Did you know there are two lines of Craftsman tools? One is controlled by Sears and the other is controlled by Stanley Black and Decker. When it comes to Sears vs Stanley Craftsman tools, there may be a difference, and it’s certainly confusing. Here’s how this confusion came to be.
In March 2017, Sears sold the Craftsman brand name to Stanley Black and Decker while retaining a license to continue to use the name itself until 2032. This is why you can buy Craftsman tools at Sears, yet find different Craftsman tools at other stores.
Sears Craftsman tools
Sears introduced the Craftsman line of tools in May 1927. Like other Sears brands, Sears didn’t manufacture them. Instead, Sears contracted out the work to other companies, who made the tools to Sears’ specifications and put the Craftsman logo on it.
Sears supported its Craftsman line with a lifetime no-questions-asked warranty. I can remember, early in my adult life, taking broken tools back to Sears and getting a replacement tool right off the store shelf. The tools were high enough quality that they didn’t break very often, but if they did, Sears had your back.
For decades, this warranty applied both to hand tools and power tools. In the 1990s, Sears did away with the lifetime replacement warranty on power tools. I knew people who abused it; presumably it became widespread.
But generally speaking, Craftsman tools were a good value for the money. The quality was comparable to other brands at a similar price point, and Sears stores were easy to find. Having the Sears network of stores and the lifetime warranty made Craftsman a safe choice in consumers’ minds. Up until 1989, Sears was the largest store in the country in terms of sales volume.
Why Sears sold Craftsman to Stanley Black and Decker
In 2005, Sears merged with Kmart, a discount retailer managed by venture capitalist Eddie Lampert. Lampert wanted to emulate Warren Buffet, and use Sears as the cornerstone of an empire that could rival that of Berkshire Hathaway.
It didn’t work out that way. Lampert ran the two stores on a tight budget, cutting corners on such things as remodeling and upkeep. The stores near me were nice when new, but after a few years of heavy foot traffic and low maintenance, the stores became run down and more reminiscent of Goodwill than a mid-tier retail store.
It caught up with Sears quickly. After five years of neglect, Sears was no longer profitable, and from 2011 to 2016 Sears lost an average of $2 billion a year.
Lampert didn’t buy Sears with the intent of being a corporate raider, selling off the company in pieces, but that’s what Sears turned into. Starting in 2014, Sears started selling off brands to raise money in order to stay open. In 2017, a near-bankrupt Sears sold Craftsman to Stanley Black and Decker, a huge tool conglomerate who lacked a solid mid-tier brand. Stanley brands its mid-tier tools with the brand name of Porter Cable, but Porter Cable makes high-end woodworking tools, so using it as a mid-tier brand probably isn’t good for that image.
Stanley wasn’t one of Sears’ major suppliers, but Stanley could slap the Craftsman name on its midrange products and trade off the brand recognition. It looked like a good fit.
Why Stanley Black and Decker sued Sears
Stanley paid $900 million for the Craftsman brand. In March of 2019, Stanley sued Sears for undercutting the Craftsman brand, positioning the Stanley-made tools sold in stores like Lowe’s as not genuine.
There certainly is room for confusion. While the difference in hand tools may not be a big deal for people, the power tools sold at Sears use different battery systems from the ones at Lowe’s or Ace Hardware.
The deal between the two companies seems to benefit Sears more than Stanley. Stanley may have assumed Sears would be out of business soon after the deal closed. They were almost right about that.
Sears Craftsman vs Stanley Black and Decker Craftsman
As a consumer, the main reason to be concerned about Sears Craftsman vs Stanley Craftsman is knowing that if you buy the tools at Sears, you can’t assume the batteries at other stores will work with them. And if you buy the tools somewhere else, don’t expect the batteries at Sears to work.
If, like many people, all the Sears stores near you are closed, you probably don’t have to worry about the difference. But if you live near one of the 235 Sears stores still open, keep the difference in mind. One isn’t better than the other, at least not consistently, but they are different.