One or two years ago, my local Home Depot was clearing some space on their pegwall for Dewalt hand tools. Recently, they were clearing some space for some new Milwaukee hand tools. This led me to wonder about how much competition there must be between these two brands, with limited Home Depot shelf space as the prize.
Store-Brand Partnerships and Patterns
You won’t find any Dewalt hand tools at Lowes, but you will find Stanley and Bostitch tools. Kobalt tools are of course present, and there are a fair number of Irwin and Vise Grip tools. Lowes seems to have a strong partnership with Irwin.
You won’t find any Milwaukee tools at Lowes either, but it’s not public knowledge as to whose preference that is. If you recall, there was a lawsuit last year that stemmed from a complaint against Milwaukee and Home Depot for alleged anti-competitive exclusivity practices, but Milwaukee and Lowes parted ways years before that.
Home Depot as a Buyer
At the end of 2013, there were 1,977 Home Depot locations in the United States (source), making it the largest home improvement retailer in the country. This means that Home Depot is a significant battleground for the two professional tool brands.
When we think of tool brands in competition with one another, we often think about retail sales. Will a consumer buy a new Dewalt tool, or one from Milwaukee? But there is competition at the retailer level as well. If both Dewalt and Milwaukee come out with the same type of tool, will Home Depot carry both or will they choose one over the other?
While Dewalt and Milwaukee don’t have comparable types of hand tools, there are even matchups and there are bound to be more (especially now that Milwaukee has acquired Empire Level).
There will always be some level of competition among brands for shelf space. Dewalt and Milwaukee both have significant hand tool presences at Home Depot, and both brands offer pro-grade hand tools. Since Home Depot cannot find shelf space for both brands’ entire product lines, there’s bound to be especially strong competition where it will come down to Dewalt vs. Milwaukee.
Locking Pliers and Limited Shelf Space
Last September, Dewalt announced a new line of locking pliers. These pliers were supposed to hit the shelves in December, but they didn’t. Milwaukee announced their new line of locking pliers last month, and the new pliers are already on display at Home Depot. Irwin locking pliers are also still on the shelf.
A reader asked us when Dewalt’s new locking pliers were launching, and so we passed the question along to Dewalt. They said that there weren’t enough orders by retailers and so the locking pliers were placed on hold.
I cannot quite shake the idea that maybe Milwaukee’s locking pliers are the reason that Dewalt’s weren’t picked up by enough retailers. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but perhaps not.
It is possible that Home Depot declined to carry Dewalt’s locking pliers because they could only free up limited shelf space and had planned to carry Milwaukee’s. Back when Dewalt announced their locking pliers we had no knowledge that Milwaukee’s locking pliers were months away from coming down the pipeline, but Home Depot’s tool buyers might have been privy to Milwaukee’s tool release schedule.
All Home Depot retail locations have limited shelf space, and so a corporate tool buyer or someone else at Home Depot’s headquarters will sometimes be faced with choosing which brands and products to feature. Online stores, as well as HomeDepot.com, can carry a much wider selection of tools because fulfillment warehouses don’t suffer from a scarcity of shelf space to the same degree.
In this case, it seems that maybe the tool buyer opted to keep Irwin Vise Grips on the shelf and could only accommodate one more brand of locking pliers and went with Milwaukee.
While it’s possible Home Depot chose to give shelf space to Milwaukee’s locking pliers, things are always dynamic during holiday seasons. Maybe we’ll see a promo pack of Dewalt locking pliers next Fall on the sales floor in a seasonal display.
I could be wrong. Keep in mind that I am thinking aloud. All I know is that Dewalt’s locking pliers are on hold and Milwaukee’s are on the shelf at Home Depot. My assumption is that Home Depot didn’t place a large order for Dewalt’s new locking pliers. From my limited field of view, that’s my best guess.
But let’s for a moment assume that Home Depot gave the product the thumbs up and said they would carry the new pliers in their stores. If Home Depot said yes and that they want to carry a product at retail locations, wouldn’t there be enough demand such that sales at independent resellers wouldn’t be enough to determine whether a product goes to market or is put on hold?
Maybe I am way off-base here, but I think Home Depot is going to become an increasingly important battleground where Dewalt and Milwaukee fiercely compete for shelf space.
There are certain products where you’ll find Dewalt and Milwaukee products side-by-side, but there will be times when it might be one or the other. I believe this is what happened with the locking pliers, but there’s no way to know for certain.
This leads me to wonder… what other tools will never hit the market on time or at all because Home Depot or another mega-reseller won’t carry it?