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?
This is a huge issue at supermarkets. Competition for shelf space is fierce.
I can’t say that I’ve given it much thought but if HD and Lowes would quit pushing that HDX and BlueHawk (respectively) junk on us, shelf space for better quality products wouldn’t be as big of deal.
HDX and BlueHawk seem to be Home Depot and Lowes’ budget and entry-level private label brands. They probably allocate shelf space to entry-level, mid-level, and pro-grade brands depending on historical sales and revenue. They might lose out by giving entry-level shelf space to pro-grade tools.
This is interesting. My local Home Depot has their Irwin Vise-Grips and taps and dies clearanced out and replace them with Milwaukee locking pliers and DeWalt taps and dies. Home depot has clearances out their Irwin F-style clamps, C-clamps, and vises and switched to Bessey. Also Lowes has done the same but in reverse, they have switched from Bessey to Irwin clamps. I have been picking up Bessey bar, pipe, and c-clamps at Lowes for 70% off. They both still stock Irwin quick grip clamps though.
I think to a degree the same thing happens to Channellock. Channellock makes a lot of different types of pliers, yet Home Depot only carries a few types and sizes. Sure some of the more specialized pliers might not sell as well, but it would be nice to be able to see and touch them in the store before I buy them. And if the price is right I’d be more inclined to buy them in the store than I would online.
I suspect though if Home Depot did carry more Channellock items there wouldn’t be as much room for Husky and HDX plier offerings. I personally think the HDX offerings are given too much space. The Husky line seems to get a reasonable amount of space. However there are a few Husky items I would have liked to buy in the store, but they are only offered online. This again annoys me, sometimes I like to hold a tool in my hand before I buy it.
At Lowes I very much liked being able to buy Knipex pliers when they carried them. But again their selection was limited. At my Lowes though where the Knipex pliers were on the shelf there was plenty of space around them to carry more pliers. Knipex being a higher quality plier, I can understand why they didn’t sell as much due to price, but Lowes should have negotiated a better price with the manufacturer. Sales by volume can make up the difference. It’s definitely a balancing act.
Bottom line, I like choices. I like lots of choices. I don’t like having to buy something because it’s all they have. I much rather buy the tool I want.
At the end of the day, profits don’t mean much if you can’t sustain them and keep your customers coming back. If the tools I want aren’t offered in the store, I will go online and buy them and most likely I won’t be buying them from Home Depot or Lowes online.
The reference to grocery stores is spot on. Two magic words that undoubtedly come into play here:
Just in the past year my local Home Depot has moved all Bosch 18volt tools off their shelves to make room for more Milwaukee m12 tools.
It all about margin. HD will certainly know what’s coming from most brands & a blind auction will occur. Which ever brand has the best cost price to retail price ratio (at a reasonable consumer friendly price) will win the day. It’s not necessarily about the best tool.
I was disappointed that Home Depot clearanced all of their Midwest snips and scissors and brought Wiss back in.
This is what happens when big national retailers have pushed out almost all the small independent tool shops, the big chains have all the power so there ends up being less choice and the small more specialist tool manufacture’s either disappear or get absorbed in to the big brands. Luckily the internet allows me to have much greater choice and I can buy tools from almost anywhere in the world.
I know in my local Home Depot I’ve seen several instances of multiple hangers each with the same tool, labeled with the proper SKU and price (indicating they were intentionally placed that way). Instead of having 2-4 hangers with the same tool from a single manufacturer, why not have those same hangers holding similar tools from multiple manufacturers? It may not make a bing increase in variety, but it’s better than nothing.
Another thing about this that bothers me is that for purchases where you’re “buying in” to a tool line (cordless tools being a good example), local availability factors in to the decision (at least for me). That was a strike against Milwaukee when I replaced my 18V tools – they were only carried locally by Home Depot. What if the Home Depot buyer decides to replace Milwaukee with Hitachi or Bosch because there’s more profit to be had? Where will I go when I need another battery the same day?
Eh, not me. I was loyal to Milwaukee long before HD carried much of it, at least their cordless stuff. I just figured Millwaukee was more pro-grade & Dewalt had the the whole “contractor grade” locked up, plus HD was busy pushing Ridgid back then. I always ordered my Milwaukee online and still do because prices are still better than HD 9 out of 10 times.
Michael is Right… one of many reasons I decided to go to the 20v dewalt line was for emergency tool buys. I’m out of town alot and sometimes i’ve absolutely got to buy a tool or battery replacement locally for whatever reason. Home depot, Lowes or Ace is usually close by. Everyone carries dewalt and honestly the 20v brushless is now on par with the 18v fuel stuff in terms of ability. I still buy most of my stuff on the internet now but it is nice to make a store run from time to time.
I have always been under the impression the because of the “relationship” that HD has w/ TTI (manufacture of Ryobi, Ridgid & Milwaukee) more shelf space will always will be given to the TTI products vs DeWalt, Makita, or Bosch/Skil (who is trying to gain shelf space @ Lowe’s) and we the end user will lose out because “less well made/more marketed” products will take over the SKU’s that once supplied by well known brands (Channellock, etc) & also by private label brands………
Possibly, but I think Home Depot has different arrangements with different TTI brands.
The TTI instore rep for Home Depot is the same rep for all three brands, Milwaukee, Ridgid and Ryobi. These are known in HD loosely as “proprietary” brands i.e. sold at HD exclusively and/or not Lowes! Dewalt refuses to be exclusive to HD only and therefore is not a “proprietary” brand. HD cannot get rid of Dewalt because they are the number one tool company and that would throw hundreds of millions out the door, so they tolerate them being at Lowes also. THAT is the reason Milwaukee and Makita are not sold at Lowes anymore, i.e. exclusivity with Home Depot. Bosch goes back and forth. For many, many years HD only would sell Bosch Rotory Hammers and accessories because Lowes also sold Bosch Power Tools esp the corded and cordless lineups. It’s all about up contract cash and exclusivity at Home Depot. Unfortunately, as many previous comments, this makes one stop shopping impossible as you may find product lines with the various Manufacturers exclusive to one or the other Box Stores. Dewalt hand tools were exclusive to HD and you would not find them at Lowes. Now that Lowes is replacing them with Milwaukee, I am sure you will see the Dewalt Tools filtering into Lowes now. In the Tool market CASH is KING! I don’t know what I would do with the Internet regarding tools shopping nowadays but the Big Box stores did that to themselves because of $$$$.
Depot and TTi have a history that date back to their founders. It’s pretty simple.
Looks like the home depots in my area are dropping Irwin hand tools for crescent.
An award winning movie could be made. Just imagine: “Tool Wars.”
This would be a good reason for ACME tools to build more stores across the country 😀