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This Is How You Lose A 3rd Generation Customer

November 21, 2017

I broke a tradition today. It was a tradition that my grandfather started. He passed it on to my father. My father passed it on to me and I passed it on to my children. But, no more. It happened at 3:30pm at Allred’s Ace Hardware in Pleasant Grove, UT.

I normally don’t use this platform to call people or businesses out. I’m making an exception. And while my story is about a family owned hardware store in Northern Utah, the lessons apply to any business that is interested in keeping its customers.

It all happened because of a broken 6-point 13mm Craftsman brand socket.

All of those details except the size are important to the story. I’ve never broken a socket before. And certainly not a Craftsman brand socket, my brand of choice. Craftsman brand tools are not the best tools you can buy. I would say Snap-On or Matco tools are probably the top of the line. But, I like Craftsman because they are good quality and if you happen to break one, they replace it, no questions asked.

My grandfather was a junk dealer. When he passed away, I inherited his tools. There were a lot of Craftsman brand tools in his tool chests. There were a lot of old and well used Craftsman brand tools. At one point I took one to Sears (the exclusive Craftsman dealer at the time) and traded it in. It was about 60 years old. They handed me a brand new one and I walked out. They didn’t even ring it up. Just a one-for-one trade.

I loved Craftsman tools.

Anyway, I broke a socket. I was changing the brake pads and I was taking off those super tight bolts that hold the brake pad housing on. The wheels were off my car and I needed to fix the brakes before I could go replace the socket. Saying you need a new socket is like saying you need a truck. There are actually lots of different 13mm sockets. First is the idea of the number of points: six or twelve.

I prefer six point sockets. They are typically stronger. My current situation notwithstanding. And they don’t risk stripping the nut as much as a twelve point socket. The advantage of a twelve point socket is that in situations where access is tight it helps to be able to adjust the socket slightly.

Next is the idea of a short or deep socket.

Sometimes a bolt might be longer and the socket has to fit over it to remove a nut. Or, it’s just easier to reach with a longer socket. After a broke my short 6-point, I switched to a deep socket. Mostly, because I knew that I couldn’t break this one.

The final aspect of a socket is the size of the drive. Typical sizes are 1/4″, 3/8″ or 1/2″. You can get into bigger sizes as well, but for most mechanic work, a socket is going to be one of those three. I had other 13mm sockets, but they were 1/4″ drive. I would have snapped the socket driver. The one I went with was deep, heavy and a 1/2″ drive. I would break the bolt before I broke the socket.

I have a lot of tools. Between what came to me from my father and grandfather, and the tools I’ve purchased over the years, I estimate I have about $15,000 worth of tools in my garage. And I buy tools on a regular basis. Generally, I go to a big-box store. They have the selection and their prices are good. But, I also like to support my local family owned hardware store, like Allred’s Ace Hardware.

That brings me to my visit this afternoon. I love to shop for tools. And, I typically know what I’m looking for. I found the socket section and located the Craftsman brand 13mm 3/8″ drive short socket. But, it was a twelve point instead of a six. I looked and looked and couldn’t find a six point. I decided that it was mostly personal preference, and a twelve point would work just fine. I also picked up a couple of other tools that I needed. If you have a house full of teenage boys, there is often a hole in the bottom of your tool chest.

As I was picking out my replacement tools, there were a couple of employees helping a woman make a new house key. The machine is automated so I’m not sure why they needed two of them, but I didn’t think much of it. As I started toward the front of the store, a manager joined the key club. I addressed the group,

If I want to exchange a broken Craftsman tool, do I just take it up to the counter?

(I recieved slightly confused looks)

Craftsman still has a lifetime replacement guarantee, right?

Well. . .they do for now. Black and Decker just bought them and they may be changing the guarantee, but as of today, it’s still in force.

So, do I just take them up to front?

(Helpfully, I held up the broken socket and the replacement.)

This is a six point, but you guys only have the twelve point, so I was going to swap them.

Oh, you have to match the numbers.

What?

We can only replace a Craftsman tool that is the exact same number. So, we won’t be able to exchange these.

Do you have any 6-point 13mm short sockets?

If it’s not on the shelf then we don’t carry it.

Do you know anyone else that carries Craftsman tools?

Ah. . .no. Sears stores used to, but most of them are out of business.

And with that she turned her attention back to the key lady.

Well, thank you for your time.

I replaced the Craftsman 13mm 3/8″ drive twelve-point short socket. And then I replaced the rest of the tools I had been planning to buy. I walked out of Allred’s with two resolutions:

  1. Never to buy another Craftsman tool
  2. Never to go back to Allred’s if I can help it

I drove across town to the big box store. Do you know that their hand tools come with a lifetime guarantee? And their selection is huge.

I’m not trying to start a campaign. I’m not trying to start a boycott. I’m telling you what I decided to do based on the customer service that I received. You might think I’m being harsh. The employees were not rude. And they were simply quoting me the company policy. But, they made two fatal mistakes.

First, they refused to stand behind a brand that they have in their store. They expressed uncertainty about the future of Craftsman tools. That was a stupid thing to do. The policy is exactly what it has always been. They didn’t need to speculate that it might change.

The second flaw, even worse than the first (because they have other brands that I might still buy even if I abandon Craftsman) was they didn’t seem to care. they didn’t care about replacing my socket. They didn’t care that there was literally nowhere else for me to go. Well, there was somewhere else to go. And I went. The quality of big box store tools are probably about the same as Craftsman. The prices are cheaper. The value of going to a locally owned store is to support our community. I’m willing to pay a premium for that.

This was a $2.50 socket. I didn’t need to have it replaced for free. But, the experience means that the thousands of dollars of tools I buy will be purchased somewhere else. That’s a pretty expensive lost sale for $2.50.

I had several 13mm sockets, but needed one more.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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3 Comments
  1. I have had similar experiences with local owned businesses. The only thing they have to set them apart from the big box (besides the guilt trip they attempt to lay on consumers i.e. “buy local”) is service. And when that is lacking they have nothing. I must say I received great service at Allreds yesterday but not always true. Free popcorn might not be enough to ensure Customer loyalty.

    • I’ve been accused on social media of having some sort of agenda by writing this. It’s been interesting.

      I don’t have negative feelings about Allred’s, but as you say, if I don’t feel like I’m getting good service, why am I going? If they literally do not have the tool I need (even though I think they should have exchanged my six-point for the twelve-point) why would I shop there?

      The big box store not only had the exact socket I was looking for, they had all the other ones that I mentioned in the story as well.

  2. several grocery stores replace anything I have a problem with. Walmart, Albertsons are good about it.

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