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May 17, 2021

Professional Tool Reviews for Pros


Brand Loyalty in the Power Tool Industry

Who Makes the Best Tools

iPhone vs. Android, Apple vs. Microsoft, Ford vs. Chevy, Coke vs. Pepsi, these are common industry battles fought to win the minds, dollars and loyalties of consumers. The power tool and outdoor power equipment industries are fairly unique when it comes their products and how they are differentiated. Brand loyalty in the power tool industry is a bit of an enigma, since those of us who use more than one brand are often left scratching our heads.


Guys in the field will commonly call their tools by color instead of brand—for example:

  • Yellow = DeWalt
  • Blue = Bosch
  • Red = Milwaukee
  • Orange = Ridgid

But, things get a bit murkier when it comes to multiple manufacturers who are distinguished by the same color. Take Red for instance; it really depends on what tools Pros use that would have them think of another company instead of Milwaukee. For pneumatic nailers or staplers in red, folks will think about SENCO. For rotary hammers or demo hammers, Hilti comes to mind first.

Having attended a number of manufacturers’ tool events, the product managers and marketing folks will refer to the competition by the field dress colors as well.

Ridgid Gen5X Recipracating Saw

Brand Confusion

Ask contractors what the above tool is, and you are likely to hear, “SAWZALL” more often than not. The trouble for most brands that produce reciprocating saws, however, is that SAWZALL is Milwaukee Tool’s trade name. This begs the question of whether tradespeople are more likely to purchase additional tools based on the performance of one tool, or whether they’ll be more apt to choose based on the specific application?

Another popular brand-confusion name is the Speed Square. There’s actually supposed to be a circled “R” after the word Speed (as in Speed® Square). That’s a registered trademark owned by Swanson Tool Company—and a particular source of contention whenever it’s used generically to refer to other brands. The problem is, even WikiPedia and most big box stores use the speed square designation incorrectly…it’s an uphill battle.

Entire Line vs Application Specific

Taking this to the next step, when it comes to routers, most Pros will tell you that Bosch is the go-to tool. Drill drivers? That honor may go to DeWalt, Milwaukee, or Makita. Look in tool pouches, and you’ll find a Stanley Fat Max tape declared to be the best tape measure. In the Midwest, sidewinder circular saws dominate, but when visiting the West Coast most Pros use Skil worm drive saws.

Milwaukee went so far as to reward brand loyalists who tattooed the Milwaukee logo a chance to win free tools for life.

When it comes to batteries, this is usually a no-brainer as they are the lifeblood of cordless tools. With this initial investment covered it’s easier and cheaper to expand the line with the tool-only option. DeWalt knew this and willingly gave out free batteries early on—generating a lot of their jobsite dominance.

Milwaukee has made significant strides recently by focusing on the electrical, plumbing, and HVAC industries. They also redoubled their efforts in their battery platform and coupled that with expansions in the hand tools and instruments to provide additional value. Milwaukee RedLithium batteries are noted as being very well designed by many honest products managers across the industry—just not on the record!

Budgeting Effects on Tool Selection

In 2008, the economy—and shortly the entire construction industry—took a nose dive. Along with that went some of the tool purchasing habits of professionals. Low-impact, seldom-used tools now lingered in tool bags longer, and the “buy the finest” mentality took its lumps. That definitely affected brand loyalty in the power tool industry as Pros and business owners scrambled to find ways to lower costs and overhead.

This trend really ushered into the jobsite a proliferation of what were once considered DIY tools. Many professional-grade tools were retooled to accommodate this change in the marketplace. The Ryobi One+ System came out in 2004 that promised a new way of purchasing multiple tools with a power source that was to be, “compatible with all past, current and future Ryobi 18-volt tools.” This system offered an option to new professionals as well as those looking to get more bang for their back. House brands like Lowe’s Kobalt Tools brand quickly came to market to offer more budget-friendly options.

Porter-Cable 12V Clamp Saw

Porter Cable had competed with all of the heavy hitters for a long time in the commercial and residential markets. After a series of acquisitions and mergers, the company landed with Black & Decker, which is part of Stanley Black & Decker (SBD). Crowded with DeWalt, Black & Decker, and Bostitch, Porter Cable lost some of its identity and appears to have transformed into a budget-friendly line filler opposite Black & Decker instead of a direct competitor to the DeWalt professional line of tools.


Now, with a rebounding economy and countless amounts of information available at our fingertips, tool purchasing has never been easier. Our question to you is this: Does brand loyalty in the power tool industry still drive your purchasing decisions, or do you just find the best tool for the best price?

Please let us know in the Comments below on on the PTR Facebook page.

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Nate B

Battery lock-in shouldn’t be mistaken for brand loyalty.

I would use a DeWalt gyroscopic screwdriver, a Milwaukee right-angle impact driver, and Ryobi for affordable versions of everything else. But there’s no way I’m gonna maintain 3 separate battery systems. One of these days I’m gonna get a 3D printer and start making battery interchange adapters…

Dan Neufeld

I have Makita, but only because there were Makita batteries already in use in my household. And their drill had the highest in-lbs rating at the time. I am tempted to switch to Milwaukee whenever my tools are due to be replaced, purely because Milwaukee has the cordless knockout tool (even though I am not a fan of how their batteries attach to the tools). But, that may take a while, and there may be other cordless knockout tools by then.

Kevin

I have an allegiance to a particular brand only within the cordless realm. There are to many advantages to buying “into” a system in the cordless tool market than having multiple incompatible systems to lug around for what may ultimately be very little performance advantage from like tools in equivalent tool brands. I routinely and have historically bought the best available tool regardless of brand in the corded and hand tool world, since there is no interdependency.

Ed Nelson

I have used (and worn out) most brands of cordless tools in my remodeling business, and have used my partners tools as well. The tools themselves, if you buy the better known brands, are very comparable. I feel you just need to find what you like and commit to one just for convenience of having multiple batteries. In the long run it seems the batteries are as big or even a bigger commitment than the tools. I currently have Milwaukee 18 & 12 volt tools for cordless, and mostly festool for the electric tools. ( festool is quite expensive, but… Read more »

Cheng Liu

I think a lot of it depends on what your needs are. I am not a professional so I only use my tools for DIY projects. For that level I feel like Ryobi does a great job for the money when it comes to cordless tools. I also like their wide selection of tools, some of which few if any other companies make i.e. the 18v inflator and the 2 different 18v sanders. For corded tools, brands are trivial.

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