I’m always fascinated whenever I hear about a tool manufacturer buying up a name for their tools. Certainly in cases such as Rockwell — where the name itself carries some actual tool cred — the reasons for its are purchase obvious. But what about Dodge Hemi Tools?
Back in ’05, B3 Brands purchased rights to the name from the auto manufacturer and began to apply it to a variety of cordless power tools. Their press releases — the third and last one posted on May 17, 2005 — are filled with such phrases as “start your engines!” and “Hey, those tools got a HEMI?” and refer over and over to the tools’ “power.”
Are we really that simple? It’s bad enough that the idea of a hemispherical combustion chamber alone draws the buying public to whatever crate it’s bolted into. (Not that I don’t enjoy some of Chrysler’s new designs — I do. But come on: even some lawn mowers have a “hemi.”) But tools? This reminds me of a radio ad I heard years ago making fun of the use of inflatable gorillas in advertising. “Would a house be more likely to sell with a gorilla?” the ad asked. “Two bedrooms, three baths, gorilla.”
The concept of cross-manufacturing (where manufacturers produce a product to be sold under another brand) even further clouds the already not-so-clear tool market water. Most Toolmongers know, for example, that many Stanley-branded tools are made in the same factory as MAC and Proto tools. Those of you who’re even more sly know that Craftsman has contracted the manufacturing of their mechanics’ tools to a variety of vendors over the years. But what does this mean? Does it mean that Stanley-branded tools are as good as MAC-branded tools? Does it mean that Craftsman’s mechanics’ tools are identical to those produced and sold under a different brand by whoever has the manufacturing contract this year?
No, it doesn’t.
When we first started testing tools for Toolmonger, we often went into each test with a pretty “good idea” of what performance we expected to see based on the brand. What we learned — after a year of testing and writing about tools so often that we don’t see our families much — is that even though tool companies spend billions of dollars each year to convince us otherwise, brands don’t matter.
Each tool is constructed using a specific process and design, regardless of what company owns the tooling where it’s made and what name they slap on it. Your personal interests are much better served by breaking down the brand sales pitch into its individual components and examining them separately. For example:
If a brand “means quality,” that quality should be obvious in the tool itself — in its solid feel and in its good build quality. You don’t need a brand to tell you about quality. You can use your own eyes, ears, and hands to judge it.
A name “that’s been around for years” might not have been in the same hands that whole time, and even if it has, you have no idea what’s happening in the boardroom this year. And even if the company’s fine, I still believe that reliability is something you can see and feel before purchase. You don’t need marketing to tell you this. If a power cord is held in place with a cheap-looking plastic grommet, you can bet it’s going to break at some point. If the brushes aren’t serviceable on a power tool, it’ll have a limited lifetime. You get the idea.
Craftsman is famous for their lifetime “hand tool” warranty, and brands such as RIDGID have jumped on this bandwagon as well, offering a great lifetime warranty on their power tools. But beware of the marketing spin: read the fine print and make sure that the tool you’re purchasing is actually covered by the warranty and that the warranty process isn’t a maze of confusion. Most seriously of all, don’t assume that because a manufacturer offers a warranty their tools are more reliable. You be the judge of that as discussed above.
Yeah, even tool guys understand the concept of bling. While your electrician friends might look up to a Greenlee screwdriver or your mechanic buddies might drool over your Snap-on wrench, remember that you’re the one using these tools. Don’t fall for the bling; make sure that the tools you buy are the best possible tools in your price range — regardless of brand. If the best tools happen to be the most expensive brands, fine. But don’t assume that’s the case.
What I’m trying to get at is this: learn to see each tool you’re buying as standing on its own merits and not those of its siblings or parents. You can’t turn a screw, break a nut loose, or paint your house with a brand.
And if you ever doubt this, just do a Froogle search for “Dodge Hemi Tools.” The result? Not a thing.