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Differentiating Your Hand and Power Tools Category

When customers arrive asking for a big-box price match on hand and power tools, the first thing Robert Moore does is check the model number.

“I am almost certain there will be a difference between what they sell and what we sell,” he says. “When I show people it’s a different tool, they begin to realize they aren’t comparing apples to apples. Then they want to find out what the differences are, and I move the sale forward from there.”

The hand and power tools category is highly price-sensitive. As more low-cost providers enter the market, the independent retailer must think of clever ways to compete. Add power to your tool sales by knowing your products, using creative marketing techniques, training your employees to sell and standing by your merchandise.

Similar Yet Different

While one could argue that everything is similar yet different, in the world of hand and power tools, it actually can be true. With the advent of big boxes and discount tool chains, lots of tools look a lot alike, but not all are sold with the same accessories or include the same capabilities

It’s something Moore, who is manager of hand and power tools at Shoppers Supply in Chandler, Arizona, understands both personally and professionally. Although he’s only been in the hardware retail business for nine months, his experience as a master jeweler for 30 years gives him firsthand knowledge of hand and power tools, just on a much smaller scale as an end user.

Today, he draws that parallel when discussing how products measure up with his customers. Referencing the model number is a great way to get that conversation started, giving him a jumping-off point from which he can explain why the tool is a different price.

“Many times, customers don’t realize that the tool advertised is missing a battery or a charger, and that’s why it’s cheaper,” he says.

Berta Jennings of Jennings Builders Supply and Hardware in Cashiers, North Carolina, works mostly with contractors who are too busy to shop around. When they see a lower price, it’s her job to slow them down and point out the differences between products.

“They say, ‘I can get the same saw somewhere else for $20 cheaper,’” she says. “I always ask if it’s really the same. It’s probably a 13-amp saw, and I only sell the 15-amp, because that’s what the contractor is really looking for. You have to point these things out and explain why they want something with more power.”

This isn’t an invitation, however, to belittle the competition. Stick to the facts and let customers come to their own conclusions.

A Learning Experience

Learning your products is important, but learning to sell that product is equally important. It’s great when you can recite a laundry list of features, but if customers can’t see the benefits, they aren’t going to buy.

“We are very successful in this category because our sales staff is trained to respond to common objections,” Moore says. “Our employees receive extensive training, so they’re ready for those objections and know the best ways to respond to them.”

In a highly price-sensitive category such as hand and power tools, it’s especially important to prepare employees for those objections. Teaching them the right responses—even scripting them—will keep the customer talking and allow employees to uncover more information to help them make the sales.

It’s also important to help the customer visualize the tool’s capabilities. Tools are hands-on, yet understanding the need for a certain motor speed or torque can be abstract. Your employees need to know how to satisfy the customer’s need to get a feel for the tool while translating those features into something the customer can relate to.

“I always ask what the customer is planning to use the tool for, then tell them what the tool’s capabilities will help them accomplish,” Moore says. “But I keep it simple. I don’t go into too much technical detail or I’ll lose the customer’s attention and the sale.”

Marketing Matters

Knowing how to sell hand and power tools is great, but you need hand and power tools customers to sell to. A comprehensive plan to market and advertise this category is a must to stay competitive.

Use your circulars or print advertising to offer a “gift,” such as an accessory, with purchase or run a promotion touting the tool’s extra benefits or add-ons.

“Customers actively research tools, but they tend to buy the accessories with a little less research,” Jennings says. “They probably won’t want to wait to order accessories online, so be sure employees know the right follow-up questions.”

Since showrooming is a common challenge with this category, use the Internet to promote your tools. Your website should at the very least list the brands you carry, and blogging is a simple way to improve search engine optimization. You also can use Facebook and Twitter to announce specials and keep your name as a dealer top of mind.

Stand Tall

The final way to persuade a customer to purchase a tool from your store is service, both to the customer and of the product. Many independent retailers service power tools, showing they stand by the product and will be there if there’s problems.

“We tell our customers to bring the tool back if it isn’t performing the way they expected,” Jennings says. “Many people forget that you don’t have to automatically buy a new tool just because the one you have breaks, that there are businesses that stand behind what they sell and will fix or replace it.”

Moore closes his sales by doing the following: registering the tool in case of theft, submitting the warranty paperwork, pointing out all the safety features and reminding the customer that he can bring it back—anytime—for service or if he isn’t satisfied.

Selling hand and power tools is challenging. Energizing your promotional efforts and giving your employees a few simple tools of their own, however, can add power to your market position and grow your sales.

A School for Selling Tools

Robert Moore of Shoppers Supply in Chandler, Arizona, says learning how to sell tools is as important as learning about the tools themselves. Tool manufacturers understand this. Stihl, a brand carried at the store, provides a complete training program, which includes information about a product’s technical capabilities, service instructions, sales objectives and how to handle irate customers.

The most common sales objection is price; learning how to respond to this confidently is key.

“If it becomes an issue of money, the way I respond is, ‘Yes, you initially will be paying a little bit more, but in the long run, with the overall product quality, it will save you money because you’re going to have fewer service problems, and you’re going to have a more dependable product that will perform day in and day out,’” Moore says. “‘You’ll also have the engineering that comes with it, the design and the support of a company with a proven track record.’”

Sales employees are also taught to keep product explanations simple—but not too simple.

“We don’t want to explain a product’s capabilities in such advanced terms that it goes over their heads but also not on such a low level that you’re insulting their intelligence,” Moore says.

Stihl training encourages all dealers to close their sales by performing five value-added services. These services differentiate the independent dealer from a big-box store, where purchasing a tool means taking it home in the packaging and learning how to operate it on your own.

  1. Remove the product from the box and do a safety demonstration.
  2. Register the product with the manufacturer. Having a registered serial number protects the customer if the item is ever stolen.
  3. Fill out the warranty paperwork for the customer.
  4. Demonstrate that the tool is in proper working order and show the customer how to start and operate it.
  5. Service the tool when necessary.

“You’re not going to get any of that from a big-box store,” Moore says. “It’s a little hard for a customer to argue with that.”

About Amanda Bell

Amanda Bell
Amanda Bell was an assistant editor of Hardware Retailing and NRHA. Amanda regularly visited with home improvement retailers across the country and attended industry events and seminars. She earned a degree in magazine journalism from Ball State University and has received honors for her work for Hardware Retailing from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

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