A Tale Of Three Hardware Stores

It was the best of bargains, it was the worst of deals, it was the age of wisdom of crowds, it was the age of foolishness of the masses, it was the epoch of hope, it was the era of skepticism, it was the season of rain, it was the season of … more rain. — with apologies to Charles Dickens

While the kids work on (science | history) fair projects, I got out of the house to do maintenance on a geocache I adopted, buy double-sided tape (for the science fair board), and cruise for new tools for my birthday.  My spouse doesn’t quite grok how buying tools is the forty-something male’s equivalent to nesting. The thing I really wanted was some Philips screwdrivers to replace the ones whose tips had worn off. If I found anything else, well…

Stop 0: The geocache. Its first waypoint is cleverly done: metal tag on the side of a man-hole pipe — right out in the open, but oh-so-easily overlooked, even if you’re looking for it. I was hoping it was just covered by mother nature. However, after dislodging clover around the circumference, I conceded defeat. Replacing it will require some metal stamping tools and sheet metal. More for the shopping list!


Stop 1: Harbor Freight Tools. If you want commodity products with burly brands like “Pittsburgh“, but only want to pay for limited usability, this is your place. For screwdrivers that I don’t want to strip the tips on… I’d keep shopping. However, for epoxy and metal stamp kit I expect to use no more than five times (such as repairing a geocache), it’s perfect. After considering the three-letter size options far longer than I should have, I went with the medium-sized set priced at $15.  Another 33% was taken off at the register. The set is heavy, coated in a weird, viscous fluid whose smell I can’t quite wash off my hands, and claims the stamps will work up to 9000 times.

Shopping experience: no help offered or sought. Overall store organization takes some getting used to.  Items on the shelves had price tags clearly displayed. Music played at uneven volumes throughout the store. It’s clear there’s a clientele who shops here regularly as people were looking for items enumerated in the ads.

Check-out experience: they requested my ZIP code, then wanted to up-sell me to the Insight Track membership so I can have VIP access to their “parking lot sale.”   Cashier was otherwise easy-going.

Length of receipt: 10 3/4 inches.

Stop 2: Sears. The Harbor Freight Tools screwdrivers I received as a gift a few years ago were wearing out. Since I had a gift card, I wanted to get some good ol’ Made in USA and backed by a warranty.

Shopping experience: Help was offered, but they had to ask someone if they carried double-sided tape.  (They did not.)  While shopping, there were a cluster of employees discussing how dropping a torque wrench ruins its precision and whether this would be covered under warranty. (Thinking to myself: What person hasn’t dropped a tool?) Selection was fine. A budget brand was displayed next to the made-in-USA tools I sought. The package of six screwdrivers (three flat, three Philips) was $2 more than the three individual Philips ones I wanted.

Check-out experience: they requested my ZIP code, then wanted to up-sell me to the Craftsman Club. After declining, she asked if I wanted to sign up for a Sears Card for a $25 discount.  No eye contact was made.  On the way out, another woman stopped me to offer coupons on fencing (the yard kind, not the “fending off marketing” variety).  I was regretting my purchase.

Length of receipt: 34 1/2 inches, but divided into three strips. Strip one was the receipt and a request to fill out their satisfaction survey.  Strips two and three were … (wait for it…) more offers.

Stop 3: Ace Hardware.  I was going to cash in the free coffee coupon at Starbucks and realized I hadn’t yet gotten the double-sided tape, hey, there’s an Ace, “let’s try it.”  The store was a lot larger than it appeared from the outside (being in the corner and all that).  The tape was right up front, too.  While I was there, I thought I’d take a peek for a sheet of metal on which I’d use my stamp kit, only I wasn’t sure where that would be.  An employee with one of those Secret Service headsets asked if he could help.  I roughly described what I wanted to do, he asked some good, qualifying questions, then led me to what I needed.  Whoa.

Shopping experience: Whoa.  (For emphasis.)  Help was offered and was very useful.  I appreciated being led to the products rather than directed to some vague area of the store.

Check-out experience: they asked if I was an Ace Rewards member.  No pressure or offer to join.  Cashier made eye-contact.

Length of receipt: 6 3/4 inches.

Conclusion: I probably could have done all of my shopping at Ace, giving me more time to enjoy coffee and sneak away to Safeway’s deli for the Tuscan Chicken sandwich.


4 thoughts on “A Tale Of Three Hardware Stores”

  1. I’m amused at how the quality of the experience is inversely proportional to the length of the receipt. But that’s consistent with experiences I’ve had, too!

    Btw, I didn’t even know that “metal stamping kit” was a product you could buy. Visions of a new fun hobby/craft are now whirling through my head. 🙂

    1. Kiri – the stamping kit has not worked as well as I had hoped. The 9, 8 and 3 all look alike which isn’t going to bode too well for someone finding tupperware under a light post. I am wondering if it’s bad technique on my part or if I should have opted for the larger mark. I am probably going to seek out a trophy store to engrave it.

  2. > The set is heavy, coated in a weird, viscous fluid whose smell
    > I can’t quite wash off my hands

    Is it machine oil (or some derivative thereof)? A lot of the “cheap but cheerful” tools we get over here come coated in the stuff, to prevent them rusting on their sea voyage from China/India/Russia.

    1. Steve – It may be machine oil. The tools at HFT have not been very high quality. For example, the screwdriver points get warped very easily whereas the Klein and Craftsman screwdrivers I’ve had since graduate school were in better condition.

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