Milwaukee’s new tool media events always leave an impression on me, as I see what the brand has been up to and learn a little about what they’re doing.
I found myself thinking about the competition between Dewalt and Milwaukee tool, but also about how my feelings and perceptions about the brands have changed over the years.
Dewalt and Milwaukee Tools have both been releasing steady streams of new tools, and that momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. The two brands are fierce competitors in several markets – cordless power tools, hand tools, tool storage, and others, and as each spreads into additional markets (such as personal protective equipment) that competition will only grow.
Today, I found myself thinking about the different paths the two brands are on, and how they’re different.
Some Background Information
Dewalt, as you may already know, is a Stanley Black & Decker company. Milwaukee Tools is a TTi company, and is also considered the parent of Empire Level, Stiletto, and Imperial Blades.
We have posted quite a bit about both brands over the years, and with reader questions, requests, and tips steadily hitting my inbox, there’s always plenty more to talk about.
In the past few years, Stanley Black & Decker has purchased new brands, notably Craftsman, Irwin, Lenox, a partial share in MTD (outdoor power equipment), and Waterloo (metal tool storage), and Milwaukee Tools has acquired Empire Level and Imperial Blades.
I went to my first Dewalt media event back in 2010, and my first Milwaukee media event in 2012. I believe I have been to 5 Dewalt new tool media events in total, not counting 2 Stanley Black & Decker half-day events, and 5 Milwaukee NPS media events. I have a strong fondness for both brands, but feel that my understanding of Milwaukee Tool has grown to be far deeper.
What’s Happening in Cordless Power Tools?
Both brands have been pumping out new cordless power tools. Dewalt has been filling in holes in their cordless platforms, and also introducing updated models and specialty solutions.
New Dewalt Cordless Power Tools
Some new additions to Dewalt’s cordless platforms include:
- 20V Max Heat Gun
- 12V Max Xtreme Subcompact Cordless Line
- 60V Max FlexVolt Blower
- 20V Max Atomic Cordless Line
- 20V Max Fiber Cement Shears
- 20V Max Dual Switch Band Saw
- 20V Max electrical cable stapler
Dewalt also added a couple of new cordless woodworking-focused power tools earlier this year, such as a sander, router, and jig saws.
Some tool designs, components, and know-how are shared with and by other Stanley Black & Decker brands, and this has become more obvious in recent years. For example, when Dewalt developed new nailers, did they start from scratch, or did they build upon Bostitch know-how? Dewalt cordless nailers then preceded Bostitch’s.
What’s next for Dewalt? It seems that their immediate focus will be on their FlexVolt cordless line, as well as the new 20V Max Atomic and 12V Max Xtreme SubCompact sub-brands.
New Milwaukee Cordless Power Tools
Here are some of Milwaukee’s more recent cordless power tool releases and announcements:
- M12 Fuel cordless installation drill/driver
- M12 Fuel right angle die grinder
- M18 Threaded rod cutter
- M18 Fuel rear-handle circular saw
- M18 router (details coming soon)
- M12 Surge driver (details coming soon)
- M12 motor-driven torque wrench (details coming soon)
- M18 Fuel 12″ cordless miter saw (details coming soon)
Milwaukee continues to expand their M12 cordless power tool lineup, their M18 cordless power tool lineup, their M18 High Output tools, and also RedLithium USB, which powers their personal lighting products, digital level, and heated gloves.
They are deepening the breadth of their existing product categories, and also reaching deeper into new markets. There is also continued focus on cordless solutions for electrical, plumbing, and mechanical trades.
Their decisions are interesting to follow. At the moment, there are 3 cordless air compressors on the market – Dewalt FlexVolt, Ridgid, and Ryobi. One would expect to see Milwaukee pursue this tool category as well, and it might be something they are working on, but they have instead announced updated nailers and new framing nailers. I have found Milwaukee’s release strategies to be logical and sensible.
Both brands are actively working on new cordless products, and are expanding their cordless platforms strategically with no sign of slowing down. It seems to me that Milwaukee is very focused on converting users. At the moment, Dewalt seems very focused on brand-building, given the emergence of Atomic and Xtreme Sub-Comapct sub-brands.
Milwaukee is actively expanding their headquarters in Wisconsin. As mentioned, I have been there 5 times, and each time there is a new wing or building to explore. There are more people, and more activities, and it all happens under one figurative roof.
Milwaukee is improving existing products, innovating with new ones, and pressing forward, and to be honest, I don’t see Dewalt matching that momentum. Dewalt’s momentum might have been impacted by Stanley Black & Decker’s acquisition of the Craftsman brand, which might have required some talent and resources to be diverted. The launch of new Atomic and Xtreme SubCompact brands does give me optimism, however, that Dewalt is readying to resume the charge. Dewalt and Milwaukee are fierce competitors, and neither can afford to give up any ground.
The question is this: As Stanley Black & Decker grows its Craftsman brand presence at Lowes and Amazon, will that take resources away from Dewalt?
Milwaukee Tool has been growing and bringing on new talent. Has Dewalt? Right now, which brand has the greater capacity for new cordless power tool development and innovations? As mentioned, I don’t know the Dewalt side of things anymore, and are unable to answer the question.
What’s Happening in Hand Tools?
Milwaukee continues to expand and update their selection of tape measures, and is now expanding their mechanics hand tools to include breaker bars, 1/2″ drive tools and sockets, and open stock SKUs. We talked about their ratchets being available for individual purchase earlier this year.
Dewalt seems to have been taking fewer risks and doesn’t seem to be expanding their selection of hand tools very steadily anymore. Milwaukee has a maturing lineup, and although we didn’t see many new additions this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a bigger expansion in 2020.
I can’t explain why Dewalt never officially announced or advertised their USA-made screwdrivers. Meanwhile, Milwaukee answers users’ requests for larger markers, and you can be sure they’ll spread word about them.
Milwaukee’s hand tool line has very many holes. At NPS19, I was talking to two product representatives about tools I’d like to see the brand come out with. My needs are not always met by tools designed for general construction tasks and applications, and I pointed out that many of Milwaukee’s demos and test set-ups couldn’t be assembled by Milwaukee hand tools alone. Milwaukee doesn’t yet offer hex keys of any kind, ball pein hammers, dead blow mallets, or precision pliers (aside from their flush-cutting pliers).
Milwaukee doesn’t want to be “me too,” but there are still tools they could introduce to fill some large holes in their product selection. Milwaukee has been focusing on problem-solvers and frustration-easers, and it’s a sound strategy, but one that ensures that users must continue shopping other brands to fill in holes.
Dewalt can easily push into nearly any hand tool category they want to. However, Dewalt seems to more strongly focus on prospective sales. Will they launch new hand tools if they can’t put inventory in every Home Depot or Lowes store? Yes, I’ve seen some examples of this. But I do think they have become very cautious when it comes to hand tool designs and distribution. They can create all kinds of Dewalt-branded hand tools. But does it make sense to?
If you want a USA-made adjustable wrench, combination wrenches, hammers, or pliers, Stanley Proto’s product catalog already has all that. So why slap the Dewalt name onto it? Will retailers put those pricier USA-made tools on their shelves?
My point is this – there is a lot that Milwaukee can do that Dewalt can match.
Stanley Black & Decker spent nearly $2 billion to acquire Irwin and Lenox brands, and $900 million on the Craftsman brand. We have not yet seen what changes these acquisitions will mean for the Dewalt brand. More plumbing tools? Threading tools? Hacksaws and cutting tools? Pliers?
Stanley Black & Decker announced to investors that they are building a new factory in Texas. What new tools will we see come from there?
Milwaukee works with outside partners to manufacture some of their hand tools, and their overall pace seems to be steady. But, their in-house and partner capabilities don’t match Stanley Black & Decker’s, at least in terms of breadth. Milwaukee does not seem to be focusing on closing that gap. In many instances, except for tape measures, utility knives, and other examples, Milwaukee is going after other brands’ market share, and not necessarily Dewalt’s.
Dewalt can potentially tap into Stanley Black & Decker’s much larger pool of resources and capabilities. Capital investments could potentially benefit multiple brands and land new tools at multiple retailers and online dealers over time. For instance, Dewalt’s USA-made screwdrivers resemble Proto and Mac screwdrivers, and could have been manufactured at the same facility. Dewalt would have an easier time launching other USA-made tools than Milwaukee, such as premium ratchets, because they have pre-existing infrastructure and know-how.
The difficulty is that both brands are more minor players in many hand tool markets. They’ve gained market share, but other brands pose very strong competition.
If you ask me, I don’t think Milwaukee is done with their brand acquisitions. Brands that used to supply Sears and Craftsman are surely hurting a bit, and could present good partnership opportunities at the least. I wouldn’t be surprised if Milwaukee expanded their brand portfolio again soon.
Milwaukee has invested in their Empire Level brand, which is now producing their new USA-made Milwaukee layout tools, and that’s separate from progress made by Empire with their own products.
If they wanted to, Dewalt can adapt designs from Proto, Mac, Facom, Sidchrome, and Stanley to counter nearly any hand tool category that Milwaukee sought to enter.
Milwaukee can also work with their factories and partners to launch new tools.
Can Milwaukee bring hex keys to market? T-handle drivers? P-handle? Bit sockets? Possibly. Will they? Do hex bit sockets fit into their roadmap for mechanics tools? If hex bit sockets don’t fit into Dewalt’s product plans, that’s fine, you can still find them in Proto and Mac catalogs.
While Milwaukee has been expanding further into mechanics hand tools – excuse me, transportation maintenance tools – there are very many holes left for them to fill. Some of Dewalt’s sibling brands under Stanley Black & Decker ownership can allow for rapid expansion of Dewalt offerings, but it’s unclear as to whether there’s enough capacity to do so. Building up Craftsman hand tool inventory has to have pushed Stanley Black & Decker production capabilities to their limits, and I simply don’t know if there’s any room for any more tools to be fit into their current efforts. I am not very well versed in manufacturing, but I don’t imagine that there is equipment sitting idle and waiting for the order to being producing more tools.
Update: Dewalt’s mechanics tool lineup is actually more extensive than I had remembered – here is their latest catalog (PDF). However, their availability is not widespread. For instance, not many dealers carry Dewalt’s crowfoot wrench set, model DWMT75425OSP, or their external Torx socket set, model DWMT75424OSP. These tools were showed off at Dewalt’s last media event in 2017. If there’s a market for these tools, how quickly can Dewalt relaunch them?
At Milwaukee’s recent NPS19 media event, they discussed how their tools are uniquely designed, and criticized lick-and-stick rebranding. One example being passed around included Channellock retaining ring pliers next to like-designed Gearwrench pliers. Honestly, I don’t see the problem there. The two brands serve different markets, and the tool itself (I own one) is okay. Milwaukee meanwhile doesn’t offer any hand tool solution for working with retaining rings.
With cordless power tools, both brands are pushing the boundaries. With hand tools, they have to fight to enter or expand into crowded markets.
What’s Happening in Tool Storage?
Milwaukee will be coming out with a new smaller-sized tool storage cabinet (I believe it’s 36″ wide). Milwaukee and other brands are limited in the sizes of steel storage products they can import, due to Waterloo’s FTC complaint and the tariffs the investigation resulted in. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any new Waterloo-made Dewalt steel tool storage products, or at least I haven’t seen this yet.
So, because of the tariffs, we’ve seen an increase in the size of Milwaukee’s tool storage combos, and in their price tags. If you recall, there are certain specifications that allow tool storage products to be exempt from the tariffs, but meeting and exceeding that criteria also greatly add to production costs and retail pricing.
Milwaukee has been expanding their lineup of Packout tool boxes and has many plans for future expansion.
Dewalt has their ToughSystem tool storage line, and also their line of smaller and less expensive Tstak tool storage products.
Just talking about tool boxes (Milwaukee also has Packout-compatible tool bags, backpacks, and a cooler), the Milwaukee Packout system already rivals Dewalt’s ToughSystem selection. Dewalt might not feel the heat yet, since their products are lower priced. But, now with a new rolling dolly, mounting plate, and open tool tote, Milwaukee’s system continues to grow fast. We asked the product manager about what’s coming next, and were told to expect even more new Packout tool storage products and accessories next year.
Milwaukee Packout must have caught Dewalt off-guard. Milwaukee and their partner had to adjust to much higher demand than anticipated, and are now on a roadmap of steady expansion. It’s unclear as to what Dewalt might be able to do to challenge Milwaukee and prevent them from claiming greater market share. The success of Milwaukee Packout could get users more accustomed to premium pricing, which opens doors for Dewalt to consider more premium tool storage accessories or additions to the ToughSystem lineup.
There are areas where Dewalt and Milwaukee Tool are not evenly matched. Dewalt has corded miter saws and table saws. Milwaukee does have corded miter saws, but when’s the last time you saw one?
Milwaukee has been accelerating their efforts, year after year. It seems to me that Dewalt’s pace has slowed down a little, and if so, perhaps it can be explained by Craftsman’s relaunch and expansion efforts.
When you look at what the brands have released in recent years, how much more could they really race to develop? Both Dewalt and Milwaukee have been updating and innovating.
That Stanley Black & Decker appears to be able to focus some of their efforts across brands is not a disadvantage, but an advantage when all things add up. But this time of year, after NPS, where Milwaukee publicly lays out their plans for the next 6+ months of tool releases and privately shares hints about longer-term plans, a couple of readers always ask “what is Dewalt coming out with,” and our only possible reply is a shrug of the shoulders.
If I had to sum up my feelings, and again keep in mind these are just my opinions, I’d say that Milwaukee seems to have greater momentum in cordless power tool, hand tool, and tool storage spaces. However, Dewalt’s efforts are not at all stagnant, as they are still launching new cordless power tools and hand tools each year.
What will happen if Stanley Black & Decker focuses more of their outdoor power tool efforts into Dewalt 20V Max and FlexVolt systems? Lessons learned from developing new Craftsman solutions, in-house or with partners, can potentially result in Dewalt launching a second-generation cordless mower before Milwaukee announces their first.
In cordless power tools, both brands are doing well, although I feel I have much more information and a better understanding about Milwaukee Tool’s efforts and direction than Dewalt’s. Competitively, Dewalt seems to have slowed down, but it could be temporary. Or, it could be a matter of perception, with Dewalt’s pace only seeming to have slowed compared to Milwaukee’s.
They’re both breaking new ground and improving upon past releases, at their own paces.
Both brands are still increasing their presence in the hand tools market. The releases are intermittent and unexpected, but steadily so. Milwaukee practices their philosophy of disruption innovation, striving to make waves in every product category they enter. They start with an exploratory entry into a particular product category, such as by introducing a small ratchet and socket set, and before you know it, they have 1/4″, 3/8″, and 1/2″ sets, open stock, accessories, and a roadmap to expand their footprint in the mechanics hand tools market. This year, they’ll be participating at SEMA, an automotive tool and product trade show.
Dewalt identifies a market need, or opportunities to fill shelves at home centers, and attacks it with the full might of Stanley Black & Decker’s resources. Do they need an updated lineup of hammers? *BAM*, Dewalt launched 14 new tools. 10 more new hammers followed half a year later. They can quickly introduce new hand tools, such as adjustable wrench 2-packs.
Both brands have room to grow.
If Dewalt doesn’t focus more energies on portable tool storage expansion, they’ll find themselves having to play catchup with Milwaukee.
It seems easy to compare the competition between these brands in a Coke vs. Pepsi manner, but the fact of the matter is that Dewalt and Milwaukee are completely different animals. Still, Milwaukee Tool is a much bigger company now than they were even a few years ago. Has Dewalt grown in that time? Stanley Black & Decker has, but what does that mean for Dewalt?
What’s your take on the competition between these two prominent tool brands?