In recent posts I discussed Walmart’s new “Pro Tools” store launch, and my excitement about its potential. There’s a longer story that might help explain why I’m so eager to welcome another big player in the pro and enthusiast tool market.
Shown above is a photo some of you have seen a couple of times before. It’s a pile of tools that were purchased from Sears over the span of a few years. I put the pile together for a post from back in the day when Sears was still a great place to buy tools.
Some of my purchasing decisions are quick and easy. Others, not so much; I can be a little obsessive. (My wife would chime in here: “a little??”)
When I was growing my tool collection, I was very particular. You see, I had very many tool needs, but not all the tools too meet those needs. There were tons of projects I wanted to work on, but I had limited purchasing power. I hated buying twice. I wanted the best bang for the buck I could find, without sacrificing on functionality.
Some of my tool purchases were made to address immediate needs. Others were planned out in advance. For instance, I bought tubing clamp pliers for working on a computer water cooling build. I bought a full-polish wrench set with a birthday gift card, as an upgrade to my shorter raised panel wrenches.
At the time, Sears and Amazon were great places to 1) discover new and unfamiliar brands of tools, and 2) buy brands of tools I had seen recommended elsewhere, such as on enthusiast forums.
When I browsed Amazon, they showed me something new. Sometimes it didn’t fit my needs, other times what I found was just perfect.
When I picked up a Sears catalog, whether their Fall holiday booklet or their annual Craftsman tool catalog, I always saw something new. I bought some of those tools, which seemed to be great problem solvers, such as my duel-purpose European brand ratcheting tap handle with hex bit holder jaws.
Amazon’s Friday home improvement deals had me checking the site late at night, or first thing in the morning. There were some truly excellent deals, my favorite being a complete Milwaukee hole saw set for $25. Amazon was trying to break into the market and gain market share, and they went to great lengths to do that.
At the same time, Sears was still a very popular place to buy tools, and knew what customers wanted.
I went to Sears during certain Craftsman Club calendar months, coupon in hand. I waited for their 40% and 50% off Gearwrench promos to pick up new tools, such as my flex-head ratcheting wrenches and swivel-head ratchets.
I bought all kinds of brands from Sears and Amazon. Schroeder. Woodpeckers. Park Tools. Bondhus. PB Swiss. Wera. Wiha. Knipex. Channellock. Jorgensen. Vaughan. Hex Pro. Gearwrench. KD Tools. Nupla. Robert Larson. Empire Level. Beta. Thor. Of course there was also Craftsman.
Shopping at physical stores took more time and effort pain. If I wanted to look at a Bosch random orbit sander, I had to go to Lowes. 1/4 sheet Bosch sander? Home Depot. Browsing and buying tools in-store required a lot of legwork. Buying online? It took some researching, but it was easy and could be done at any time of day or night, and from my computer.
I bought from some other online retailers and suppliers, but the costs were higher, especially shipping, and delivery took longer.
I browsed Sears’ in-store tool department a lot. I needed tubing clamps, and Sears had 3 different kinds, some in multiple sizes.
Sears and Amazon both exposed me to more brands, and more tools.
What’s important to mention is that a lot of these experiences were a precursor to ToolGuyd, as well as an early influence. They are a part of ToolGuyd’s foundation. To this day, I have only posted a fraction of the topics, tool discussions, and reviews that all of these purchases and purchase decision experiences have contributed to.
In the years since, Amazon become a one-stop shop for a lot of my needs. I rarely ordered from 3rd party suppliers (and still rarely do). I got what I needed, at low prices, and it showed up quickly. Buying tools at Amazon was extremely convenient.
I still check back often (daily, sometimes multiple times a day), looking for deals, bargains, and price drops. My cart is still full of things I am highly likely to buy if the prices dip down low enough.
But both retailers changed. Browsing became harder. Search results more cluttered. Availability of certain tools isn’t as good, and some brands seem to be particularly poorly stocked.
I ordered something that was not currently in stock, and after 6 months Amazon cancelled my order, citing an inability to fulfill my order.
Similar products are now lumped together in listings, and even their reviews too. But a default photo might be shown, and I’ll miss what I’m looking for.
There’s a Bosch $20 off $100 promo going on right now at Amazon. Here is Amazon’s tool deals and savings page. Where is it mentioned? Can YOU find it anywhere? I couldn’t. I happened across the deal by accident because I was price-checking something that was eligible for the discount.
There used to be a “new tools” tab. Now, it’s populated with 3rd party listings, and existing products that are somehow considered new listings. Why? How? Vendors and 3rd party listings have too much control over things like this, seemingly manipulating the system.
I feel that Sears had things dialed to 10, and then something happened where they dialed things back in several large steps. They dropped to 7, 5, 2, and then 0. Sears weren’t perfect, but it was a great place to buy tools.
Amazon pushed things to 11, and things were great. They were my number one source for new tools (and other stuff too). They were intent to aggressively grow their tool business, and it was good for customers. But it seems that they turned it down at some point. Now, it’s set to whatever the algorithm tells them to. They’re already the go-to retailer for a lot of us, so why try as hard as they used to?
I cannot bring about any of the changes I am eager for, but I can be welcoming of any retailer that shows promise, and of decision-makers that seem to have agreeable and even appealing intentions and plans, both short and long-term.
I wanted to talk about all this to give some added context to why I’m excited about what Walmart is seeking to do with their Pro Tools store. I’ve been let down a lot in recent years. It’s not just Amazon and Sears. Another once-favorite supplier of mine, Enco, is now gone too.
I spend a lot of time researching tools, checking prices, answering emails, and scouring sites for potential tools to review or post about. And so, I notice nearly every little change that my most frequently visited tool retailers make to their sites. Sometimes it’s for the better. A lot of times it’s for the worst.
So when a retailer comes to me and says that they want to push into the pro tools market, and they describe what they’re doing, how, and why, and I see sincerity behind their words, it sounds good to me, and I get excited. I think about all the ways that now-lackadaisical retailers have disappointed me over the years, giving the impression that they don’t care about enthusiast customers, at least as much as they used to.
Many of you know by now that I can get overly excited about tools. When it comes to retailers disappointing me, I can shake some things off. Other thing, I cannot. Similarly, when a retailer gets me eager and hopeful about something, my expectations are raised, and I get excited.
Some of you have suggested that I should avoid letting my enthusiasm get the best of me. I would say that the passion, whether enthusiasm or disappointment, is important.
But also, I don’t know how to do that. There’s no off switch or mute button. Sometimes I can turn the volume down a little, but why? Don’t you want to know exactly how I feel?
A local contractor called me ruthless once, for what I said about Irwin parallel clamps. That’s wasn’t my intent, it’s just what happened when I had high expectations and was let down.
Sears VPs were looking to revamp the tool department and asked for feedback. Nothing came of it, and one year ago, I gave up on them completely. Before that, when private comments fell on deaf ears, I took things public. Open Letter to Craftsman and Sears – Why Ax Professional and USA-Made Tools?!
I’m open-minded and optimistic, because that’s how I’ve grown to be. I can still be critical, and often am, but I must first be fair.
Praise, on the other hand… you won’t see me praise Walmart’s new Pro Tools store just yet. Enthusiasm and eager anticipation are one thing. Praise needs to be earned. Words, promise, and potential must lead to actions. Actions must yield results.
I know that I can sound overly excited at times, and it’s because I am overly excited at times. But even though I don’t temper that part of me, I do try to be careful about what it is I’m saying. And right now, all I’m saying is that I like what I’ve been told, and am excited about the potential the new store holds for me and customers like me. They deserve a fair chance, and I’ll give them that chance, both as a customer and from a ToolGuyd context.
As a reminder to all, I don’t hold back when I’m disappointed either. For instance: 5 Ways Lowe’s and Kobalt Really Disappointed Us This Holiday Season. The passion goes both ways.