Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jackass Award - Canadian Tire

Canadian Tire is a Canadian icon

Oh Canadian Tire. You are a Canadian Institution, an Icon of Canadiana, a part of the psyche of the vast majority of this country's people. Perhaps that is why I feel so betrayed by some of your corporate decisions, as of late.

No, It's not incorporating Mark's Work Wearhouse into your retail space. That actually makes some sense, though I don't naturally tend to think of my local CTC store when I need clothing (did buy a nice winter coat for work there, though!).

It's not even the fact that you lock all of the hand tools away in display cases, behind layered racks where I can't actually see or browse what you have, or that you recently did away with the little call buttons at the end of some aisles that (potentially) might summon one of your employees - who seem to be oddly hard to find at the times when you'd really like one - no, it's not even that.

Hmm. I wonder what's behind the first layer of rack?

It's your tools. Much as is the case with Sears in the United States (yet oddly, not so much here - likely due to your successes on this side of the border), Canadian Tire has long been known by handyman and homeowner alike as a source for decent quality tools. While you've often offered cheaper, lower quality tools (and that's fine; they have their place), you've provided Canadians with your Mastercraft brand of tools for decades, backing them up with the reassurance of a lifetime warranty. Okay, things got a bit confusing a while back when you brought out a "Professional" line of Mastercraft sockets and hand tools (their inferred better quality suggested non-Professional were junk, yet they had the same warranty), however we adapted and carried on. Then you changed them to "Maximum", just to increase our confusion. Does that make the other Mastercraft tools Minimum? I digress.

You'd best believe that warranty sells tools.

While some might joke about "Crappy Tire" tools, I've been quite comfortably making a living fixing cars for nearly 20 years using Mastercraft tools.

Mostly Mastercraft... are these. In a Mastercraft toolbox.

When I got started in the auto repair business, apprentices were not given any kind of tax breaks or incentives for tools as they are now, putting an extra crimp in my budget, so I bought my basics at Canadian Tire - right down to the 3 piece toolbox they're still stored in (and overflowing out of). Yes, I did spend just over $3000 on Snap-on tools at that time as well, which resulted in a disappointingly small pile, but the majority of my hand tools, both at home - where I have a less complete, redundant set - and at work, bear the Mastercraft name. There have been lots more added in the two decades that have followed. Imagine the Canadian Tire money I've earned... ... and the Brian Early money that Canadian Tire has received in exchange.

So what has me upset enough to want to hand you a Jackass Award? Well, CTC, my friend, you seem to have lost your way recently. First off - what's with the Stanley FatMax stuff? Why are you selling (and supporting, as it has a warranty too) a competing product to your home brand? It's not like Mastercraft and Mastercraft Maximum weren't already causing consumer confusion.

This whole diversification of your product range seems to be diluting the very essence of what defines your tools - and your brand as a whole. This is where my bugbear lies, and the reason I'm awarding you my booby prize. You no longer carry enough of the tools that you've sold, often in a set, but also individually, to be able to readily honour your warranty.

Used to be that I'd walk into my local Canadian Tire with my broken tool - usually a socket, as they tend to live a hard life - and I'd walk back out again with a replacement.

Look closely at the 9 o'clock position. See how the sides don't line up? This socket has split under load.

Not any more. My local store is the largest in the region. It did not have a replacement for this broken socket. Understandable if it was some obscure inverted torx or some other oddball; it is not.

Mastercraft for the win! Or not. (3/8" drive 14mm universal socket) I'm not even upset that it broke.

This is a 3/8" drive by 14 mm universal ("flex") socket. Second perhaps to Imperial-sized universals and straight sockets, about as common as you'll find in a mechanic's tool box. My local store had to special order one in, an easy enough process to initiate, but why? If I wanted to wait three days to a week to replace my socket, I could just buy a Snap-on or Mac or Matco, because their trucks come around roughly weekly, and will probably have several of these in stock. Sure, they cost more, but if I was in a real bind without it, I could call my tool rep and they'd likely swing by same-day to bail me out.

I'm not at all upset that it broke. Hell, I was tugging on it pretty earnestly when it finally rounded the corroded old fastener it was hanging on and split down the fluke. Any tool can fail, particularly when being worked hard and worked regularly. I recognize the cost advantage that Mastercraft tools have over those professional name-brand competitors, and I'm realistic in my expectations, even though I've been very pleasantly surprised over the years by just how well my Mastercraft stuff has lasted. In applications where my luck has not been so good, or where reliability or function is critical, I'll buy the pro-grade equipment (you can see it intermingled in my tool box drawer photos above).

What finally pushed me over the edge, compelling me to write a War and Peace-style Epic on Canadian Tire Corporation and Mastercraft tools was a twofold slight:

- Not being able to conveniently exchange what I felt was a common enough tool that it should be in stock, and not require ordering in. That is annoying, and negates one of the major benefits of owning your tools - ready replacement.

- The quality of the replacement tool, which is very clearly not of the same standards or even appearance of the tool that it replaced. (Don't even get me started on how Mastercraft's 3/8 drive "deep" sockets aren't as deep anymore.) The stamped-in size and Mastercraft logo are even upside-down, for Pete's sake! How it fares in use remains to be seen.

Ordered in, and does not appear to be of the same quality as the original. The stamped-in size and brand are even upside-down.

At some point in time a number of years ago, I purchased what I believed was a good quality socket. As expected, it served me well, and when it finally failed, I expected you to honour the lifetime warranty that you built in to the price of the tool. Now you're giving me what appears to be an inferior replacement. That is totally unacceptable, and discourages me from buying any other tools from you. If I wanted cheap tools of questionable quality that are still blessed with a warranty, there's another well-known Canadian business that would fit the bill. That's not what I want, and thus not what I bought. For that, Canadian Tire Corporation, I'm unhappy to present you with a Jackass Award.

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