This week I had 7 calls in to my local Internet provider, trying to get my new home wireless network to actually work on the net. After loading my 18-digit network key about 14 times, my helpdesk person asked me, “How old is that computer?” We looked it up and discovered that it’s 10 years old. He explained that the working life of a modern laptop used to be 7 years. Then it was lowered to 4.5 years. Now, he tells me, it’s 3. So…it was all my fault.

So…we pay several hundred dollars, for features we (by “we” I mean “mid-lifers”) don’t use…and an operating system that doesn’t work as well as the last one, and apps that crash…with the assurance that in 3 frenetic years it will be ready for recycling! Three years!! Please!! My grandma had the same refrigerator for 40! The average car on the road is just over 10!

On the other end of the spectrum, I sit at home at a HON 11600 Series “shell” desk which I installed myself in 1995 (and which we discontinued in 2008) and it’s doing JUST FINE…thank you very much.

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this colorful rambling narrative, The HON Full Lifetime Warranty.  And the only way I can actually get there is by way of Korea. Anybody here ever heard of Hyundai? If you were out of middle school in the early 90s, you remember the first Sonata. It was kind of plain, had a lot of features for the money, and the HON INDUSTRIES Credit Union had one for sale in the parking lot. It looked a lot better than my rusted out ’88 Mercury Sable (which wasn’t saying much) and the price was do-able for a family of 6. So I looked it up in Consumer Reports. It flunked royally. Seems like the oil pump or something was totally unreliable.

Hyundai had more than its share of “downs” for several more years, with the only “up” being its incredibly low prices. Then they looked at their brand and asked, “What could we do to make ourselves more attractive to the buying public?” They determined that the antidote to a poor reputation was…bingo…the best warranty in autodom. 100 thousand miles—almost double the competition. Suddenly, people took notice. Lots of features…affordable price…and a knockout warranty! Today, the Hyundai Sonata is a hot contender in the mid-size car category, and its little brother, the Elantra was just named North American Car of the Year!

This leads, of course, directly back to my HON 11600 Series Shell Desk, which is built like a tank, like just about everything else we make. We have long joked at HON that our stuff would go out of style long before it went out of service. But while lots of flashy technology products (like laptops) ramble through their life cycles in 3 short years, and burn out their warranties in 1, our stuff just lasts and lasts. When I started at HON INDUSTRIES (now HNI Corporation) our laminate casegoods warranty was for 2 years (seating was a little better). In July of 93, we raised it to 12 years. In 96, it went up to Lifetime, but only if you went home at 5:00 every night and never worked on the weekend (seriously). Then came the Limited Lifetime in 2002 (I know, because I wrote that one).

Last July, we blew the lid off the whole deal and brought out the Full Lifetime Warranty. It’s good for as long as the original purchaser owns the product. Not only that, but we dramatically reduced the number of components listed in the “fine print”. Things like casters…and plastic parts (we used to call them “polymer”…same stuff). We increased the coverage to 12 years on chair controls and laminate. Even school furniture got bumped from 10 years to Lifetime!

Moreover, we improved HOW we cover it. We used to say we would “repair or replace” parts shown to be defective in workmanship or materials. Now, in the same cases, we promise to repair, replace or…drum roll…refund your purchase price! And, where our “limited” Lifetime Warranty assumed that your products would be used only 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, now they’re 24/7, or 168 hours a week. You could argue that we now offer more than 4 times the coverage. At this point, the only way I can see to improve our warranty would be to cover it for five years before you buy it (that would be sweet).

You really need to think about this next time you go to the Big Box electronics store to get a GPS or a laptop. Most of those warranties are for one dinky year. Then, go back and sell a Voi workstation, or a Flagship pedestal, or 300 lb. capacity Ignition chair, and help your customer get enthused about the wonderful life you’re going to have together. Heck, you could hold a little ceremony at delivery time, commemorating the start of a lifetime of coverage (I’m beginning to get teary-eyed). This is relationship marketing on a whole new level!

No installs next week? Well, by way of practice, why don’t you photocopy the inside front cover of the September, 2011 HON Commercial List Pricer. Get some fancy scissors and a pink highlighter, and go to town with it. Put it in a nice envelope. Next week, on Valentine’s Day, give it to your Spouse or Significant Other instead of flowers or jewelry. Imagine their delight as you promise to be free from defects in materials and workmanship for life. What could be more romantic? (Technically, because your clothes are textiles, they would only be warranted for 5 years, but you’ll probably change them sooner than that anyway.)

I’ll be back next month with more deep thoughts on Office Furniture. In the mean time, we’ll have an eye out for some nice pix of those warranty ceremonies.