My Latest Nightmare: All staplers are NOT created equal

Sep 02

I don’t make it a habit of sharing my most personal experiences or dreams with strangers on the web, but my latest nightmare seemed relevant enough – only because there is a high probability that it might turn into a reality.

The Dream:
My wife and I were out driving around when we remembered that we needed a new stapler for the office (which, in and of itself is funny because our office is so ridiculously paper-free). So, in the dream, we pulled into a parking spot in front of the local office supply store, only to find that it was now divided up into a cell phone store, a sandwich store, and an ice cream store.  As it turns out, the office supply store had closed a few weeks earlier. We were both bummed because we had loved that store and all of their quirky little selections of office gadgets, specialty papers, and high-end office furniture!

Without any other options, we made our way to one of the big-box office stores in town. All they had in their stapler department was a selection of brightly colored, lightweight, plasticy staplers that were more at home in an 8th grader’s backpack than on an office desk. Aaargghhh!  Frustrated, we drove across town to the other big-box office store and found the exact same product, in the exact same order, on the exact same looking shelves, glowing under the exact same coldly humming fluorescent lights. Double Aaargghhh!

Then the dream fast-forwarded to another city a few hours away where we stopped into yet another office store to finally be told that these were the only staplers available in the U.S. anymore, as they were the only ones that could fit into the “right” sized box to fit on the “right” sized shelf and meet the “right” profit margins to meet the purchasing requirements of their parent company (who also owned the other office stores we had visited). Since there weren’t any independent office supply stores bringing the niche demand for high-end products, those manufactureres either re-tooled or simply closed (along with their suppliers and vendors).

Given no other option, we bought a bright blue plastic stapler and took it back to the office. Upon trying to load our “old” staples into the unit, we found that they didn’t fit. Upon trying to remove the “wrong” staples, the spring and hinge mechanism broke in half – before the stapler had ever even been used! Triple Aaargghhh!

No, I didn’t wake up screaming, but I did wake up frustrated and annoyed. And, I did march right down to our office supply store (that isn’t really closed in real life, just radically downsized) and bought a heavy duty stapler! (That, of course, in real life, I didn’t really need.)

The moral of the story is this: It’s not about the staplers. It’s about choice, innovation, and diversity. The same story could be true of retail fashion trends (do you want to show up at a party wearing the same dress as five other women?) or home building designs, or approved medical procedures. If you don’t want to wake up one day when every store in your town carries the exact same products, made to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator, then you need to support the companies that encourage quality and innovation through product diversity. In short, your local businesses!

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