Sunday, January 8, 2017

New Year Sale, New Tool Fail?

Craftsman, the long-standing tradition of the tool world, was sold to Stanley Black & Decker for 900 million dollars. Somehow, this amount seems smaller than I would have thought, but then again, I am not up to speed on the tool brand values today.

What is in question is the lifetime warranty that was given to all Craftsman tools. Apparently, this warranty has been tested by the consumer in perhaps not-so-honest ways. Turns out people were out looking for Craftsman tools in the world, whether in the trash can or at a garage sale, and returning them for new tools. In some cases maybe even reselling those shiny new tools for cash! I have to say, having a product in the market that resembles cash is pretty impressive. Craftsman obviously upheld the reputation and warranty of its product.

Now with a change of ownership, leadership, and most likely market strategy, how will this warranty hold up? It has already been modified in 2014 to force a return to same store it was bought in, and as we know, nothing is forever, right? What will be right for the Craftsman brand will be to elevate itself from the outdated shelves of Sears, reinvent itself for the market as a stand alone brand, and build trust back with a consumer that is aging out of the market, but still tinkering. For Craftsman, a more difficult task will be reaching the newer, younger consumer that most likely doesn't know a box end from a crowfoot, nor do they work on their car as we once did or build a mini-bike from parts at the junkyard.

Craftsman can do well to stay clear of Stanley B&D on the shelf, too. Should it become diluted as those brands have, they may have a problem. Craftsman must look to differentiate itself from those competing mass market brands, which the warranty often did, but now is in question. Since you still can't find top-shelf tool brands like Snap-On or Matco on a store shelf, Craftsman should be able to find a position above big box house brand darlings Kobalt and Husky fairly easily, and split the sales channels into a hybrid somewhere between hardware store and tool truck.

Have to admit, I am a bit sad to see this news. I have always owned Craftsman tools. They are, or were, a symbol of DIY homeowner value and efficiency, and a well-stocked garage of Craftsman was admired. Today, in a our 'just go to Harbor Freight' disposable lifestyles, we do not value these items near as much, nor do we learn to use them as well as previous generations. A true 'craftsman' is almost a rarity, although the 'maker' movement is spawning thousands of newly invigorated folks looking to earn their badge.

Starting the year off, I have to be optimistic that this new deal will return Craftsman to what it once was, and restore the brand to respectability that it once held. Or, will it be another victim of shareholder value?