Built-in obsolescence — it's a concept that the consumer electronics industry has made fashionable. How many cell phones do you have in a drawer at home that you can no longer use? How many computers do you have that you no longer use? The sad truth is that all forms of technology have become disposable in today's society.

For example, not that long ago I was standing in line at a shoe store watching someone try to return a pair of shoes that were clearly used. This was once unthinkable, but sadly it's become an accepted practice. And, yes, that includes the foodservice equipment and supplies industry.

As far back as 2009 we were getting calls from operators who were trying to return equipment that was 6 or even 18 months old. They were really forceful about needing the supply chain to take things out of their businesses, regardless of the reason why the item was not functioning as they had hoped. Sometimes, the supply chain did not specify the right product for the right application and that's on us. But more prominent were the mistakes the buyer made in haste just to get something delivered quickly.

How many fryers do I have to take back because a customer bought a propane unit when a natural gas one was the right choice? From the operator's perspective, how many comps does a restaurant have to give a customer until they realize the problem is not with their food but with the customer?

Too often the decision to make it right for the customer is a one-way street. It is a shared responsibility and I think that's something our industry fails to grasp today. A lot of this came about during the lean economic times of recent years. Many factories adopted the philosophy of "let's get it out the door and fix it in the field." And that approach really used to cause consternation. We need to get back to getting it right the first time.

From the end user's perspective, a disconnect occurs between the chain of ownership and the financial responsibility. Reps have to advocate for the dealer and the factory. The dealers have financial responsibility. And the factory will write a liberal warranty policy. In other words, everyone in the supply chain tries to kick the financial can down the road. Everyone's interests do not always align with one another but a little dynamic tension can be good for the industry because it keeps us all on our toes and pushes us to be better.

Certainly, better education can help address these issues. The idea of working collaboratively across the various supply chain segments needs to be reintroduced because it is something that we lost after the recession. Because when something goes wrong and product is returned it impacts all of us — factory, rep, dealer, consultant, end user and service agent.

This problem is not the unique providence of any one industry segment. I present this as a challenge the industry faces because I don't have the answer. But perhaps together it is something we can solve.