About a year ago, I wrote a post titled “Do Not Underestimate Harbor Freight Tools.” Harbor Freight has a sizable footprint in the United States, and they keep opening more stores.
At the end of that post, I wrote: Do you think Harbor Freight is content with the way things are now, or are they working towards building something different?
Well, it seems they are working towards something different, or at least trying new things.
Harbor Freight’s email newsletter titles have varied:
Urgent Price Cuts
Wow! 15% off Everything
Final Day for FREE BATTERIES
This Coupon is VERY SPECIAL
Everything Must Go
Tool Disposal Notice
“Tool disposal notice?” That’s the opposite or reassuring.
Most of Harbor Freight’s email newsletters in 2020 were focused on sales, coupons, and promos. There were a couple of product-focused newsletters, but to be honest I never paid much attention to them.
And then I noticed a new email, with the subject line Reliable Performance at Unbeatable Prices.
This wasn’t another “Icon Beats Snap-on,” “Tool Disposal,” or promo newsletter, it focused on Harbor Freight Tools.
The newsletter opens up to the above image, where Harbor Freight invites you to check out their full line of compressors – find the right compressor for any job.
“Find the right compressor for any job.” This is much different than the message they usually send out.
In the newsletter, Harbor Freight’s “reliable performance” claims are centered around the McGraw 3 gallon air compressors, priced at $60. They have breakdowns of the features and specs, and images of the two compressors’ 5-star ratings.
THIS is how you sell tools, not with “tool disposal” notices.
I’ve seen messaging in online community forums, where it’s said tool users can look to Harbor Freight for tools or supplies, as long as the products don’t have a motor or involve compressed air. I wonder if user sentiments are changing.
With their ultra quiet Fortress air compressors, Harbor Freight has turned their attention towards California Air Tools.
Maybe they read my post, where I question why Harbor Freight is comparing Fortress air compressors against different classes of compressors instead of competing like-quiet brands and models.
There’s still an “Instant Savings” entry, and although their “compare to” model is also an ultra-quiet model, the California Air Tools is only slightly more expensive. I still don’t like how Harbor Freight selects the “compare to” models based on current pricing of competitor models. Plus, it’s not even accurate – the Menards is $156 with mail-in rebate, not $175. The California Air Tools model is $155.
There’s also a “closeout special” in the newsletter – I suppose they’re clearing out Central Pneumatic air compressors in favor of the McGraw.
Premium air accessories?
Where’s the “unbelievable low prices” messaging here?
Looking at another newsletter, there are user projects and links to some of the tools used to create them. At the end there’s a note to use Harbor Freight’s projects hashtag in social media posts for a chance to be featured in future newsletters.
So, let’s recap.
Harbor Freight is experimenting with messaging such as “reliable performance,” they’ve improved their product-based marketing, and they’re emphasizing customer projects and efforts.
Maybe this isn’t a brand new approach, but I can see a definitive shift when looking at how their email newsletters are different now compared to last year.
Going back to 2019, there are newsletters about “free events,” liquidation sales, inventory blowouts, super coupons, parking lot sales, and such. Even when there was a new product mention, such as a new color of tool cart, the emails were nearly entirely composed of paper flyer-style coupons. Sometimes a super coupon would feature a new tool in a comparison chart against a popular brand model.
Harbor Freight has thrown around words such as “professional precision” and “rugged construction” before. “Reliable performance” seems to be a new claim for them.
The “unbelievably low prices” never really seemed to convey “quality” to me. Actually, Harbor Freight never really seemed synonymous with high quality either.
Maybe this is all just a marketing phase they’re going through, but I hope they keep it up.
With respect to their project-focus newsletters – that’s a brilliant strategy and one that some other brands (such as Craftsman and Ryobi) would be smart to emulate.