America loves a comeback story. We love it when the underdog comes out on top; its genetic. Something about coming from pioneer people who were underdogs in their own right, from our humble beginning roots, to our westward expansion against famine and disease and understandably pissed natives that were trying to kill us as much as sometimes our neighbor, when one thinks of America, they can believe in overcoming all odds through hard work, determination, uncompromising principles, and getting the job done, the first time, overtime. An “American Made” job was one that was to be envied. Just look at any Rocky movie, or the folklore surrounding a seemingly harmless bearded man with a hell of a roundhouse kick. (Chuck Norris) America or American was the stuff of legends.
When one falls down, its a hard sight to see.
When I was a kid, the brand in our house that represented that mark of quality was Craftsman. Craftsman was a brand that was sold exclusively in Sears for many years. Sears, of the old Sears & Roebuck days, was also a name synonymous with quality. They were old and trusted, storied as THE major department store that began the first mail-order catalogue that was the standard for many years. Their success was solidified and embodied in what was once the tallest building in the world, the Sears Tower.
Fast forward to today where in my geographic region, 4 out of 5 stores in a 100 mile radius have closed. K-mart stores, which bought Sears in 2004 are failing just as hard and as fast as Sears. Sears used to carry all Craftsman tools which were made to last in the USA. Gradually they began to make some Craftsman products overseas with subpar materials.
When I was a kid, it was my dad who ingrained in me a respect and a value for tools like the one below. Built to last, from Forged alloys, it was proudly stamped “Made in the USA.” That one phrase told the buyer, “no matter what you throw at this thing, it will perform the job every time.” They were backed by a literal and universal lifetime warranty. Buy a tool in 1984, and in 15 years, if you’ve worn it out and the ratchet broke, bring it back and they would replace it with a brand new one. It was a virtual challenge to the American working man; “bring it on, bitch, we will outwork you.” There’s almost nothing sexier to an American male, save maybe something with horsepower.
Then they slowly began to replace the warranty wording with “or a refurbished tool of like value.” That’s not what you fucking said when I bought the tool dumbass. They started a separate line of “eco-made friendly” tools (I guess made with the environment in mind) under the name Craftsman evolv. Then they went to straight up not honoring the lifetime warranty at all on some tools such as tape measures and others that either saw abuse on the job site, or that frankly, customers abused the policy to take advantage of.
Enter my own issue. Below you’ll find a picture of a riding lawn mower, also known to some as a lawn tractor. Where I’m from, you better come with a hell of a lot more than that if you say you’re bringing a tractor to help. Anyway, this beauty was only 4 years old. Bought her second hand off Craigslist and for the past 3 1/2 yrs, it did the job. It was noisy, cumbersome, and sometimes awkward to control. But it did the job…..until one day it didn’t.
The whole purpose of this thing is to cut grass. If it does anything in life, it should do that well to validate the cost of these machines. At the bottom, where you see the number 42, that is whats called the deck. It is a piece of metal stamped or formed into a shape and then bolted with pulleys for belts and blades. One such pulley and bolt came loose. How? The hole the pulley and nut were bolted to literally broke apart. It basically took a 3/8″ hole and made it larger than a half-dollar in an odd nonstandard shape.
I expected to have battery issues. I’d understand some engine trouble given the ethanol in gas nowadays, but….folks…..HOW IN THE FUCK DO YOU SCREW UP METAL??? As a piece of steel, you only had one job; BE a piece of STEEL. Instead I now had a useless “tractor” and a screwed up worthless deck.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. We’ll answer all your questions in a moment.
I called the number for them to file warranty claims. The woman on the phone wanted to charge me $99 dollars to send a technician out to tell me its broke. I laughed, we do this crap in my regular job too, only the customer isn’t able to tell us what’s wrong with it. I asked could she verify warranty information over the phone with model and serial #? She could not. I asked if I could speak with a tech via phone. She said if I paid a $99 fee. I asked her if all of her decks are not covered under warranty. She said no, not all. We went back and forth about this for probably ten minutes. I’d ask her a question in English, she’d respond back in her third world country’s language.
Finally, I’d had enough. I hung up the phone and with that ended my decades-long business with Craftsman, Sears, K-Mart (ok, I never went to K-Mart, who really goes there?) or anything associated with them. They had fucked over the wrong guy. Because the quality of many competitors was similar if not superior to Craftsman, and in times that it was of lesser quality, price beat it out by 4 times. The only reason you paid more for a ratchet set like the one below than for a different one was for the warranty. You knew that you held in your hands the promise of an American icon that was everywhere and would be everywhere for a long time.
Yeah, that pipe dream ended quickly too. When many Sears stores started drying up, that should have been warning enough.
I went about my business, dawdled a while, and finally settled on buying an upgrade from a competitor with a good track record of performance and finally a damn good warranty on the deck. I have to say after using it for the first time yesterday, it is a superior machine. I didn’t expect it to be much different but I was supremely impressed with every facet of operation this thing did. To the good folks at Husqvarna, great job on a great product. I will now consider buying a chain saw from you in the future due to your mower. As for the Craftsman, me and a neighbor are gonna jerry-rig the hell out of this thing and get up and running enough to sell to some poor schlep on Craigslist. I’m debating full disclosure, but I’ll probably let them know because its how I would want to be treated.
But while Husqvarna gained me as a customer, and with it anyone reading this or friends and family as I rave about their product’s performance, how sad is it that Craftsman yet again let us down? How sad is it to see an already struggling company, with what once was great brand loyalty, fail one more time? Just one more number for the accountants to crunch in the liabilities file of the bankruptcy papers. Its been said that the business of America is business. Once you’ve lost people’s business, you’ve lost your business.
No one goes to the remaining Sears stores. Why should they? Anything they purchase is now only warrantied for as long as the store is still around (not long) not superior in quality and overpriced as hell for customer service that fails the test every single time. No thanks, I can go to Lowes and buy Kobalt brand (Made in Mexico) and get a better warranty for half the price. Folks this is how outsourcing begins, its not the damn warranty that we bought the tools for (yeah it was nice) it was with the belief that we’d probably not have to use the warranty because the tools were built of such fine quality. There are still some fine USA made companies that make terrific tools. I purchase from them too. But the lesson here is that American Made isn’t some ethnocentric olympics “USA” chant that we buy into. We’re not China and we’re not Mexico. We don’t skimp and cut corners, we don’t use cheap ass materials. We’re lazy as fuck and want to do a job right the first time. We don’t eat enough rice to have the energy to go back and re-do the same job 15 times because we couldn’t get it right on the first hitch.
To the manufacturers of the United States, yes you still have our loyalty as consumers, except those midwestern and northern assholes who buy shit from Harbor Freight and say “oh, but looky here, I got a deal.” (Yeah I’m looking at you neighbor John) But don’t abuse that loyalty and rest on your laurels; the loyalty is in fair exchange for the quality. Give us a reason to keep coming back. Make shit so damn good the first time that we don’t have to come back for a while, and we will anyway. Rednecks buy plenty of shit they don’t need just because its good.
And I know about “planned obsolescence” and I say to hell with planned obsolescence! For some of you that may not know that is when a company purposefully plans on an expected lifespan of their product on the knowledge that when it breaks it means more business for them. Their thinking is, example: If I make a product really good and it lasts a long time, then I just worked myself out of a job. So I’m gonna make a shitty product, so they’ll have a need to come back again and again. To companies that think like that, we should all say you pull that “planned obsolescence” shit over here and you’ve effectively planned your own obsolescence, and then stop using them. I see it in my industry everyday.
If manufacturers make a superior product, part, tool, car, air conditioner, drill, saw, pump, or whatever, we Americans will spend the cash. If you want an example of this, look to the firearms industry. Sure Kel-Tec won’t go out of business and the used Glock market is the closest thing to a sure fire ROI retirement plan I’ve ever seen, but I don’t see workers at Kimber and Colt going hungry. Yes, S&W has a lot of revolver competition now, but they are still the standard we measure others by. The other part of this is that eventually, labor unions will have to finally confront the SOB in the mirror; you raise the price of labor to produce an F-150, then you bitch when you can’t afford to buy a $50,000 truck. How much money did you want per hour to put lug nuts and wheels on? No thanks, we’ll take your annual salary and make a machine to do that. At least it won’t call in sick, strike, or cost us in Obamacare benefits. But that’s for a different discussion, today its a schtick about Quality.
So, So Long Craftsman. You’ve seen my last dime to you. Good luck in your bankruptcy court proceedings as you and Sears go the way of the dodo bird, Woolworths, PanAm, AMC, Studebaker, Kodak, Circuit City, and Blockbuster. At least they all went due to outside forces they could not have foreseen. Yours was an inside job. And as you walk your ass over to the unemployment line, I’ll wave as I roll my redneck ass down the road on my Husky. Probably waving an American flag bought in Wal-Mart, Made in China.
Just kidding about the flag part. That shit is just wrong.