I recently learned about a brand new and extremely exciting modular tool box system, and a reader asked if I was talking about Makita’s. No, but it definitely looks like Makita has been working to develop a new line of tool boxes that resemble those in Milwaukee’s Packout system.
Makita has a modular tool box system already – kind of. Their existing Makita MakPac system consists of outdated Systainer-like cases, and several modern special-purpose Festool and Tanos tool boxes in Makita’s teal colorway.
Most Makita MakPac products are clunky to use, but inexpensive. They’re also smaller than construction brands’ flagship storage systems.
The modular tool storage industry has exploded in recent years, with more tool brands entering the market with competing DIY and professional tool box systems and accessories.
It’s not surprising to learn Makita USA has been working on something new.
A patent application filed earlier this year, US20230122425A1, discusses a “Modular storage system with storage box connectivity and external box features and accessories.”
I had been under the long-time impression that Makita USA is simply a regional sales, marketing, and support arm of the Makita Corporation, which is based in Japan.
This is why it’s notable for Makita USA to be listed as the patent application assignee, rather than simply Makita.
Looking at the list of “inventors,” I recognize a couple of names as being Makita USA marketing executives.
Marc Tappeiner is also named as one of the inventors. Mark is CEO and founder of LifestyleDesign, an independent design company that has also worked with brands such as Pelican, Coleman, Flir, CaseLogic, and many more.
There’s the temptation to ask “what does Makita USA know about designing a modular tool box system?” but – judging from some of the inventors listed in their patent application – they worked with at least one highly experienced external design firm.
There’s not a lot that we can glean from the patent application.
The description field has nearly 36,000 words, with phrasing such as:
the first box is stacked on top of the second box in a stacked configuration
The means for organizing further comprises a divider removably provided in the bottom portion to divide the inner volume into plural storage sections.
From the images, Makita’s modular tool boxes look to resemble the Ryobi Link system in some ways, and Milwaukee Packout in others.
With the Milwaukee Packout tool box system, there are cleats on the bottom and recesses on the lids. Makita’s patent drawings show cleats on the lid and recesses on the bottom.
So, here’s the big question: will Makita USA launch these tool boxes? When?
This is not just concept art, but a tool box system Makita designed with the intent to launch. Still, not every product featured in a patent application will be realized.
Objectively speaking, Makita USA looks to have been struggling. Makita reported a slim profit for their North American business segment for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2022, and a bigger loss for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2023.
Makita USA raised prices 3 times between mid-2022 and mid-2023. Before that, they reconfigured numerous cordless power tool kits with less expensive lower capacity batteries, presumably in an attempt to stave off price increases.
Makita recently cut hundreds of US jobs, and according to a state government disclosure, they also closed a service center.
There has also recently been a major change in leadership. The language of the announcement doesn’t mention the reasons, suggesting to me that the new Makita USA President and CEO was installed at the behest of Makita’s corporate office.
These are indicators that things have not been going well.
Observationally, it seems that Makita has been losing promotional shelf space and visibility at Home Depot stores.
Home Depot, presumably Makita’s business retail partner, now has 5 major modular tool box systems:
- Ryobi Link
- Husky Build-Out
- Ridgid Pro Gear 2.0
- Dewalt ToughSystem 2.0
- Milwaukee Packout
Is there room for a Makita tool storage system that seems to have been designed to take on Dewalt ToughSystem and Milwaukee Packout?
Is Home Depot, as Makita USA’s customer, going to be interested in a system that competes against ToughSystem or Packout?
Ridgid, Dewalt, and Milwaukee’s storage systems offer Home Depot shoppers 3 professional storage systems at a range of price points. Where would Makita fit in here?
Logically, Home Depot would likely be most interested in tool box systems that compete against whatever Lowe’s – their top competitor – has to offer.
Would a new Makita system measurably enhance Home Depot’s tool storage offerings?
In my opinion, it’s Home Depot’s partnership with Milwaukee, and the resulting high visibility of Packout tool boxes, that helped drive the system’s success.
Every newly launched modular tool box system needs similar to build interest and drive adoption. The product has to be good, and it has to be highly visible.
There are several new modular tool storage systems launching at Lowe’s, and while some critics will argue they are “too late to market,” they serve different users and offer modern and unique features.
New tool box systems, most notably Flex Stack Pack and Klein ModBox, give shoppers a reason to visit Lowe’s stores instead of Home Depot.
Can we expect to see a modern Makita modular tool box system at Home Depot?
Tool brands don’t need to enlist the help or partnership of Home Depot or Lowe’s to succeed, although the nationwide visibility certainly helps.
Competing brands’ tool box systems already include broad offerings. On top of that, they have long product roadmaps that promise more tool boxes, storage solutions, and accessories are on the way.
Can Makita USA launch and expand their own tool box system? Yes, absolutely. Can they grow a loyal user base? Probably. Can they do this in a short amount of time? How might this change with or without Home Depot’s support as a major customer?
The Ryobi Link system has proven that high visibility alone won’t guarantee widespread adoption of a modular tool storage lineup.
Frankly, I want to see what they can do.
However, I am not optimistic.
Based on recent happenings, Makita USA has been facing challenges in selling their existing product lines. Whether this is due to internal or external factors is irrelevant.
Can they successfully design, launch, and sell us all on a modern modular tool box system?
Does Makita USA have the willingness – or permission from corporate – to spend the amount of money it would take to launch and promote their own new line of tool boxes?
How much money will it take for Makita to successfully launch a tool box system that can compete with the likes of Milwaukee Packout and Dewalt ToughSystem?
Do they have the cash for this? Is there sufficient interest from retail partners such as Home Depot? What about consumer demand?
How will Makita’s system differ from others on the market? Maybe there’s something buried in the nearly 36,000 words of legalese in the patent application description. Can you see it in the artwork?
The longer they wait, the harder it will be, and the more it will cost, for Makita USA to carve out a piece of market share in the tool box market. How long until they break even, let alone earn a profit?
Launching a new storage system would be an expensive and daunting effort, even if Makita USA does everything right.
I’d say that, knowing they brought in an experienced outside design firm to help develop the tool box system, at least going by what’s in the patent application, Makita USA has a good chance at building a quality product.
Can they pull this off?
For a successful entry into the competitive tool box market – and no MakPac doesn’t count – Makita USA would need to design a stellar product line, commit to continuous expansion, and expertly market and promote it.
Even with the most versatile designs and highest quality construction, neither of which is guaranteed, it comes down to risk.
As long-term profitability is never guaranteed, can Makita USA afford to launch a modern modular tool box system right now?
If the Makita USA was on an upwards trend, would the company have cut jobs? Would they be welcoming a new President and CEO, with no mention of whether the outgoing President left on their own volition or was ousted?
It’s difficult to say, whether this is the perfect or worst time for the company to launch a new tool box system.
I don’t think we’ll see a new Makita tool box system in the immediate future.
Makita’s North America segment has not been consistently profitable over the past few years. It doesn’t seem that they are in any position right now, to take on the significant financial risks involved in launching another brand new product line.