The True Story Behind “Quality Guaranteed”

It’s a phrase you’ve likely read hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It’s plastered on billboards and street signs and pizza boxes. You’ve heard it on TV commercials and radio ads. About Chinese food and plumbers and online accredited universities. That’s right. You know the words: “Quality Guaranteed.”

If you’re like me, you’ve wondered who exactly is guaranteeing that quality. Is it the seller itself? The producer of the materials? Maybe a government agency or trade organization? At what precise time did the act of guaranteeing occur? Is each product or service inspected individually or are representative examples examined? What happens when the quality doesn’t satisfy the consumer’s expectations? Whose job is it to enforce the guarantee?

As you can tell, I’m a curious guy. I couldn’t find the answers to any of these questions on Wikipedia so I decided to investigate them myself.

After a long search through phonebooks and infomercials and discarded mail, I was surprised to discover that all the goods and services in this country are, in fact, guaranteed not by some complicated bureaucratic institution in Washington, DC or by quality control specialists at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart, but by a lovely old couple in Buxton, Iowa: Martha and Harold Washburn.

The Washburns have been guaranteeing the quality of goods and services for forty-five years, almost as long as they’ve been married. They’re humble, honest, and hardworking people, but the future of their business, as I’ve learned, is in jeopardy.

The Washburns have a middle-aged son named Clebald. He has been the company’s enforcer since he was fifteen years old. (All of this I learned through a series of phone interviews with Martha and one visit to their home/inspection facility.) Clebald still lives at home. He has meaty palms and a pair of brass boots. When I met him, he sprained my index finger and fractured my shin. He’s not a nice guy.

Being a family business, the Washburns want Clebald to take over the company very soon. They are slowing down in old age. But as Clebald said while stuffing his face with bonbons when I tried to interview him, “I don’t give a shit about quality. Get the hell out of my kitchen.”

All he cares about is breaking skulls. The Washburns were never able to have any other children so they’re stuck with him. Exhausted and arthritic, they are falling behind in their work. But that hasn’t stopped Clebald from hurting supermarket employees and yoga instructors even though their products and services haven’t been officially guaranteed.

“We’re in a really tough spot,” Martha told me, blenders and cacti and ice cream piled behind her. “We want the business to stay in the family, but we also want the guarantee to mean something. Clebald’s a sweet boy underneath but he can’t tell the difference between a billygoat and a shewolf.”

Harold, glaring through an eye piece at the laces of a baseball glove said, “All I want is to go on vacation for once.”

Then Clebald barreled into the house holding a severed hand, so I ended the interview for the evening.

The next morning I stopped over to say goodbye but the Washburns begged me to stay. “Look, we can tell that you really care about quality,” Martha said. “I saw you inspect that Wendy’s Junior Bacon Cheeseburger,” Harold added. “You have a knack for this.”

I had embarked on this journey to learn about the story behind “Quality Guaranteed,” but now I was being offered the reins of a major American company. Did I care enough about quality to make this business my future? Could I handle the inevitable battle for power that would ensue between Cleobald and me? Did I want to move to Buxton, Iowa?

In the end, I decided that this business wasn’t for me, even though I was honored by their offer. But, if there’s any trustworthy people out there who wish to inspect all of the country’s goods and services every day for the next forty-five years, then please let me know. I’ll put you into contact with the Washburns. Otherwise, we might have to face a world where quality isn’t truly guaranteed.


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