A colleague once told me a horror story about what was supposed to be an affordable new car. Everything was fine until a few months in, when a headlight went out and his mechanic quoted him $200 for the parts and 4hrs of labour to replace the bulb. “$200 to replace a $12 bulb?!” he said, “Forget it – I’ll do it myself!”Famous last words, as they say.
What he didn’t realize was that the quote was so high because of the proprietary design of the vehicle. The car was designed in such a way that to replace the lightbulb he’d have to pop the hood, remove the radiator cover, jack up the car to remove the wheel and wheel-liner, and unscrew and remove the front bumper in order to access and remove the bolts holding the headlight assembly in place. After 6hrs of fumbling around, he gave up and drove it back to the mechanic’s, hat – and wallet – in hand.
Pay Now Or Pay Later?
I think about that story every time a customer asks me about proprietary elevators. These are elevators that a company designs so that only they can provide parts for them, and only their technicians can maintain and service them.
Proprietary equipment sometimes has a lower purchase price, so I can understand the initial appeal. Unfortunately, I think that’s where the benefits stop – and just like my colleague, customers need to consider the long-term costs of ownership when buying a new machine. Even more so than with cars, buying an elevator is a long-term commitment. They may not realize that sometimes saving a bit now means paying a lot more in the long run.
Cons of Buying Proprietary: Limited Options, Limited Choice
The biggest disadvantage of buying a proprietary elevator is that it takes all of the control out of your hands and gives it to the proprietor. When a proprietary machine needs servicing or repairs, only the company that produced it will have the software or specialty tools needed. That means they can set whatever price they want for the parts and service and you won’t be able to shop around for a better quote, since no one else will be able to help.
Don’t like the service that company provides? Dissatisfied with their customer service or support? Unfortunately, you’ll have few (if any) options for outside assistance. And if they decide to raise the prices from one year to the next, sadly you’re stuck paying them.
NASA learned this the hard way – and now they have a policy to specifically choose non-proprietary elevators.
Another Concern: Product Obsolescence
If you’ve ever tried to repair a broken phone and realised that the replacement parts aren’t available for models beyond a few years old, you’ll be familiar with this frustration. Because proprietary elevators require proprietary parts and components, they’re vulnerable when a manufacturer decides it’s too expensive to keep building parts and providing support for older models.
Choosing a non-proprietary model, by contrast, means that you’ll usually have several options for parts. If one manufacturer stops producing a critical component, you can usually find someone else who still makes one that’s compatible.
It is important to understands that proprietary equipment means limited options for repairs and servicing. If they’re fixated on the difference in initial cost, remember that that long-term maintenance costs are an important consideration. You should know what you’re getting into before committing.
At the end of the day, customers decide what’s best for them, and in some cases that may be a proprietary elevator. It’s our job to present them with all of the information they need to make an informed decision, but the final choice is up to them.
Still, I bet my colleague might have felt differently about buying that “affordable” new car if someone had pointed out the potential long-term costs and inconveniences. Realizing this certainly impacted NASA’s buying decisions.