One thing that amazed me most at this year’s World of Concrete was when I saw several manufacturers trying to break into established markets and stake a claim to turf that has long been dominated by an elite group. When I saw various companies adding tools and equipment to their inventory that traditionally have come from a select few companies, I had to stop at their booths and question them.

Obviously they want to generate more business. Since concrete is the second most commonly used commodity on the planet, if they can supply us with our tools then they've secured a lucrative market. But I was completely stumped as to why these companies even thought they could get us to switch over to their products.

When people who have sold hammer-drills for years suddenly try to break into the chopsaw-quickcut market, or when companies I’ve never heard of suddenly are selling floats and trowels, it gets my attention. But the most surprising and informative booth of all was Fiskars.

Author Craig Cottongim (right) speaks with a rep from Halder at World of Concrete.
Author Craig Cottongim (right) speaks with a rep from Halder at World of Concrete.

Like many of you, I grew up swinging an Estwing hammer. At the Fiskars booth they were attempting to persuade passersby that their new line of hammers could replace the blue-handled Icon we’ve used for generations. They confidently answered my questions head on, and they didn’t back down when I challenged the boldness of their efforts to shoulder their way into a market long dominated by a well-known favored and trusted giant. I admit I was fairly impressed with their sledgehammers and their Isocore technology that reduces the shock that travels through our tools' handles all day long.

One reason this experience impacted me so strongly is because I can tell a lot about another tradesman simply by the brand of tools he carries. It got me thinking about brand loyalties and how we choose our tools.

Our mentors' tools

I doubt many of us have the time to research new tools, and it’s rare to have a tool rep on hand passing out samples of their new offerings. The starting point for many of us in concrete was selecting our tools because of the influence of our mentors. From there, perhaps a tool’s availability influences us. Then, it’s our personal experience with a tool and its dependability that ultimately plays a major role in our future purchasing decisions and what tools we will recommend to others.

What about cost? Just like healthier food is more expensive than junk food, decent tools and equipment will always cost more. Since our job depends on using tools, if we expect to perform at our best, we can’t settle on cheap tools. And for the love of your mother, please take care of your tools and they’ll take care of you.

Craig Cottongim's own bucket is loaded with tools.
Craig Cottongim's own bucket is loaded with tools.

For any manufacturer to gain a foothold in markets already dominated by the Greats, it’s going to be like grading concrete on a 3-inch slump. So at first I sloughed off this whole subject, since I figured their efforts were simply guided by their bottom line. But then it hit me.

The only way any of these companies will gain our loyalty is if they develop a line of innovative tools that provides us with better quality at a reasonable price. Which means, their “edge” becomes our advantage as we try to do the best job we can. I went from being skeptical as we walked from booth to booth to welcoming their efforts. So, may the best tools end up in our buckets!