September 19, 2012

Quick Tip: Knowing Your Warranty

When I buy a bag, I rarely give a second glance to the warranty and while I have never had occasion to make use of it, in this instance that lack of attention almost cost me a couple hundred dollars. One of the reasons that I generally disregard warranties is because they are often so much of a hassle that I would rather not deal with them. This is usually by design and with larger corporations there is often a delicate balance between seeming accommodating while also discouraging the use of a warranty. How a company handles customer satisfaction and warranties is a good indication of what their guiding principles are.

I have a Kenneth Cole messenger bag that I purchased a few years ago and the stitching on the strap broke, so I stuck it in the closet figuring I would try and fix it at some point. Recently, while in a Kenneth Cole boutique browsing possible replacements, I mentioned the reason I was there to a sales associate and he told me about their warranty. For the cost of shipping ($7), they will take it back, ship it out and have it either fixed or replaced. Needless to say, this is way better than buying a new bag, but it also brought up an interesting point. In this instance, Kenneth Cole’s bags are licensed out to Heritage Travelware which is who offers the limited lifetime warranty covering defects.

But what about when bags are all you do? Tumi, the name eponymous with business travel, offers a limited five-year warranty. At first glance this sounds like it is skimping a bit since making bags is basically all they do, but it is really just a smart business decision. During the first year, the warranty is all-inclusive. It covers damage and defects and they will replace the product if it cannot be repaired. For the remaining four years, the warranty only covers defects. As with most companies that primarily make a single item, they offer a repair and refurbishment service.

The common approach is that if something is truly defective it will break down in the first five years and if it makes it past that, it will generally hold up for a long time with proper treatment and use. This minimal actual impact is why a lot of companies, particularly smaller ones, can offer lifetime warranties.

Similarly, Frank Clegg Leatherworks, offers a lifetime warranty on all their products and has the added attraction of being made in USA. They will also do repairs, for a nominal fee, but the nice thing about a well-crafted leather bag is that if it is treated well, the wear and tear only gives it more character.

Saddleback Leather Company takes the lifetime warranty one step further. While most lifetime warranties cover the product only for the life of the original registered user, Saddleback offers a 100 year warranty. Their website says “if you or one of your descendants should have a problem, send it back to me or one of my descendants and we’ll repair or replace it for free or we'll give you a credit on the website (be sure to mention the warranty in your will).” Clearly this is a lighthearted comment and there is no guarantee that the company will be around in 100 years, but it demonstrates confidence in the quality and durability of the products they make.

I guess the lesson here is to be aware of the benefits that come with your purchase, and when in doubt it doesn’t hurt to ask. Head into the store and see what they have to offer or check out a local craftsman (every place I have lived, particularly in the south, has a leather worker nearby) and support community businesses. If you explore the possibilities, there is a good chance you can save yourself some money and extend the life of your investment.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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