This is just one example of how our societal “values” have forced us all to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, but it speaks to the heart of the debt problems that face today’s Canadians.
Have you ever registered for china at William Ashley?
We live in a world of consumption.
A world where the exact same shoe, with a different logo, could cost three times as much, AND, be “worth” the price in the eyes of the consumer.
A world where if you want something, and you don’t have the means to get it, there’s always somebody out there that will give you those means – at a price.
Consumer debt is out of control.
The ratio of debt to household income in Canada is approximately 163%, and shows no signs of slowing as it creeps toward 170%.
People buy things they don’t need, and allow themselves to be sold by advertising and marketing that turns wants into needs.
Last week, I had the pleasure of going to William Ashley with my fiancée, Jenna, to open a wedding registry.
Jenna and I are not the type of people who value what William Ashley has to offer. When we moved into our new condo two years ago, we replaced our IKEA kitchen plates with some gorgeous new fashions…..from Winners.
But as I’m learning with wedding planning, even though the wedding is about you, there are a lot of concessions to be made for the folks around you. Some of the older members in our family have suggested, rather sternly, that we “do what all young couples do,” and register at William Ashley.
Tradition? Or blind sheep?
We all buy diamond rings for our fiancées because, “That’s the way it’s always been done.” It’s wholly unnecessary when you think about it, but do you want to be the first person to tell your friends and family, “We’re actually not doing the whole ‘ring thing’ and instead we’re just going to take a cool trip”? Society will judge you, like it or not.
So at the request of a family member who wanted her friends to have the ability to buy us fine china, we went to William Ashley’s to register.
I knew we were in trouble as soon as we walked in.
They took our coats, and asked, “Would you like coffee, tea, or water?” Ummm…..Perrier with a wedge of lime?
William Ashley is full of stuff that the average human being does not need, and won’t ever need.
William Ashley is full of stuff that costs fifty-times more than a suitable substitute, and yet, they do very good business.
The women who work there are pros, make no mistake. They know how to sell ice to an Eskimo, and they’ll use any tactic possible: pressure, pride, shame, guilt – they stop at nothing to up-sell you into stuff you don’t need.
The first thing they tell you when you start talking shop is by far the most important: any gift purchased for you is easy to exchange for something else.
Read between the lines, and nobody is purchasing you a spoon, a plate, or a blender – they’re purchasing cash value.
So the more items they can get you to register for, the more cash value will be purchased. And they don’t care whether you turn those salt and pepper shakers into another place-setting; they just want you to add more and more to your registry. They tell you repeatedly, “If you’re unsure, just register for it, because you don’t have to take it in the end – you can just get something else!” It’s all about the cash value in the end.
Of course, this leads into the second tactic, which is getting the bride and the groom to pay money out of their own pocket after the wedding!
If you register for 12 place settings, and only 7 are purchased for you, well surely you’re going to figure, “We should buy the other five settings, since $1,750 of the settings were bought for us, and it really only costs us another $1,250 to finish the set.”
They’ve set the whole registry process up to get you to forget the basic principle: you don’t NEED any of this stuff!
Jenna and I were both shocked at how plates could cost $2,500, but as we were told by our elders, “When in Rome….”
The salesperson explained that the “formal” dinner-ware featured a platinum inlay, bone china, and hand-etching, as if to suggest that this is something we gave the slightest crap about. She further added that these dishes cannot be used in the microwave or the dishwasher, which was when I laughed the hardest. So you’re paying MORE for something that has LESS function than what you already have. Great.
When we suggested that we’d get one set of formal china, the salesperson said, “You need formal and casual.”
Well, what the heck else was she going to say?
And no matter what we chose, there was always something better to be found!
“This line is made in England, the birthplace of the industrial revolution,” she said. “Not a lot of consumer goods are made in England anymore!”
And that was her reasoning to spend $2,200 instead of the ones we really liked at $900. Just because the British don’t make a lot of plates anymore – we’re supposed to want those which they do make?
But the most incredible up-sell was, and forgive my lack of class because I don’t know the correct terminology, these “under plates” that you don’t actually put food on, but rather you put them under your plate to “give the place setting a more vivid, exciting feel.”
Seriously. There are plates that you put under your dinner plate, that you’ll never use, never dirty, and never have any use for, other than to look pretty underneath the plate on which you eat.
Oh – and they were another $2K.
“They give the table a more proper look,” the salesperson said. “They’re inviting.”
I dryly responded, “I think once people are inside my house, they probably realize that they were, in fact, invited.”
She just smiled, and kept on. Nothing fazed her. I was tempted to smash her over the head with a crystal vase just to see if there was a robot underneath her skin…
It’s amazing. They call knives and forks “flatware,” they call glasses “stemware,” and they call plates, “dinnerware.”
Elegance has value, does it not?
The up-selling continued, as we realized that the “place settings” didn’t include what we wanted. I figured a “five piece” place setting would contain a bread plate, salad plate, dinner plate, bowl, and rimmed-bowl. But in fact, every five-piece setting contained the three plates, and then a coffee-cup and saucer.
“We don’t really need a dozen coffee cups and saucers,” I said.
“Well don’t you offer your dinner companions coffee or tea at the end of the night,” the salesperson said, as if to suggest that failure to do so would be socially inappropriate.
I didn’t feel the need to tell her that we don’t host 12-person dinner parties at our 6-person table in our 1,100 square foot condo, but I did tell her, “We have coffee mugs – lots of them.”
She asked, “Which line?”
“Bosley,” I said. “I’ve been stealing ‘Bosley Real Estate’ mugs from my office for the past few months – about one every other week. I almost have a complete set.”
She just smiled, and moved on. If we wanted bowls, which in my opinion, are part of any “set” of dinnerware, we’d have to register for them separately. That would be a reoccurring theme as we’d soon find out…
After we chose our “flatware,” I figured we were finished. We had tickets to the Blue Jays’ home opener, and we wanted to get there early and watch some batting practice.
“You’ve yet to choose your stemware,” she said.
Forgive my ignorance, but I honestly didn’t know what stemware was until last week.
“Wine glasses?” I asked, once I figured out what our supposed next step was.
“Yes!” she said with such fake excitement that it made me want to test out the flatware in her kneecap.
“I think we’re going to skip this step,” I said, as I looked over at Jenna for approval. Like any good man, I was doing what I was told, and on this day, I was told, “Please, please, don’t embarrass me! Just keep your sarcasm to a minimum, and let’s just get this done.”
The salesperson was shocked.
“Do you already have the appropriate stemware,” she asked.
Define appropriate. I don’t think anything in that store is appropriate, and yet the salesperson would think the same about my home.
“We have wine glasses at home,” I said.
“But do you have the appropriate stemware,” she asked, as she subtly tried to switch terminology from cheap “glasses” to expensive “stemware.”
“We have Reidel glasses at home,” I said. “They’re the #1 wine glass maker on the planet, and they’re sufficient for our needs.”
“Right,” she said, as she ignored me, and took our place-settings, set them out on a felt counter, and added two wine glasses.
“Now look how elegant this is!”
I asked her, “How come you have two wine glasses?”
She looked at me in amazement and said, “Well, my dear, every proper table setting has one glass for red and one glass for white.” She added, “We have Merlot glasses, Cabernet glasses….”
This is when I just about lost it.
“I’m going to stop you right there,” I said. “I want to give you an idea of who we are, as people. So let me be clear: I do not, nor will I ever, associate with any person who thinks any less of me or my wife because of the type or shape of glass in which I serve them wine. It’s that simple. That’s who we are.”
I remember when Jenna and I had the housewarming party at our new condo, and with 60 people crammed into an 1,100 square foot condo, we ran out of supplies very fast. One of my friends and colleagues, a man who I consider a mentor and who I look up to more than anybody, asked me for a glass of wine for his wife. I was out of wine glasses, rock glasses, tall glasses, and even three snifters that I have for some odd reason. I looked around, and all I could find was a stack of red beer cups. I looked at him, and then the cup, and before I could address the issue, he said, “David, listen – I am not ‘that guy.’ I don’t care what glass I get, nor does my wife, and please don’t ever, ever think of me that way.”
That’s the kind of company I keep. And this is a man that makes $2 Million per year.
So if the amount of money you make, and how important you are, is any indication of how you should be “served” at a dinner table, then this salesperson clearly was in agreement.
“One day, you’re going to have your boss over for dinner,” she said, as she played the shame card, “And you’ll be horrified if he doesn’t feel the same warm elegance he’s accustomed to when dining in his own home.”
“I’m self-employed,” I told her, as I was tired of launching objections.
“And when you entertain high-profile clients,” she continued, without missing a single beat, “They’ll want to know they’re in good hands.”
People with expensive cutlery and platinum dinner plates are providing “good hands?”
We finished picking out our needless, over-priced, expensive crap, and then proceeded to the computer so she could enter all our items.
We told her that we had to get going, as it was now 6pm, and we had tickets to the Jays game, but she showed us that she could not possibly care less, as she basically held our coats hostage.
She wasn’t just going to enter our items into the computer – she was now going to up-sell us on serving spoons, platters, dishes, and the like.
“What will you use to serve?” she asked, as if to say that my $2 blue ladle from Dollorama was not compatible with our $2,500 dinner plates.
This is when Jenna – my polite, accommodating bride-to-be, lost her will as well, and said, “We REALLY need to get going. We’ve told you this twice now.”
At 6:30pm, after four more up-sell attempts, and a full explanation of all the documents that came in the William Ashley plastic bag, we were finally back on the street, and had left a place I hope I never, ever have to set foot inside again.
This is a rant, and this is a story, but it’s also a microcosm of society’s problems.
I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it makes me feel to think that my friends are going to write me and Jenna cheques on the day of our wedding. What for? Why is this necessary? Oh, right, because it’s a societal norm.
The price of consumer goods is increasing at a rate far, far higher than the average household income, and for every $25 fork that William Ashley sells, another person or family find themselves that much further behind the eight-ball.
For every 20-year-old girl who feels the “need” for a $600 hand-bag, all I see is somebody who has been duped by the world in which we live today…