermapen is probably a quality unit but overpriced. I wish one of the big Japanese electronics firms would wade in. Come to think of it, Panasonic has never let me down. Well, I did have a semi-rugged Toughbook fail on me but that was largely my fault. Panasonic rice cooker, Panasonic bread maker, Panasonic phone, Panasonic batteries, Panasonic camcorder, Panasonic digicam, Panasonic laptop. Now that I spent the time thinking about the Panasonic stuff I use, I'm surprised because I don't have any brand loyalty to the company. I think that's maybe because Panasonic is rarely the top of the line product in terms of features: Zojirushi, Nikon, Apple, and Sony tend to lead in those product categories, but it always seems to be a competent choice. Now there's a company I wish I had studied in business school.

* Linking the big names and companies wouldn't even make for an interesting infographic; they're mostly on Food Network. It casts doubt on the scientific objectivity of Alton Brown or Anthony Bourdain's renegade image. Alton Brown shills for Shun knives. Emeril has his line of cookware. Someday, we will all have meters and the the panoply of SI calibration equipment.

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