Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 152, April 2018Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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A Little Straight Talk About Tool Investments

Sometimes you just have to purchase a power tool that Highland Woodworking doesn't carry. In my case, it would likely be something more aligned with the construction sector… something not clearly at home in the typical woodworking shop… think things like power mixers, winches, reciprocating saws, framing nailers, etc. Like many people, I suppose, I revert to big-box store shopping and look for things that have a supposedly good reputation.

Several months ago, such a situation arose and I bought a tool from probably the current most ubiquitous mainstream brand on the market… a brand a lot of construction people are seen using. There was a bit of a hassle in acquiring it, since it seemed that of the 42 stores that carry that brand locally, no one had what I needed in stock, or if they did, the box it was in looked like it had gone three rounds with Mike Tyson when he was in a bad mood. Finally, I located one at a store some 26 miles away. The box looked only minimally damaged.

Figure 1 - If you are going to provide this option on
your website, you should respond faster than
47 DAYS and two separate attempts!
I used it the first day I got it, and all went well. In fact, I was pretty impressed. After a week, though, it started to give me trouble, and by the second week, would not work at all. Being the ever-dutiful customer, I remembered the admonishment inside the box "Do not return this product to the store, contact our customer service." I did, using their web site, and sent a polite and ever-so-complete description of the problem, included the product serial number, where purchased, purchase date, etc. That was on Jan. 19. On February 27, having received no follow-up, I sent another message, this time a tad less polite, but still within the bounds of common decency (even though I was sorely tempted to do otherwise). After another 8 days, I received a reply that I had sent my message to the wrong division of their company. Sorry, I will try to be a better customer in the future.

The reply this massive world-wide juggernaut of a company sent stated that they would forward my "issue" to the correct division and someone would get in touch with me. It's been two weeks, and I have still heard nothing. So, I tried calling the "customer service" number on the email they sent. The recorded message said, "Our office is now closed" and the call promptly disconnected. No chance to leave a message. It was 4:43PM in the Central time zone. I will try to call earlier tomorrow, and I will continue to try to be a better customer.

The next morning, I worked my way through the labyrinth of prompts and finally got transferred to a line that promised at some point a human would answer. I listened to a continuous stream of messages stating that the call volume was high, all operators were busy, and wait times were lengthy. Personally, I've always wondered what kind of message that message sends to customers… either your product is so bad that gazillions of people are calling with problems, or you care so little about customer service there is only one lone sad-sack person answering the calls, and he is overwhelmed. Well, either way, after 23 minutes, I got a person. After describing my problem, she promised to ship me a part. Three days later the part did arrive, however, with no installation instructions. I did finally noodle out the best way to disassemble the tool, install the new part, and the tool is working again.

As a study in contrasts, I will "back story" first and say that I have a fair bit of Festool equipment. Not as much as some folks you see with banks and banks of Systainers piled high in their shops, but by mere mortal standards, a fair bit. Four sanders, three Dust Extractors in different sizes, four drills, a track saw, router, a job site circular saw, jig saw, Domino machine… well, you get the picture. Once, and by the way, only once, I had to contact Festool with a product issue and they responded the same day with a call directly from a technician with knowledge and expertise of the specific product. He asked me to conduct a couple of tests while he held on the phone. Neither test indicated that it was anything that I could fix myself, so before he got off the phone he gave me an address to send the product. Within a few days I received not a repaired product, but a new product, and it has worked perfectly ever since.

Unfortunately, Festool does not make a tool like the one I had trouble with, but if they did, it would likely cost twice as much… and I would pay that price gladly… eagerly, in fact. Why?

First of all, with a 99.99% probability, a Festool version of the tool would still be working, and I would be getting work done. Second, if for some reason there were a problem, I could count on Festool to "make it right." So, when I occasionally hear a person complain about the price of Festool products, or worse, poke fun at the people who buy Festool tools, I forcibly restrain myself and try to be nice. But if you are one of those people, you owe it to yourself to try one vastly superior tool once in your life. It might open your eyes. All those tools you are continually buying and replacing from all those "cheaper" manufacturers are simply lining their pockets and you are rewarding them for making an inferior product. Worse, they offer little to no customer service after the sale. It makes you feel like they really appreciate you, doesn't it?

So here's a little straight talk for you… which is cheaper, buying the same tool over and over, five or six times in your woodworking "life," or buying a Festool once?

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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