Category Report: Hand tools

BY Ken Clark

When Black & Decker rolled out its pivoting RapidRoller paint roller, which stores paint in its hollow handle, the Towson, Md.-based company was unveiling not just a new paint product, but a tool that reflects one of the biggest trends in hand tool design.

The RapidRoller “solves common user frustrations,” said Steve Wiezorek, group product manager for Black & Decker. “The RapidRoller Paint Roller was designed with the customer in mind and helps speed up painting projects, eliminating trips to the paint tray.”

The hand tool category is seeing plenty of innovation on products that have been around for hundreds of years — even the hammer is not immune to ease-of-use improvements — such as the improved feel of the Stanley FatMax Xtreme anti-vibe rip claw nailing hammer with the magnetic nail starter.

The concept of a single-tool providing multiple functions or added value has never been more pronounced. The Jorgensen Expandable Clamp, for instance, comes in a basic 6-in. width. But if customers buy two such clamps, the ends of the tool will interlock in such a way as to create a larger 12-in. clamp.

Tool manufacturers are also simplifying packaging. Case in point: General Tools & Instruments’ Heat Seeker, a gun-style infrared thermometer, contains three pictures on the packaging that show the product in action.

During a recent State of the Industry Series Webinar on hand tools and tool storage co-hosted by NPD Group and Home Channel News, NPD’s Peter Goldman, president of the research firm’s home division, said the opportunity for tool sales exists particularly among consumers in the 18-to-27 “Generation Y” age group.

Ownership incidence across the three Generations — Gen Y, Gen X (28 to 44 years old), and baby boomers (45 to 64 years old) — averages at 87%. But Gen Y, predictably, comes in at 76% ownership incidence for hand tools.

“Younger consumers absolutely represent an opportunity. They are more optimistic about the economy, they are more likely to purchase a home or engage in home improvement activity, and the low penetration really stands out in hand tools and tool storage,” Goldman said.


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J.Luley says:
Apr-15-2011 06:06 pm

The information regarding the
The information regarding the Jorgensen Bar clamp is not quite accurate... The NEW Jorgensen ISD Bar Clamps available in 5 sizes (6", 12", 18", 24" & 36") can be joined together in any combination of two sizes. When joined together, the two clamps actually gain an additional 6" due to the design of the heads. So, when two six inch clamps are joined together, the net result is an 18" clamp! A great value for the customer. When the customer buys two 24" clamps, he is effectively also getting a 54" bar clamp for no charge. The best buy in bar clamps available anywhere! I'm just saying..... Thanks, Jim Luley - Adjustable Clamp Company



How much credit should be given to the co-op business model for the success of the independent hardware and building supply dealer over the last half century?

Readers Respond


A story under the headline “Sitting down on the job: The lawsuit” generated several letters, including the following:

“People stand all day in factories and in retail stores doing their jobs. Giving good customer service demands that clerks walk the store looking to help people. If we give them chairs, customer service is gone. What are they going to do, sit there expecting people to look for them? We are in a very competitive retail environment today, and to stay in business it means [standing up] and working.” 

— Don Boulter

General manager

Battels Hardware & Tool Co.

Whittier, Calif.

“The state is definitely overreaching here. No wonder things cost us so much. These frivolous lawsuits come to haunt all of us in the form of unnecessary regulations and increased costs.”

— Joel Carvajal

Sales director, Northwest and 
 Mountain States

Serious Materials 

“I think this is carrying it a bit too far. If you want to sit down somewhere, you will find a place. What’s next — make sure you feed me, and clothe me?”

— Chris from Indiana

“We have store locations throughout the United States, including California. The state of California and its laws result in more lawsuits and legal fees for us than all others state combined. Prop. 65, VOC regulations, ZIP code class actions suits related to California Credit Card Act, and on and on.

“We are no longer adding stores in the state as a result of the added costs of doing business in California. The litigious state of California has not only crossed the point of overreaching parenting, but has set into motion a future business climate that will push companies to do as little as possible within the state. For a state that is all but bankrupt, they seem to be oblivious to the values that made this country great.”

— Anonymous 

“This again shows the lunacy, not in just California, but in the federal government and judicial arena as well. This was probably started by yet another blood-sucking parasitic ‘trial attorney’ looking for a massive payday through a class action suit. He’ll extort hundreds of millions in fees, and the claimants will get a $10-off Coupon at ‘Chairs R Us.’ ”

— Online comment

A story under the headline “Dealer turned commando stops alleged thief” produced the following letters:

“No one in retail likes to lose product to a shoplifter. At the same time we are all jubilant when we recover our stolen goods. I have personally pursued and watched pursuits, and do believe that once a theft occurs and the product has left the building it is best to let the thief go on his or her way. I have asked myself after a number of personally involved occurrences: ‘What if?’ IF can be scary! Document the occurrence, advise loss prevention and contact the local authorities if advised.”

— David Thompson

Store manager

Carter Lumber

“It’s not worth pursuing a shoplifter because our judicial system will just slap them on the wrist. The first company I worked for caught theft on video tape; a customer stole about $500 in tools. He was later arrested with some of the tools and received a $50.00 fine.”

— Bob Lacasse 

Hardware/Specialty Buyer 

Maki Building Centers

“Better a live coward than a dead hero.”

— Name withheld

An article last month under the title “Mark Baker to head OSH” generated the following comment:

“A great move for Mark and a greater move for Orchard Supply.”

— Online comment


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How much credit should be given to the co-op business model for the success of the independent hardware and building supply dealer over the last half century?

Category Report: Power tools

BY Ken Ryan

Advancements in battery technology, more efficient tool engineering and ergonomic design have transformed the power tools segment in recent years. But this golden age of development and innovation hasn’t translated into sales growth, because all the major categories are in retreat, according to consumer data from The NPD Group. 

Today’s power tools are generally smaller, yet just as potent; they are also versatile, longer-lasting and more durable. Lithium-ion battery technology improvements, in particular, have enabled manufacturers to develop cordless tools that are smaller and lighter, while maintaining or improving performance.

Perhaps the biggest trend is the one pushing consumers to “value-oriented” products. For instance, NiCd power tools still outsell other battery technologies. “Price is a direct component of this trend,” said Jonathan Patterson, product manager for Handy Hardware Wholesale Inc. “And while the price difference between [Li-ion and NiCd] might be narrowing, costs are still increasing for both. I see end users willing to pay for quality and brand names, but the final price still weighs heavily in their decision-making.”

Christine Potter, director of marketing for DeWalt Cordless Products, agrees there is still significant demand for NiCd batteries, “as they are a very proven job site solution,” she said. DeWalt’s strategy for its 18V line is to offer customers a choice. “All of our 18V tools accept either NiCd or Li-ion, giving our users a lot of flexibility,” she said. 

Derek Vlcko, senior product manager at Porter-Cable, said that as more suppliers enter the lithium-ion market, prices will start to come down. Until then, he doesn’t see a lot of movement in Li-ion products. “We’re not going to see anything ground-breaking,” he said. “For the most part, we have seen incremental changes. It has kind of stabilized.” 

In the 12V category, however, 12V Li-ion has been the fastest-growing segment of professional power tools over the last two years, according to Potter. “With the small size and light weight, many professional users are finding these tools as an ideal complement to their 18V line,” she said. 

Not just battery technology

When it comes to improving run-time, batteries usually get all the credit. However, suppliers say steps have been taken to improve the efficiency of the tools themselves so that the energy from the battery is used more effectively. “A battery is like a gas tank on a car; it is how much fuel you have to work with,” Potter said. “The car’s transmission and motor design greatly impact how efficiently that fuel is used. A tool works the same way. There have been a lot of advancements in engineering simulations, as well as materials that have resulted in our tools’ motors, transmissions, clutches and switches becoming more efficient, thus giving our users more run-time.”

Combo kits growing

Combo kits have been on a steady ascent since debuting in the mid-1990s and now represent a sizable portion of the cordless professional market. DeWalt’s own research shows the average cordless user owns six tools and six batteries and that the combo kit is chosen as the way to first enter a cordless system. “Users value standardizing on a system so that they only need one type of charger on the site, and so that all the batteries are interchangeable should one run out of power,” Potter said. 

Within the Do it Best network, sets are gaining ground, with NiCd leading the way. “The lithium sets I’ve seen growing sales are the smaller two- or three-piece sets, where the NiCd are mainly four or more piece counts,” Patterson said.

While pricing continues to sway the category, features on tools continue to improve. For example, keyless chucks and blade clamps as well as on-board LED lighting have become standard on most professional products. “Attention is constantly given to make sure the tools are comfortable and balanced for our users, as they will spend the entire work day with our products,” Potter said. “This includes focus on areas like grip design, controls and actuators. We also spend time monitoring demographics of the work force and incorporate that data into the designs.”

“Our combo kits are humming,” Vlcko said. “Our two-kit and four-kit combo sets are doing exceptionally well, and both DIYers and professionals are enjoying the versatility of the tools.”


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How much credit should be given to the co-op business model for the success of the independent hardware and building supply dealer over the last half century?