Thanks to the Deputy Headmistress for pointing out this article that says the trend towards outsourcing everyday chores is now beginning to reverse. Most interesting to me was the fact that the writer, who I suppose represents conventional urban wisdom, is alarmed by this.
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.
These small, service-oriented businesses are run in storefronts on urban streets and in suburban strip malls, or sometimes just out of pickup trucks. Responsible for roughly 18 million jobs nationwide, according to 2006 Census Bureau data, these companies have long been seen as engines of America’s economic growth. Yet after years of explosive expansion, many beauty salons, dry cleaners, landscapers, dog walkers, nanny services and restaurants experienced slower sales growth or even decline in the final months of 2008.
Their services are suddenly, and painfully, being perceived as nonessential.
The question now for these businesses is whether demand will stabilize or, eventually, drop enough to force them to close. And the answer may depend on whether consumers’ new penchant for self-service is temporary or permanent.
Unless the writer is using a very different definition of long than the one I know, the phrases I emphasized above are just plain wrong. You don’t have to be very old—certainly forty, maybe younger—to remember a time when almost nobody paid someone else to change their oil or mow their lawn or bake their cupcakes or walk their dogs.
And it is ridiculous to call such service “companies” the engines of America’s economic growth; instead, they were basically there to catch the money that was spilling out of overstuffed pockets. It’s more accurate to say that the growth in the service economy helped mask the fact that for the past thirty years in America there has been increasingly less useful work for a growing population to do.
I don’t know if the trend towards thriftiness and self-sufficiency will turn out to be one more short-lived fad, but it has been developing far more quickly than I would have predicted. I thought we’d have to be much further down the road before I’d hear sentiments like this one:
Indeed, after decades of spendthrift subcontracting, many consumers now say they view such specialist services as indulgences rather than necessities.“A lot of the way we’d been living was all an illusion, a fantasy,” said Ms. Spada, who has also been cooking more and bathing the family dog instead of going to the groomer. “We’ve been asking ourselves: Can we replicate some of those specialized services, which normally we would outsource, ourselves?”
Or reports like this:
Faisal Akram, the owner of service stations in Irvington, Tarrytown and Cortlandt Manor, all in New York, said that for the first time in recent memory customers were bringing in waste oil from home.
Or questions like this:
“After doing it yourself, it’s like, ‘Why was I ever spending $200 to pay someone else to do it for me?’ ” said Ms. Zaidenweber, who recently dyed her hair for the first time from an $8 home coloring kit. “It was kind of fun, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as I expected, and even it took a couple tries to get it done right.”