“Return to DIY ethic erodes service businesses” @ NYTimes.com

A few months ago, as her family’s income fell, Laura French Spada, a real estate agent in Glen Rock, N.J., began dyeing her hair at home and washing the family cars herself. Her husband, Mark, started learning how to do electrical repairs.

Susan Todoroff, a personal trainer in Ann Arbor, Mich., has begun brewing espressos at home and cutting her hair and cleaning her house herself. And Tamar A. Zaidenweber, a health care market researcher in Astoria, Queens, is spending more time walking her dog instead of taking it to day care each week.

All of these consumers could praise themselves for their newfound frugality in the midst of an economic downturn. But every step they take toward self-reliance — each shrub they prune themselves, each cupcake they bake from scratch — hurts the people and small businesses that have long provided these services professionally.

I think once folks start doing more things for themselves we’ll see more money going in to the economy, not less…. Here’s some evidence…

Even as Americans cut back on restaurant dining, pet care services, professional hair and nail services, house cleaners and landscapers, companies producing some of the do-it-yourself products are seeing higher sales.

According to Information Resources Inc., a market research firm in Chicago, sales of products used in home manicures, home cooking and home medical treatments, among others, have experienced healthy growth in the last year. Dollar sales of cold-allergy-sinus tablets, for example, increased 17.2 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, according to Sageworks, a company that tracks sales at privately held businesses, revenue at physicians’ offices fell by 0.06 percent.

28 thoughts on “Return to DIY ethic erodes service businesses

  1. while i personally whole heartily embrace a diy life style, i find it misleading to deny the dire situation a massive DIY move puts the USA in. The US economy is primarily a service based economy and if most folks are abstaining from paying for services then we are looking at dim times ahead. the maker community should not be in denial of this fact. it is the reality of the situation.

  2. Our personal income declines, and we find ways to cope besides spending $20 a day at Spendyerbucks, or learning how to replace the plug on the end of the vacuum plug instead of buying a new one, and all of a sudden we’re the reason Murrika’s going down the toilet.

    Yes, trae, we have found ourselves at the tail-end of a “Service-based Economy” where on any given day, 1/2 of us are at the mall, buying cheezburgers from the other 1/2, but as we are now finding, this is not sustainable.

    Yeah, it’s gonna be a rocky ride, but you just can’t sustain a lifestyle where you pay somebody to come by and scoop up the dog poop out of your back yard when you’re having trouble servicing the minimum payments on your $55,000 worth of credit card debt when you’ve had your hours cut at work, or your sales no longer keep you in the “Million-Dollar Club” at the agency.

    And then when you throw in the spectre of “Peak Oil”….

  3. We’ve been sold this bill-of-goods from government economists who support the US as a service economy saying that manufacturing is not essential to our country.

    We’ve experienced loss of top paying jobs for several years now in services like computer programming and engineering as industries leave for foreign countries. Today’s tumbling economy just proves how wrong the government experts have been.

    The Maker ethic for DIY’ers is alive and well. I taught a soldering workshop a week ago and the attendees were thrilled with their new found skills. One person contacted me this week to say how empowering it felt to realize he could actually solder a project together and make it work (we made MintyBoosts). He bought two more kits and is teaching his friends how to solder this weekend.

    Make is helping lead the way. Hacker space groups that are poping up in the US and around the world are showing us how we can design, create, inovate, re-purpose and learn for ourselves. The excitement around the CCCKC Hacker Space proves to me that we are ready to explore a new direction in this country.

    CCCKC – http://blog.cowtowncomputercongress.org/
    @SomeoneKnows – http://twitter.com/SomeoneKnows

    If outsourcing is good for America, OUTSOURCE POLITICIANS
    .

  4. They think we’re stupid or they are crappy reporters, most likely both. This bit displays it-

    Dollar sales of cold-allergy-sinus tablets, for example, increased 17.2 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, according to Sageworks, a company that tracks sales at privately held businesses, revenue at physicians’ offices fell by 0.06 percent.

    First- that 17.2% increase in tablet sales- is that in over the counter tablets only or does it include prescriptions? There are several medicines that have gone over the counter over the last couple of years. (Zyrtec most recently) You don’t need to see a doctor to get them anymore.

    Second- a 0.06% decrease in physicians revenue? We’re supposed to be up in arms over a tiny decrease that was most likely the caused by various insurance systems, not some massive upswing in DIY medicine?

  5. Greetings

    Yes, DIY and using less services will be disruptive to the economy and cause pain in the short run. You should not deny that fact.

    No, in the long term over time the USofA and all of us would be healthier happier with less useless consumerism and more well made products and the self esteem of DIY

    But making that U-Turn is going to hurt big time for many and no amount of happy talk….

  6. I don’t consider cleaning your own house, or brewing a cup of coffee to be DIY.

    Maybe we need a new acronym to make it a little clearer, like DSPWNDTY (Do Stuff People Wouldn’t Normally Do Themselves Yourself).

  7. How can this be possible ?

    “I think once folks start doing more things for themselves we’ll see more money going in to the economy, not less…. Here’s some evidence…”

    Let’s take the example in the article.

    Option A
    Sick person goes to doctor, gets prescription, buy pills.

    Option B
    Sick person buys pills.

    The doctor sees no revenue in option B. Same thing for all of the others mentioned in the article. A professional is simply added to the equation. The professional still needs to buy a product that is comparable to the DIY alternative. So DIY means less money moving around.

    Not just in services :
    Say you buy a piece of electronic hardware or you make it yourself :

    Engineer designs, parts are bought and shipped, brought to plant, assembled, packaged, marketed, shipped to warehouses, shipped to store, bought at store.

    VS

    Buy parts from store, get them shipped.

    _______________

    If I’m not getting it, please tell me.

  8. @Someoneknows – The DIY service, like teaching someone to do a skill, is a service, not a mass manufacturing. I would say the politicians, while not always right, are on to something, we will, and are, seeing a decrease in mass manufacturing.

    The biggest thing that is keeping money out of our economy right now is that people are too afraid to spend. So if people feel safer spending money on DIY products than other services, I say go for it. If you want the economy to get better tomorrow, it will take people spending more money than they do now.

  9. This type of thinking always assumes a zero sum game. The doctor does not sit on her hands if you don’t show up to get an asprin, and the three hours you take off work for your headache doesn’t make you more productive. It assumes doing silly things is the only alternative to doing nothing.

    Learning something however is very long term productive, as you can gain from it over and over. DIY especially, because it also changes your thinking — even if you don’t follow through on every concept, knowing the approximate path to prototype is very encouraging.

    Progress is based on invention, and self empowerment is the heart of inventiveness. This is where all productivity gains come from.

    People that think walking their dog themselves instead of putting it in day care have no clue if they think this is a sign of hard times arriving. Hard times are eating eating dog instead of walking it.

  10. “I don’t consider cleaning your own house, or brewing a cup of coffee to be DIY.

    Maybe we need a new acronym to make it a little clearer, like DSPWNDTY (Do Stuff People Wouldn’t Normally Do Themselves Yourself).”

    or: Do Stuff People WOULD Normally Do Themselves Yourself.

    At least where I come from it’s normal to clean your own house, brew your own coffe, make your own dinner etc. if you’re not really rich. But I don’t live in USA.

  11. The reasoning that DIY hurts the economy is just another version of the all too common Broken Window Fallacy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

    In other words, while doing things yourself which may otherwise be done by a person whose livelihood involved doing such a thing, you are in fact doing the economy as a whole a benefit, not a disbenefit. While true that cutting your hair means a haircutter may be driven out of business, that simply means that that haircutter’s job has been rendered obsolete and that all persons who have lost their jobs in this manner may now be employed in more worthy pursuits. The money you would have spent getting your hair cut now also is spent on some other business, more in demand and worthy of that money than was the haircutter’s.

    In the 1800s, riots and sabotage of newly invented industrial machines were common because it was perceived those machines had cost thousands of people their jobs. However, those people reeducated themselves, out of necessity, and found work elsewhere. If indeed machines displaced the workforce we would now not need the work of Man, yet we find more people today are employed than at any other period of human history, doing jobs much more satisfactory to the human mind than the majority of jobs being done 200 years ago.

    Much can and has been written on this question, but when you really think about it, it is a supply and demand question. By urging people to buy services from fledgling businesses simply because the businesses are fledgling, you are trying to create artificial, unnatural demand for those services.

  12. I grew up on a small dairy. Except for hiring a vet to take care of the cattle the normal way of life was, if it was broke, you fixed it, if it needed maintaining, you maintained it, if it needed built, you saved up the money for the materials to do the job, and then you got your friends together and built it.

    So, I’ve been a poor contributor to the service industry all my life.

    I laugh at the “Oh my gosh, people are doing things, the economy is gonna fail” crowd. So, what are they going to do? Outlaw people enjoying tinkering with stuff and building weird and useful contraptions? Please deliver us from that grey, intelligence sapping wasteland.

  13. instead of going to the doctor when you’re sick, why not practice preventative medicine, seeing a dental hygenist to get your teeth cleaned is much less expensive in the long run than getting a tooth extracted or getting a root canal.

    exercise regularly, eat well (seven words) and sleep regularly. i haven’t had health insurance since i graduated college and have been to the doctor twice for sinus infections (8 years) sure it would be nice to have the physical exam, but i’m doing okay. and now the cure for sinus infections is a neti pot twice a day which cleans it out in 3 days or less.

    practice a healthy lifestyle and put the money in your pocket.

  14. “Dollar sales of cold-allergy-sinus tablets, for example, increased 17.2 percent in 2008”

    Could this increase be simply explained by the fact that many of those tablets are a major ingredient of Crystal Meth? Then yes, that increase points towards an increase in DIY drug labs.

    As for the rest, it is not DIY. It is cutting out the luxuries.

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