It’s probably no accident that DeWalt has just introduced a new line of miter saws. Its president of professional products, John Schiech, has had a lot of experience with these saws in his personal life. A few years back, he and his wife saw some great moldings in Colonial Williamsburg, so John set about copying the design and installing them in his own home. Trouble is, like many of us, his timetable and his spouse’s timetable weren’t exactly the same. “The problem with my projects is they take a long time, and I get a lot of flak from my wife,” says John.
It may take John a long time to finish a project on the home front, but on the business front, he wasted little time bringing several new products to market. We’re not sure if it was a coincidence that two of the new products were 10″ and 12″ compound miter saws.
And at the show in Anaheim last week, the company displayed new cordless drills, new circular saws, new rotary lasers, new compressors and new nailers. In fact, says John, this has been the biggest year for new products at DeWalt since 1992.
The DeWalt brand is well recognized by contractors and professional cabinet shop folks, people who run their tools all day long. It’s become synonymous with reliable, long-lasting quality tools. Although that’s the company’s target audience, John also thinks DeWalt appeals to the serious woodworker as well. “If we build a product that can satisfy the life requirements of a professional end user, then the serious woodworker is going to be thrilled with it. He’ll never wear it out,” says John.
And, adds John, he’s been seeing a lot of serious woodworkers lately. “These woodworkers have demands for a power tool that approaches that of the professionals,” says John, “maybe not in terms of running the tool eight hours a day, five days a week*but they certainly want the precision and the features.”
DeWalt really worked on the precision for its new miter saws. Every saw is tested before it leaves the factory so it is accurate down to plus or minus 1/10th of a degree. “We have an almost maniacal attention to the precision of that miter cut,” says John. Even that’s not enough for some professionals, he confesses, so the company has made some suggested fine tunings for the truly discriminating miter sawyer.
In the tool business lately, however, the pressure to reduce prices–and thereby quality–has been strong. Says John, “In the power tool business today, with price becoming such an important element, it’s very tempting to degrade the products to hit price points and things like that. But we’ve been able to resist that temptation. We don’t worry about the fact that sometimes we’re one the higher end manufacturers out there.” If he’s not worried, it’s because his company takes the time to interviews hundred of customers at shows, in woodworking guilds and all over the place to find out what they want in their tools.
In those discussions, says John, price isn’t such an important factor;the conversations evolve around features and quality. Woodworkers want tools that last, are precise and that make them more productive. “We learned a long time ago that we were not the low cost producer in the power tool business,” says John. “And the only way we could successfully compete is to try to go out and be the best.”
Compressors represent a new branch of DeWalt’s business. The company bought Emglo, a well known compressor manufacturer, a few months ago and have now branded the tools with the yellow and black. It has also added a new nailers as part of the company’s pnuematic program. The new cordless drills also feature new motors with a three-speed transmission for hammer drilling in brick and cement. Getting more power out of battery powered tools is a constant challenge, says John, but he sees a real change in attitudes about cordless tools out there as a result. He says a lot of pros are beginning to look at their cordless tools as primary tools, not something to fall back on when the cords won’t reach.
While DeWalt is one of the best know names in power tools, we were a little surprised to find out about this power tool president’s secret bad habit: hand planes. Back when his kids were young, his wife wouldn’t let him turn on his power tools for fear of waking them, so John took up working with hand tools. He got hooked and is now building–with the help of eBay–a collection of hand planes that he uses in his shop. In fact, after his wife got her moldings, he embarked on his own project. It took three years to build, but John says he is very pleased with his brand new jointer’s workbench.
– Bob Filipczak