What if Bosch made hand tools? And I don’t mean the sometimes good, sometimes really crappy tools that Skil has brought to market. Or the “affordable” tools that Vermont American was going to bring to market for holiday promo displays.
I’m talking about solid pro-grade tools with premium features and designs. Tools that pro users and sophisticated hobbyists would be happy to use. What’s a sophisticated hobbyist? That’s a term that some marketing types like to use to describe non-pros with demanding needs and discerning preferences.
Maybe Bosch’s angle would be to tap top-notch independent European tool companies to produce them, such as PB Swiss, NWS, Knipex, Wiha, Wera, Fisco, and some of the other brands mentioned in our recent favorite European tool brands post. Maybe they could partner up with select conglomerates and their brands, such as Snap-on’s Bahco brand.
I am a big fan of Bosch tools, and would love to see them compete with fast-movers in the hand tool market, most notably Dewalt and Milwaukee. These two power tool and accessory brands are making strong pushes into the market and against each other.
But where would Bosch hand tools be sold? From where I sit, that looks to be the tough part.
Premium tools don’t seem to sell as well in local stores as they do online. If you’re shopping for new pliers, are you going to go for the Klein, Channellock, and other brands of tools you know and have heard about, or the premium European tool that costs twice as much? If you’re shopping online and come across the premium tool, chances are you were looking for it.
Bosch has strong brand recognition in the USA and worldwide, but enough to sell premium hand tools that stand out? Premium tools would probably be their only chance at breaking into the big box retail market.
Then there are the corporate retail partnerships that are standing in the way. I have seen nice Bosch power tool displays at Lowes stores, near the Pro counter, but they’re not very large or prominent as far as promo displays go. In terms of hand tools, Home Depot seems to be very committed in showcasing Milwaukee tools, where even Dewalt tools seem to be less emphasized. Lowes recently bolstered their relationship with Irwin, select partners for specialty tools, and they have their Kobalt brand. Then there’s Sears, with their Craftsman brand.
If a brand cannot get visibility at Home Depot, Lowes, or Sears, then it’s going to be very difficult for them to break into a mature market. Sure, there are other places that sell tools, but these home centers are where a big chunk of the money is at.
Now that I’ve made it clear that I don’t think Bosch could easily enter the hand tool market, let’s all breath a sign of disappointment.
Almost every time I see Dewalt and Milwaukee enter into new markets, such as automotive tool storage, brushless outdoor power tools, tool bags, and metalworking, I wonder about whether Bosch is interested in entering the fray. I bet they’ve at least thought about it.
So what if Bosch made hand tools? Premium tools would likely fail to gain traction. It is rarely obvious to uninformed shoppers how premium tools compare to mid-priced ones. And mid-range offerings? Forget about it. Top brands are already competing for shelf space. Budget tools are already sold under other Bosch brands, such as Skil, with major pushes for floor space during holiday sales seasons.
Ultimately, I think that the road to profitability would be too long for Bosch to seriously consider bursting into the hand tool market. While I hope I’m wrong, and that we’ll one day see tools with Bosch blue and red and black colors at the local big box store, I won’t count on it.
I know some will see this as a good thing, and that power tool and accessory brands should stick to what they’re good at, but I think that the engineers over at Bosch could very well come out with some outstanding hand tools if they tried.