The map you see above was borrowed from http://www.popvssoda.com/, a site that can almost conclusively tell you where you’re from based on what you call the carbonated stuff that comes in cans: “pop,” “soda,” or “Coke.” Not surprisingly, we’re from Texas (finally depicted as a “red” state in the map here, if nowhere else), and most of us call it “Coke” no matter what company actually produces it.
If you’re from up North, you probably think I’m kidding. I’m not. “I want a Coke,” you’d say. “What kind? 7-Up, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, Shasta?” your friends would answer.
Laugh away, but I’m willing to bet you do the same thing with tools. Let’s put you to the test.
Have you ever called a reciprocating saw a “Sawzall?” Or how ’bout calling a circular saw a “Skil saw?”
These are each very, very successful brand names. Sawzall belongs to Milwaukee, and Skil… well, you get the picture. Some very creative people at these companies ginned up these names, and they’re now a part of your vocabulary. “Grab me a Sawzall,” you say. “Which one, the DeWalt or the Bosch?”
As much as we — as largely men, by our count — hate to admit it, there’s an huge social factor involved in tool selection. While we’re often faced with a huge selection of tools that’ll do the job, we often buy the tools our fathers bought. We buy the tools our mentors own. We buy the tools that we see Jesse James use on TV. Whether we admit it or not, the tools we use label us in the eyes of other craftsman.
If you’re in doubt of this idea, keep an eye out the next time you’re around a jobsite. Even if you’re not a professional craftsman, try watching the crews on the houses they build in your neighborhood (or the new ones up the street or on the other side of town). You’ll notice — as many of the people we’ve met in the industry have — that different groups tend to stick with different brands. Electricians and framers, for example, each have use for and carry a cordless drill. But what brands do they carry? Take a look next time. The manufacturers have made it easy for you — especially when we’re talking about power tools because each maker uses a very specific color for the casings.
(I bet you can recite a number of them from memory. Craftsman: Black. Makita: Light blue. Hitachi: Green. DeWalt: Yellow. Need I continue?)
Now turn this thinking inward. What brands do you buy, and why do you buy them?
One of the true joys about writing for Toolmonger is that we’ve had the opportunity to try out all kinds of tools over the last six months or so. Whereas in the past we’d have just bought a cordless drill that’d do the job, now we find that we’ve had our hands on a dozen or more (recently), and that has had a big effect on the way we view a number of popular brands.
Craftsman, for example, still makes some great hand tools. The quality is still quite high, and there’s always the (still sweet-as-hell) lifetime warranty. Craftsman makes a huge investment in supporting their hand tool warranty because it carries across — in the minds of the consumer — to many of their other products. The Craftsman name has come to mean quality, even if you’re looking at a product to which the lifetime warranty doesn’t apply. Are the other tools quality? Our experiences have been mixed, but we’d love to hear your experiences as well.
RIDGID is now attempting exactly the same move, offering their how-can-they-actually-do-this lifetime service agreement on power tools. It’s got to be hitting them in the wallet, so we can only assume that they’re doing this to reap the same kind of benefits Craftsman does: a much better public view of all their products, even those not covered by the agreement.
What we’ve discovered after spending time with a lot of hand tools and power tools is that you can’t buy based on brand alone. Branding is a pure-and-not-so-simple marketing tool that can wholeheartedly cloud your vision when it comes to picking out a tool.
Sure, your Dad may have bought nothing but Craftsman screwdrivers, but have you seen Stanley’s offerings? All the guys in the shop may have MAC tools, but what about Snap-on’s specialty tools? Maybe you’ve had a bunch of DeWalt drills, but have you tried out a Bosch lately?
Let me be the first to suggest that your power tool bin should look like a United Colors of Benetton ad from the ’80s. Do your research and buy the best tool for the job, no matter who makes it. I’m not saying that you should pass those great warranties by — jump on board and reap the free batteries! — but take the whole picture into account.