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I was a bit surprised to find Snap-On products — albeit “tourist” stuff like flashlights and beer coozies — at the local Costco. But I was even more surprised to find Snap-On as one of the brands touted among the Father’s Day deals on Amazon. As you might imagine, I clicked through. My first find? The screwdrivers you see pictured above, an 8-piece set carrying the “Snap-on Industrial Brand JH Williams” name… and retailing for right around $50.

You’ll find other Snap-On tools listed on Amazon as well, including a couple of socket sets, a torque wrench, some adjustable wrenches, and (not so surprisingly) the same flashlights, razor knives, and chisel scrapers that already carry the name in your local big box shops. You still won’t run across the mechanic’s standards (wrenches, auto sockets, etc.) or storage, so it’s not like Amazon will replace dealing with your local truck-based dealer. Still, the jump from toys and souvenirs to actual tools makes us wonder if the future of truck-only distribution is on its way out — if maybe still years away.

Ask any pro mechanic — we have — and you’ll get an earful about tool trucks. On one hand, they offer a professional convenience that you just can’t find anywhere else. The truck brings the tools to you, delivers your purchases right to your place of work, and offers on-site replacement. Just hand your busted tool to the driver and he’ll hand you a replacement. We’ve also heard tales, though certainly not universally, about truck operators who take the time to learn about their route’s needs, serving not just as a retailer, but also as a repository for the collective route’s knowledge. Wonder which specialty tool really does the best job for your application? Your truck dealer might know.

That said, it seems like more and more tool manufacturers are realizing that while the pro market offers significantly higher margins (not to mention a need and taste for higher-quality and more expensively-designed and constructed tools), there are easily 50 high-end DIYers for every pro on a given route — DIYers willing and able to buy the same pro-line tools. And there’s another 5,000 average tool-wielding folks for each of those high-end DIYers. That’s a lot of cash, even at a low markup.

So what does this mean to us? And what does this have to do with finding Snap-On at Amazon? First, let’s take a look at the positive side of all this. We’re seeing the gap between pro-line and homeowner tools filling quickly with new models and offerings. It’s not that we’re losing the high end or the low, but rather seeing the gap fill up with new stuff that’s not quite pro and not quite cheap-ass. These offerings make a lot of sense for cash-laden DIYers — a lot more sense than just shelling out for pro gear that’s more than they need.

On the other hand, check out the recent comments on Toolmonger and you’ll see a lot of consternation and concern related to the idea of “watering down” classic brands. Sure, sometimes this is just brand-love — the chant of folks blinded by tool color and advertisements and the caterwauling of people who buy tools for status more than use. But underneath the blind wailing there’s a thread of truth, too. Brands change hands now like stocks on Wall Street, and each owner has a different plan behind their brand investment. Sometimes big brands buy specialty companies to expand their line into the pro level, and this strikes us as a good thing. It gives smaller boutique brands the cash they need to survive, and it delivers value to stockholders, too. But sometimes they buy the little guys for the name alone, with the full intent of dumping the product and all the people who make it, tacking the name on whatever they’ve got to sell.

The trick is, as always, evaluating each of these situations on an individual basis. That’s why I tend to put more weight into Toolmonger comments which offer specific knowledge versus pure opinion. When someone writes “I bought a recent whatever-brand item and it didn’t hold up,” that catches my attention. “They’re just crapping up my favorite holy brand” — not so much.

At any rate, we’ll keep an eye out on Amazon for other truck-only brands, and most importantly for the day the full lines become available. That direct market seems pretty lucrative to us, so we expect it’ll eventually happen. Or maybe we’ll see separate-but-similar-looking lines created just for the online retailers, like the way Levi’s makes different jeans for Target and Wal-Mart.

What do you think?

Snap-On Via Amazon [What’s This?]

Update (6/13/12): I received a great email from Toolmonger alum Stuart Deutsch, who noticed this as well and wrote a piece about it a while back for ToolGuyd. You can (and should) check out his full article, but the gist is that back in 2011 “Snap-on renamed the J. H. Williams Tool Group to Snap-on Industrial Brands,” which enabled some folks to market the tools to Amazon and others under variations of the Snap-on name.

I’m of two minds about this:

First, though I used to (as a consumer) see all kinds of secret conspiracies and such behind the various tool company corporate structures, after sitting through many presentations and meeting a ton of folks involved in the process — as well as seeing and trying out thousands of tools from them — I don’t really feel that way any more. Though it’s rarely a popular view among either consumers or manufacturers, Toolmonger has long promoted color-blindness when it comes to tool purchases. Brand is just that: brand. It’s a name. It’s a marketing strategy. And it works, in that it encourages consumers to think more about past purchases than present ones. We believe in considering both.

So Snap-on isn’t hiding their purchases. Snap-on Industrial Brands, like virtually every other manufacturer out there, makes and sells tools under a number of names. Sometimes technology and manufacturing overlap between those brands, and sometimes they don’t. Is your Williams or Bahco wrench really a Snap-on wrench? Is your Stanley screwdriver a MAC screwdriver? A Proto? A DeWalt?

Short answer: No. And yes. These are different products. While the combinations of these companies and brands do matter in terms of market strategy and design decisions, what concerns those of us who’re in the tool using market instead of the tool making or tool selling markets is the product itself.

Second, I still can’t help but suspect that every manufacturer is still looking for the best way to tap into the direct market. It’s just too tempting to sell those tools directly to the consumers. The more I think about it, though, the less I think this will really mean to the pros who depend on the truck market. If Snap-on were to suddenly offer the entire Snap-on line via Amazon today, the guy who fixed the A/C on my car last summer wouldn’t care a whit. He still needs that direct service that only the trucks can provide, and he’s gonna buy from the trucks regardless.

On the other hand, direct sales could mean a lot to people like me. A long time ago, Sean and I needed a very specific socket adapter for a project, and to get it we had to call around to the local auto shops, get the contact for our local truck dealer, then camp a spot on his route. It would’ve been nice to be able to just order it with next-day Prime shipping. On the other hand, when we did finally meet up with the truck operator, he knew exactly what we needed — and he gave us a card and told us how to find him in the future. Try that with Amazon.


26 Responses to Amazon: The Next Snap-On Truck?

  1. Flabby Boohoo says:

    I would never pay Snap-On prices. Ever. A set of Craftsman sockets or screw drivers will be more than enough for my home shop.

  2. jesse says:

    The problem with the tool truck brands is that if they start selling the same genuine tool truck tools through retail outlets, they are likely to lose many of their franchisees. Tool trucks are a very expensive marketing channel, and from what I have heard in person and read online, it is hard enough to make a decent living without having the same items available in local stores, and perhaps competitively prices to boot. As it is, Snap-on, Matco, and Mac sell online; only Cornwell still sells exclusively through their franchisees.

  3. JeffD says:

    I guess you could call me one of those DIY guys who has higher end tools like the pros. I’m not brand specific in the least. If it works, has a lifetime (preferred) warranty and not too cost prohibitive, it goes in my shop. In general I conduct my research and shopping online.

    My hand tools are a 25% & 75% mixture of US and European brands respectfully. As with certain US manufacturers, the Europeans shift their manufacturing offshore as well.

    With regards to tool trucks, I’ve only had one ‘almost’ encounter. My wife wanted a certain SO driver in pink for Christmas. Never having been on a truck, I decided to hit up a friend in the garage biz.

    I went to my friends shop in time for the SO truck’s arrival. I was pumped up and had a pocket full of cash burning a hole in my pocket. Along with my wife’s pink driver, I decided to pick up one of those nifty SO ratcheting drivers that everyone raves about.

    My friend and I walked up to the truck only to be stopped by the driver. “Who’s that?”, he asked. I was introduced as a good friend who needed some tools for Christmas presents.

    “If you ain’t in the business, you can’t come on the truck”, was the drivers reply.

    “I have cash”, I replied, and showed him my brand new twenty dollar bills. “Doesn’t matter”, he said.

    It didn’t seem this driver wanted a quick cash sale. My friend offered to buy them for me, but he declined that sale as well.

    That was my first and last experience with any tool truck.

    I found my wife’s pink SO driver on eBay. Same price and free shipping.

    • browndog77 says:

      When you said your wife wanted the Snap-On driver in pink for Christmas, it conjured up a pretty funny image. I then realized you were NOT referring to the truck driver, LOL!

  4. Mike Lee says:

    I agree with one of the members, I will not pay snap-on prices. The only way I can afford snap-on tools, is through yard sales. My opinion, Craftman is just as good. Also, I don’t have to hunt down a truck for replacement.

  5. Frank says:

    Having been in the tool truck business (one of the big three mentioned earlier)for some time now I can tell you that Internet sales has cost a few of dealer sales. The markup (from tool guy to customer) on tools ranges from 35-50% with most being in the 35% rang. Yes the tools are expensive, but take into consideration the cost of our (tool truck owners)bissness. There is the cost of tuck (average $2,000 a month), insurance (have to have high liability), fuel (that alone is causing some to stop servicing shops), skips (people who buy on truck credit then don’t pay), then time (well over the 40 hour week). Bottem line; that expensive tool doesn’t make the tool truck owner a lot of money. When companies sale direct (on-line), the profit margin goes way up (and is kept by the company). Great for the company, horrible for the tool guy, and the only benefit to customer, is now there can be more customers.

    • Dave says:

      Then why did the tool-truck-driver in JeffD’s story act like such an ass. I’v heard of similiar encounters. If it’s hard for them to make a living (I’m willing to bet it is)they should be glad to do business with us home work shop guys w/$ in hand.

      • TAK says:

        Perhaps the tool man was hesitant and came across as rude because he doesn’t sell to people he doesn’t know. There have been some tool man robberies and murders in recent years, and its not the regular customers that are doing it. I could say a lot more about this but I am not going to put ideas in the bad guys heads.

      • scott says:

        Tool trucks are not allowed to sell to the general public. If you don’t work at one of the shops on their route you are SOL. This is to prevent encroachment on territories. However this doesn’t mean it doesn’t ever happen; I for one have never been turned down, especially since I’ve only approached them when I needed specialty tool that is hard to come by.

        • HLM says:

          This is wildly incorrect. There’s nothing is a tool truck contract that disallows “street” selling to the general public and, in fact, the computer program for Snap-On dealers has a part dedicated for that particular sale.

  6. PutnamEco says:

    While I enjoy shopping online, there is just no substitute for the personal attention given by most tool truck salesman. Problem is here in rural Florida I don’t get to catch up to my local salesman very often, and if it were not for online sales I would be wasting an incredible amount of time. I know where to find amazon.com all the time, 24 hours a day 365 days a year it sits there out in the ether at amazon.com. Like 90% of there merchandise can be here the next day. Snap -ons website is equally easy to find.

    Re:On the other hand, check out the recent comments on Toolmonger and you’ll see a lot of consternation and concern related to the idea of “watering down” classic brands.

    What I don’t like is when a Chinese corporation buys out an American company and continues to trade on the reputation of the American made tools, while moving production to China. If they had any pride, they would sell the tools under their own name and build their own reputation.

    • fred says:

      “If they had any pride, they would sell the tools under their own name and build their own reputation”

      I’m with you – but maybe this will take more time than I’ve likely got left on this earth.
      Japanese companies started out with using brandname that hearkened back to European or US companies. Stradavario sewing machines – were made by Toyota – and marketed here before their automobiles. Nikon cameras – traded on brand recognition of the German Zeiss Ikon (Nippon Ikon ?)and so on. BTW – I’m just as annoyed with Irwin (a Newell-Rubbermaid brand) – buying up Record and Marples and then putting the Record name – on pipe wrenches made in China. Luckily this did not seem to work out – as I don’t see them being marketedd anymore.

  7. DoItRite says:

    I know a Snap-On dealer very well. He poured his life and soul into his business. The corporate Snap-on office was always pressuring for sales – not just sales, but sales on account.

    Keep the customer in debt and it will be a regular expense to him. Just like the cable and power bill. Problem was, this business model doesn’t do well in a down economy. Businesses lay off people and they move elsewhere – owing the Snap-on dealer thousands. Some shops go out of business – same story.

    Then regular customers start seeing “their” brand at Costco and Ace hardware and it’s not so special anymore. Look at the Snap-On tools lately: made in China. Heck, even Harbor Freight offers a lifetime warranty, so why pay so much more. Its all the same, right?

    End of story? My friend the dealer went under. Lost his truck, his inventory, and a boatload of money. Luckily, he still has his house, but only because his wife still has a pretty good job.

    This was the corporate selling of a good name for a quick profit. Any wonder people are mad at the one percent?

    • HLM says:

      The Chinese made tools by Snap-On represents a tiny part of their total sales and is a direct result of customer demand. In most cases, there is a Snap-On made alternate product, better quality and higher priced, customer’s choice. It’s about choices and this one, by Snap-On, was a smart choice.

  8. Eric says:

    Made in China isn’t always a bad thing. They can make the same quality product that can be made in the USA or anywhere else for that matter. China isn’t the problem, the problem is the CEO’s, the shareholders, etc. The constant demands to make more profit lead to poor quality control, inferior materials, and other shortcuts being taken that result in us getting inferior products no matter where they are made.

    • fred says:

      So what your saying is that business executives and owners (stockholders if it is a stockholder owned company) are only in it for short term profits? Given that logic we’d might all be guilty of doing shoddy work. I like to think that most companies want to have a long term relationship with their customers and owners – which requires them to balance profits against things like quality that keeps customers coming back. But quality is in the eye of the beholder and some folks may be satisfied with buying cheap junk tools that may not make it through one use – let alone be possible to pass on to your progeny.

      • DanS says:

        Yes!!!! He is saying EXACTLY that.

        Being “Made in China” alone means absolutely nothing. You can make product X in China, exactly as you can make it in the USA.

        It is BY CHOICE that companies choose to make lower quality products.

  9. Jeff says:

    I’m a hardcore DIYer and part time professional. Tool truck don’t wanna talk to me since I’m not willing to be in debt to him for a couple new roller boxes.

    For whatever reason I just love the ergonomics of SO’s older hard handle tools so I am glad to see them offering them in the JH Williams brand. For everything else it’s Craftsman.

    Tool man can complain if he likes but if he goes under it’ll be his fault.

  10. Toolfreak says:

    I’ve worked at garages and was the guy with DIY tools even though some guys bought in and had tool boxes as big as a car with tens of thousands of dollars tools in them. I got the same work done with a few cheap toolboxes crammed full of a lot of discount tools. The drivers could never convince me that paying hundreds of dollars for basic tools I could get at Sears for ten times less was a good investment. (good thing too, when I left, I didn’t need a flatbed to pick up my tools or cart) That said, if you work as a mechanic at a large dealership or something, having a driver who takes care of you and who is basically on-call during and after business hours can be a job-saver and keep you from having to ever borrow *gasp* a tool from someone else.

    The trucks don’t make sense to the DIY market, other than tool snobs and maybe a select few who enjoy the at-your-door service aspect and are willing to pay for it.
    I can see the appeal, though. tool truck service is like what you’d get if you were working for some goverment agency with unlimited funds – they can get any tool you want or need, and even get you a tool just based on you telling them what you want it to do.

    I’m fine with buying tools at the store and either having them replaced in-store during business hours, or even the mail-it-to-you model that Stanley, GearWrench, and others have.

    The watering down and selling out has killed the appeal of the truck brands as well, not just that they’re putting snap-on logos on stools, flashlights, utility knifes and that stuff, but when you can get the same wrench, made by the same company, in the same country, at the same factory, and one is stamped with one name and costs $100, and one is stamped with another name and costs $6.99, what do you think people are going to buy once they find out? Sure, it used to be word of mouth kept up the tool truck lore of how great the stuff was. with the advent of the internet, now everyone knows the real deal on everything. It’s a lot tougher to sell the same $6.99 wrench for $100. Even tougher when they’re both made in China.

    • HLM says:

      You’ve exaggerated the numbers, either from memory error or on purpose. The Blue-Point, made in China brand that Snap-On markets is about 1/2 the price of the S-O brand, the metal quality and finish being inferior to it. But, the Blue Point metal hardness, determined by an independent entity, is superior to Mac and Matco, with Blue Point and Mac superior to the Craftsman Professional brand.
      As to the feel of the wrench, that’s up to you. The S-O sockets are FAR superior to all of them, in terms of accuracy of center broach (makes them take more torque and last longer), metal quality, and accuracy of tooling.

      • Chad says:

        I have had Mac sockets a long time Blue-Point is not even close! I’d put my Mac wrenches up against Snap-on wrench any day!
        Mac wrenches and sockets still made here in the USA, down in Texas. Mac toolboxes still made in Ohio!

  11. stephen says:

    Tracked down a snap on tool truck a few years ago to rebuild one of my ratchets and he was a nasty asshole,no way to do business.To this day i remember his asshole face and no customer service,I could care less if he lost his truck and business.What happened to friendly service?

  12. Having read the comments, you guys have alot of contrasting arguments. If your asked before getting on the truck are you in the business, simply say yes! he aint gonna ask you for a vat or company number! in my experience snapon tools are the best tools. everyone agrees and anyone who says snapon aint the best or are just as good as brands are probably not that experienced. the tools are designed by the best people in the world. for gods sake they invented the rachet, thinka bout it! also anyone who complains about the prices, two things… u want top of the line you have to pay for it, its a simple principle that echos in every industry. Two, Snap-On dealers buy second hand snapon tools! ask what used tools they have for sale you could be surprised. Its all about getting to know your dealer not as your dealer.

  13. Jerry Codekas says:

    Wow, lots of comments from people who basically do not deal directly with any Snap On dealer,might be nice if someone who worked in any industry which is serviced by a Snap On rep could comment. My experience from dealing within is that you have good reps and not so good reps but that I have always been able to obtain exactly what I needed. if you want arguably the best, then that of course is a choice we make about any product and for some price this the main concern for others performance and time is paramount. That’s why there are so many choices out there.

  14. Chad says:

    SNAP-ON — love em worked as a car audio tech for 15 years have the tall bluepoint tool bax and all my snapon tools in — my everyday carry tool bag — lots of stanley harbor freight husky and irwin tools — just as good — but the feel of a SO screwdriver is no match — was cleaning out my file cabinate with all my tool truck receipts and i could have bought a brand new f250 but if i need to fix what i drive now i dont have to call a mechanic the truck guys in my area and the last city o worked in were ok guys never had an issue and when i left the audio biz i tracked down the SO tuck and paid him off in full he kep asking if i wanted to trade my box or any tools in — na ill just keep them

  15. Dillon says:

    I have been working in the automotive industry as a body tech for over 10 years now and I have to disagree with with most of you. I have a great relationship with both my Snap-On and Mac drivers. They have a wealth of knowledge between them and if I have a job that needs done they have a tool to make it easier.

    Yes they are expensive, but knowing I will never have to make the same purchase again makes it well worth the money. I have well over 40k invested in my tools and its damn near impossible to find something on a vehicle that I can’t get done with what I already have.

    That being said, I don’t mind if Snap-On wants to sell their products online as long as it doesn’t affect their warranty. Yes, the drivers are convenient for quick tool replacements when needed, but if I was forced to ship them in to have a new one sent back I would be content with that also. When you work in the automotive field and you break a tool there is always another of the same tool in the shop somewhere, its just a matter of asking another tech.

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