Bosch, a brand name long allied with professional cabinetmakers and building contractors, is in the midst of a major facelift. With the help of big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, the recently created Robert Bosch Tool Corporation will offer a wider depth and range of tools to both professionals and serious hobbyists ready to take a step up in quality. Under the leadership of Reiner Beutel (chairman, president, and chief executive officer) the organization unifies Bosch with its Skil power tool line, Dremel, the Vermont-American family of accessories, and the Gilmour Group lawn and garden division.
According to Bosch company spokesperson Beth Karkosak, most woodworkers won’t perceive a huge change as a result of the restructuring.
” The changes will be transparent to the consumer,” said Beth. “We are maintaining the distinct brand identities. Bosch are professional-grade power tools, Skil is more consumer-oriented, Dremel is our specialty tool line, and our accessories will remain branded within each division to make sure they’re connecting with the right consumer!”
In North America, the company used to be called S-B Power Tool Company and comprised Bosch Power Tools, Skil Power Tools, and Dremel, while the Vermont American Corporation comprised Vermont American and Gilmour.
“Bosch is an old company rooted in a lot of history,” explained Beth. “It started in 1886 in Stuttgart, Germany, and has major automotive, household appliance, and production tool divisions. But it’s always been involved with woodworking and actually invented the jigsaw in 1947. It’s an interesting story … the inventor at Bosch was watching his wife sew and, looking at her sewing machine, thought, why can’t I put a blade on that and cut through wood?”
Bosch tools were first introduced to North America in the late 1960s, mostly as rental tools for the construction industry. As more and more people experienced their quality, interest in the company’s other tools began to grow in the early 1980s. Then in the mid-’90s, Bosch formed a strategic alliance with Emerson.
That alliance eventually brought the Skil Power Tools line into the Bosch family, which, along with its consumer-oriented jigsaws, cordless drill/drivers, and screwdrivers, included the famous Skil Saw … a brand name that’s become synonymous with circular saws. And, since Emerson had acquired Dremel in 1973, their rotary tool line has become another key element in Bosch’s restructuring.
One of the big internal changes for the company, though it will be transparent to consumers, is the consolidation of most operations to Bosch’s North American headquarters in Chicago. Skil was always in the Chicago area, and Dremel will stay for now in Racine, Wisconsin. But bringing up all the accessories folks who were down in Louisville, Kentucky, allows the company to work more seamlessly together and reduces costs.
According to Beth, Bosch is the largest power tool manufacturer in the world. And throughout most of the world — particularly in Europe, Asia, and South America, where concrete construction is the norm — Bosch has been a long-time, major player in the construction industry. But according to Beth, that meant the tools were slow to catch on with the frame-construction-based North American builders and contractors. And up until fairly recently, Bosch tools were only available through specialty shops that catered to the professional market. But, with the emergence of the big box stores, that’s begun to change.
Working with the large chains can be a challenge, but with their proliferation — there are now around 1,500 Home Depot and 850 Lowe’s stores across the United States — Bosch has to be there. As Beth explained it, one of the big boxes might decide to redo its cordless area and do a line review of all the power tool companies. Once a decision is made, the company usually has only a couple of months to prepare for it.
As Beth explained it, the ideal situation would be to bring the retailer a prototype, which they love, and then build into it production and manufacturing time … so Bosch is making 500,000 instead of 200,000. In the real world, however, they’re usually selecting a fully developed product, and it’s Bosch’s problem to fill the inventory. Some companies, Beth added, will make changes to their products to meet a certain price point or create an exclusive for the retailers, but Bosch build its tools at a certain level and prices them for that level.
Developing new tools usually combines European and North American design. Tools sold over here are manufactured domestically and overseas. Some products developed in Europe don’t catch on over here. And some products, such as the cordless line, were developed specially for the North American market and then turned around and successfully marketed in Germany!
“Bosch does not market every tool it makes in North America, because in some instances there simply isn’t a need,” explained Beth, “The percentage of North American sales — compared to global sales — is relatively small. But our plan is that you will see that change in the near future!”
Bosch divides its sales force into two divisions — retail and industrial. In addition to the aforementioned national chains, the retail area includes Menards in the Midwest, larger independent stores, and a wide range of online retailers. That leaves over 2,500 professional outlets for the industrial division. Most of them are smaller shops, but on the West Coast it includes bigger stores like White Cap or Orco.
And, finally … we put it to Beth, what is it that woodworkers can get from Bosch tools better than other brands?
“Precision,” she explained. “That’s what brought professionals to our brand originally. Our routers have fine micro-adjustments, and our jigsaws don’t shake or wiggle … so you get straight precise cuts. Precision is one of our best attributes, but it also means we’re not bringing something out that is not superior and a cut above the rest … so we take a long time to come to market with new tools. But if a woodworker is putting some trim on a mantel, he needs a tool that allows him to get the job done perfectly. If we let them down we’ve lost a customer.”