The Price of Experience

January 23, 2010

My wife is not a computer geek. Neither is she an engineer, mechanic nor captain of industry. She is however, highly skilled at several crafts that leave me in awe.

Her day job is in a fabric and craft store. From experience, she can attest to the fact that the great majority of folks are friendly and considerate. Occasionally, one runs into a self-centered fool who has no concept of how the world really works.

The other day, a fellow showed her an old leather jacket with a damaged zipper. He had taken it to a tailor and was incensed that they wanted thirty-five dollars for labor plus the cost of a whole replacement zipper. Instead, he wanted to pay six dollars for an El Cheapo zipper and was proudly announcing he would toss an extra four bucks to my wife if she would hand-stitch it on for him. When she said that her schedule was too full to take on any new projects and that even if she did, her labor would cost at least thirty dollars, he stomped away in a huff. She learned later, that he had approached several other employees with the same offer and when he got nowhere, had stormed off in disgust.

Now granted, the guy was a fool, but similar incidents are way too common to be ignored.

I suggested that, when presented with such a demand in the future, she ask the person what they do for a living. Are they a doctor, lawyer, computer system administrator, mechanic or engineer? Chances are, they have some skill set that has cost them a great deal of time and money to acquire.

Just to give one, blue-collar example, a qualified auto mechanic needs at least a couple of years of experience and training. If you take your car for work in our area, the average small shop charges seventy to a hundred dollars an hour while a dealership charges no less than one hundred and twenty an hour. If you know how to replace an automotive waterpump, then you can pick one up at most parts houses and save yourself two hours of labor. If you don’t, then you have to pay someone with the training and experience to replace it for you. That is how the world works.

If you know how to replace a hard drive, update the RAM and install a new operating system in your computer, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars at a computer store. If not, then it is generally cheaper just to buy a new computer every three to five years. That is how the world works.

Which brings us back to the fool with the old leather coat. My wife has years of experience as a seamstress. She told me, that due to the type of zipper and backing materials, it would take between forty-five minutes and an hour of work, using a machine. If it was to be hand-sewn, then figure twice that amount of time.

He had mentioned that he could purchase a new jacket for a hundred bucks. It wasn’t worth spending almost half that to fix the old one. So, he was in effect, offering my wife and her friends somewhere around four or five dollars an hour (less than minimum wage) to perform a highly-skilled repair job that he was incapable of doing himself.

If the man had such knowledge and experience, he might get away with a six dollar zipper. If not, then forty bucks or so would be cheap. That is how the world works.

Just because someone doesn’t have a college degree or a string of initials after their name, doesn’t mean they are unintelligent or unskilled. Chances are, they have knowledge and skills you don’t. What is the price of training and experience beyond your own abilities?

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5 Responses to “The Price of Experience”

  1. The man could have been a bum or just a poor man unable to afford a new coat. Still, he should have realized that people can stop what they are doing and do some work for him for pennies.

  2. Rayna said

    I know now you feel, when you hear about people treating others like that. I do not have a degree, nor am I really licsenced to do that I was trained to do. But then I tell people I was in the Navy, they assme I was cleaning or “swabbing decks” or a mess hand. I was a nuclear mechanical technician and I am very smart. But I guess because I have chosen to stay home now and raise my kids rather than go to college and almost kill myself getting a degree I may never use, I am stupid for wasting my time. As a “housewife” I have learned to do alot on my own and personally with the lack of common sense in the world today. I am a gold mine. I may wear “mom jeans” and be covered in finger paint, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a head on my shoulders or know my own value. The moral of the story folks is: “Never judge a book by its cover” and just because you THINK its oneway, doesn’t actually means that it is.”

  3. The fellow was neither poor, nor homeless. Like most of her clients, he was dressed quite well and flashing his iPhone. But I understand your concern.

  4. There are jerks in the world, and there always will be jerks in the world. The fact that you protest it and that others do as well (moi) means that hopefully we can shame some of the jerks into having good manners.

    It’s unfortunate, but we currently live in a “it’s all about me” society. The only way to change it, is to stand up against irritating people like this.

    I will say though this attitude has been around for a while. Like Rayna, I was in the military and I’d consider myself fairly intelligent. But it wasn’t until I got a degree that the rest of the world decided I must be intelligent. RIDICULOUS.

  5. Melissa Homan said

    Hi, Anthony and his friends!
    Okay, I am NOT as skilled as your wife. Her skills are very much awesome and rare anymore. What I DO do is weave and I do so decently. I made some baby blankets recently (Baby shower gifts) and I probably put 40-45 hours into each one, including warping time. I also used some of my nicest, softest fibers: linen warp, baby alpaca, mohair, and an angora/worsted blend. I estimate that I have $90-$150 worth of yarn in each blanket plus my labor. Were I to take these to a craft show and attempt to sell them for even cost of material, I would be met with disbelief AND whines about how much I was charging. Similarly, Anthony, you haven’t seen my husband woodworking lately but, trust me, the man is getting good. A friend wanted an exotic wood showpeice (showpiece? I stink at spelling.) dresser for his bedroom. Hubby had already made some plain oak custom cabinets for this fellow’s sons, so this guy had an idea about the cost. Adding in materials, this dresser was going to run around $1000-$1500, most of that in materials. Well, he decided he couldn’t really afford it. (This I understand – pricey!) My point? Most folks have no idea about how much handcrafts really cost to produce. They don’t think about the fact that they are paying not only for the job itself but also for the experience behind the job. He is clueless and he has never actually made anything from raw materials in his life. He probably has no idea that his food started off with some fellow putting a seed in the ground – because all his food comes in a box. Americans, in general, are completely disconnected with the actual creation of anything that requires effort. This fellow is a symptom of that. (Also, as long as we don’t make anything in this country, we will continue to have economic woes.)

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