On Day 2 in Tennessee I traveled down I-24 to Murfreesboro, the new home of General International USA. This company is now the sole distributor for all woodworking tools, machinery, and accessories for General Manufacturing and General International. Those brands are still headquartered in Montreal, Canada, but distribution and customer service for the U.S. will now be handled in Tennessee. Heading up this new operation is Scott Box, most recently president of Steel City Toolworks, and formerly with Powermatic and Delta.
For those of you who might not know, General woodworking machines are made in Drummondville, Quebec, not far from Montreal. The General International line of tools is made in Taiwan to General’s specifications. This line features a full complement of stationary and benchtop machines.
Everyone knows we’ve been mired in a recession for two-plus years now, and it certainly has hit the woodworking sector hard. Woodworkers have cut back on buying tools and products related to our hobby and/or business. Some retail stores and Web sites have gone out of business or cut back drastically. And manufacturers have been forced to cut back either on marketing, production, or product development—or all three. But as we start to see glimpses of hope, I decided to check in with a few manufacturers to see how they’re doing.
I spent the first day with the WMH Tool Group, parent company of Powermatic and Jet woodworking tools as well as Wilton metalworking products. Their office, warehouse, and distribution center is located in LaVergne, Tennessee, just southeast of Nashville. Jet recently moved into this facility, closing its longtime base of operations in Elgin, Illinois. Barry Schwaiger, director of the product lines for both Powermatic and Jet, gave me a tour of the facility and keyed me in on what tools are moving and which are not.
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I just got back from Sears headquarters in Chicago, where I served as an “outside voice” for an in-depth symposium on Craftsman tools and products. As the Tools Editor of the world’s largest woodworking magazine, I shared my experiences from tool tests and general everyday use of Craftsman tools, as well as discussed trends in tools and woodworking and where the future might take us. It was an interesting twist, because I’m typically the journalist interviewing tool-makers and reporting on their newest product launches. But this time I was on a five-person panel of experts sitting in front of a roomful of Craftsman representatives who asked the questions. It was a spirited discussion, very enlightening for the content as well as the experience of being on the “other side.” My hope is that this experience will eventually result in Craftsman producing products and tools that will help woodworkers, homeowners, DIYers, and anyone who takes a notion to be better at what they do.
Earlier in the day I got to see some of the newest tools that will soon launch, but by agreeing to keep it all confidential I’m not allowed to show photos or give specifics. The Craftsman leaders also revealed some new concepts they’re playing with for tools and products. Some of them are pretty cool, others not so much. But I give them a ton of credit for constantly striving to create innovative, unique products that can be brought to market at affordable prices. I also got a tour of Craftsman’s testing lab, where they put tools through rigorous tests to substantiate claims (or sometimes debunk them) and determine their lifespan. Always on the lookout for testing methods I can incorporate into our own tool reviews at WOOD magazine, I managed to pick up some ideas based on what I saw. As new Craftsman products come to market, I’ll keep you all posted through my blog, our newsletter, and our magazine.
For those of you who remember buying tools from Tool Crib of the North back in the 1980s and ’90s, you’ll be happy to know it’s back in business as an online retailer as well as catalog merchant. Only now the company is known as Acme Tools. (And, no, this is not where Wile E. Coyote bought all of his products in his countless efforts to catch the Roadrunner!)
In late 1999 Tool Crib of the North sold its online and catalog business to Amazon.com. Since then the Kuhlman family that owned the business worked to expand its retail store presence in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. Now Acme Tools sells more than 10,000 products and hundreds of brands through its Web site. “Acme is committed to setting the standards for customer service and shopping experience in the online marketplace for tools and equipment,” says Steve Kuhlman, vice president of corporate operations.
So, the Grizzly Tent Sale along with the recent article in issue 179, “The Best Tool I Ever Bought,” got me thinking about this question. What is the best tool deal I ever got? I think this is a question that has some real discussion potential. It’s the woodworking equivalent of old war stories. So, I’ll start.