A few days ago I received a shock when I found out the Woodcraft stores were no longer going to carry Lie-Nielsen products. I made an incorrect assumption that it was done by the former and not the latter. And then I was struck by a bolt of common sense and decided to query both parties to find out what was going on instead of jumping to what turned out to be incorrect conclusions.
(I would like to take a second here to apologize to Woodcraft for making said assumption.)
I sent a very simple inquiry to both Woodcraft and Lie-Nielsen, indicating I'd heard Lie-Nielsen tools were no longer going to be available at Woodcraft and that I was looking for more information on the matter.
Both responses came fairly promptly, but I'd gone out of town on business for two days and was unable to do anything with them until today. The response from Woodcraft was plain and straight-forward. They simply said, "Thank you for your inquiry. Lie-Nielsen decided to pull their product line from Woodcraft." I found that to be an appropriate and sound response, given the circumstances. The response from Patrick Jackson at Lie-Nielsen was even shorter! It said, "Hi Ethan, Please give me a call..."
So this morning I called Patrick - and a very pleasant conversation ensued. I didn't get his job title, but it was quite obvious his job duties focused on marketing and sales. Patrick explained that when Lie-Nielsen first teamed up with Woodcraft several years ago, it wasn't a business franchise - it was just one store. Lie-Nielsen could easily supply them with however many tools they needed and still sell their number one product - Quality.
Over the years, however, Woodcraft turned into a franchise and grew to the count of 80 stores. Supply issues started cropping up. It became harder and harder for Lie-Nielsen to provide them with a high quality product and, more importantly, good customer service. Lie-Nielsen believed the sales people at each Woodcraft store should have instruction in the use and care of Lie-Nielsen products (having worked in the SCUBA industry for several years, I know where he is coming from), but didn't have the staff to train so many people effectively. The demand for tools at all the Woodcraft stores started turning Lie-Nielsen into a production line that manufactured tools instead of a small business that made woodworking tools by hand. They finally made the decision to pull their products from the Woodcraft stores.
Patrick spoke to me in a language I could understand. Lie-Nielsen was trying to avoid one of the biggest pitfalls almost every small successful business makes - growing too big too fast and losing touch with why they went into the business in the first place. Working at a software company that has added almost 300 employees in under eight years, this is something I have experienced on a personal level, as well.
He further explained that by pulling back their distribution in the U.S., they were able to return a focus back on priorities - coming up with creative ideas, designing new tools, developing a new and better website (due to be launched in a few weeks), and making sure they provide a quality product and good customer service. At that point, we did discuss the one drawback to pulling their line from Woodcraft. One of the best ways to sell a quality hand tool is to put it in the customer's hand! They have now reduced the number of places we can actually pick up and hold a Lie-Nielsen tool by 80.
Patrick agreed that was a problem and a concern of the sales and marketing department at Lie-Nielsen. He said their goal over the next year or two is to sponsor or participate in tool demonstrations in at least 100 cities across the United States every year. I told him it sounded like a great idea and suggested he add St. Louis to the list (which he then did). He also said they are looking into working with a few select stores that still want to carry their products and hope to have that worked out in the near future.
At that point, I'd been on the phone with him for 15 minutes and needed to get back to work, so we said our goodbyes. While I lament the idea that I can no longer jump in my truck and drive 10 minutes to Woodcraft to spend my hard-earned money on a Lie-Nielsen chisel or saw, I now have a much better understanding of why Lie-Nielsen did what they did. What's more, I can't fault them their decision - I'd like to think it is the same thing I would have done, given similar circumstances.
I learned a long time ago that you get what you pay for. I also learned that sometimes patience is a virtue. With both of those thoughts in mind, I guess I'm not so put out by the fact that any future Lie-Nielsen purchases will have to include a week-long delay while my purchase is being shipped. It seems like a small price to pay to continue patronizing a small American business that provides me with quality woodworking tools.