I received the new Sears tool catalog earlier this month, and it’s got me wondering about what’s going on behind the scenes at Craftsman.
Over the past few months, Sears has been selling Craftsman Industrial and “Professional Use” mechanics tools at closeout prices on their site. Just about all the tools and tool sets have already sold out. Okay, so no more Craftsman Professional or Professional Use mechanics tools at Sears, got it.
But didn’t Sears already have an exclusive mechanics tool line? What was the brand name again? Oh yeah, Craftsman.
It’s not unusual for Sears to carry other brands of mechanics tools, but it is unusual for them to carry an external brand’s exclusive line. What’s more, Dewalt and their parent company are direct competitors to Crescent and other Apex Tool Group brands.
The new Dewalt mechanics tools are priced close enough to Craftsman’s offerings that there’s going to be competition. Sears no longer carries Craftsman Professional or Industrial tools, so it makes sense that they would seek to carry an exclusive line that’s marketed as a line of tough heavy-use tools. Some of the Dewalt sets are priced higher than comparable Craftsman tools, giving the sense that the Dewalt tools are a level up in quality.
But wait, what’s this – the new 2013-2014 Sears catalog lists “new” Craftsman Professional full polish wrenches. Taking a look at the catalog photos, the “new” wrenches look very different than the older USA-made Craftsman Pro wrenches. So I guess they are new after all.
After Craftsman rebranded their USA-made Craftsman Professional wrenches as Craftsman “full polish” wrenches, sales almost certainly dropped. My feeling is that this has more to do with how the wrenches are made overseas (China or Taiwan, I forget which), without there being any changes in retail pricing.
The new rebranding effort (unrebranding?) is likely an attempt to reverse the slump in sales. But, in my opinion, sales won’t fully recover, as more and more Craftsman fans and former fans look at the COO (country of origin) labels for every tool they buy. No doubt getting of “Craftsman Professional” branding was a mistake, but I also feel it was a mistake to shift production overseas.
It was widely believed that Craftsman Professional wrenches, at least some of the styles, were rebranded Armstrong wrenches. This meant that users got industrial-grade wrenches at bargain prices. Not anymore.
Looking at the product photos, I believe that the new “Professional” wrenches are still made overseas. You can tell by how the wrenches in the product photo (above) appear have much more metal around the open ends – a sign that suggests the metal is weaker and in need of additional mass for reinforcement. Forum communities describe this as a lobster claw effect, something they first noticed on Craftsman’s now-imported raised panel wrenches.
Holding my USA-made Craftsman Professional wrenches up to the paper or online catalogs is not exactly a fool-proof way of determining that the new wrenches are made overseas, but it is reasonable to believe that if the new wrenches were USA-made, this would have been shown in the product images or at least in text as in the past.
So… Sears now carries an exclusive line of Dewalt mechanics tools, but they’re also bringing back their Craftsman Professional branding. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
I contacted Craftsman and Sears and asked what’s going on with all of this, but they never got back to me. I suspect that maybe Sears execs are toying with the idea of courting Stanley Black & Decker as their Craftsman mechanics tool OEM, but there doesn’t seem to be any real indication that this is what’s happening. Except for how Sears is now the exclusive distributor of Dewalt mechanics tools.
Whenever Sears starts promoting tools that heavily compete with Craftsman offerings, I wonder whether the affected Craftsman tools will eventually be discontinued. This is what happened to Craftsman’s tape measures and Professional pliers. Craftsman tape measures disappeared from shelves and were replaced by other brands. Their pro pliers disappeared from shelves and were replaced by Knipex. Maybe it was a coincidence, but there are few coincidences when it comes to retail giants like Sears.
So now that Sears has an exclusive line of Dewalt mechanics tools, what’s to become of Craftsman mechanics tools?
Craftsman tools still have a dominating presence in the new Sears tool catalog, but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s less emphasis than ever before. (Is it me, or are the 12V Nextec cordless power tools nowhere to be found?) My hope is that Craftsman is eventually spun off as an independent entity, but will there ever be a time when Craftsman and Sears aren’t joined at the hip?