There are no free lunches in life.

GEEKNOTE: TANSTAAFL – This acronym predates the Internet, but it remains true: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch - Obvious, but often overlooked. One current trend is “showrooming” where people come to a regular store to learn about products and then go home and buy them online.

We deal with this sort of thing regularly while competing against the likes of direct sales operations, such as Dell, and big box stores, including Best Buy and Walmart. This used to be true of Circuit City too, but they priced their products at an unsustainable level and they went under. Best Buy is currently closing stores for financial reasons.

The most recent case was a local businessman who beat me up to save $12 on a $500 computer. He could have saved the $12 by ordering the same computer from Best Buy, who would have had to ship it to him, and he'd have spent most or all of that savings if they had talked him into so much as a network cable to use with his new computer. I was nice. I matched the BB price and didn't mention the fact that his wife had just thanked me for the $250 donation we made to her charity fund raiser.

The cruel fact of life is that organizations large and small need to figure out how to cover their expenses with revenues from somewhere or they won't stay in business for long. We price our products and services with that in mind. Like all businesses, we need to charge enough to stay in business.

There are some loss leaders the big guys promote that we can't touch, most frequently printers on closeout sales. The rest of the time, we are pretty competitive, especially as the price goes up.

Dell will sell you a “server” starting at $399. Mind you, a $399 server is somewhat limited... inadequate memory, a Celeron processor, a single workstation-grade hard drive, no drive controller card, and no operating system. Oh, and it costs extra if you want it delivered, but hey, it IS a server. <snicker>

I have spec'd out five servers for customers in the past few weeks. They were more than 10 times the starting price of that Dell server, but amazingly enough, we came in WAY below Dell once you started adding “options” like memory, a real Xeon server processor, multiple server class drives, a drive controller card, and an operating system. TANSTAAFL in action.

We're not unique. If I want to go somewhere, I'll pick up the phone and call Joanie or Gina over at . Sure, I could name my own price, but I'd probably screw it up because I don't make travel arrangements for a living. I could also book my flight online myself. I've discovered from experience that Gone Again routinely gets me better deals than I could get on my own and they have the expertise to suggest things I wouldn't have known about. eg. Before I talked to Gina, I never knew that foreign tourists could get special pricing on the Shinkansen bullet trains in Japan. I haven't been to Japan since 1971, but you never know when that sort of information might prove useful.

If I need legal advice, I COULD go to one of those legal websites, but what I'll ACTUALLY do is pick up the phone and schedule an appointment with a local attorney that works in the field I need help in. When the day is done, I'll be comfortable that my attorney kept me from doing something stupid. (I'm also helping the Bar Association with their 5k fund raiser this coming Saturday. That ought to count for something.)

Ditto physicians and dentists. I have a family physician and a dentist and I pay for regular checkups. I wouldn't even want to contemplate “do it yourself” dentistry.

The same thing goes for plumbers, A/C repairmen, building contractors, auto repair shops, and other tradesmen. Yes, I could probably do a bunch of the stuff that they do or find some “handyman” to do it on the cheap, but it is worth it to me to pay a little extra and know that the job was done right.

It really is true. There is (ain't) no such thing as a free lunch. If you want something done right, you need to be prepared to pay a fair price to have it done.

Feel free to drop me a note or leave a comment here if you have any questions about your computer or your office network.

Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.


(Rob also serves as deputy mayor of the City of New Port Richey. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the city.)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

jane S. Merriman May 02, 2012 at 01:33 AM
As always, Rob you give us a glimpse of common sense. Jane, old, old, friend.
Rob Marlowe May 02, 2012 at 10:32 AM
One minor clarification now that we are back home: While it is true that the last time I rode the Shinkansen was back in 1971, that changed last week and I was on the Shinkansen again for the second time in a week on Monday. Thanks Gina for putting us on to the four day JR Railpass that is available to foreign tourists.
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