Hilti has launched a two-year, no-quibble guarantee on its tools, hoping to convince the cautious British customer that, while they might have to pay a little bit more for Hilti's products, they will save money in the long run. Andrew Gaved gets his calculator out
TOOL giant Hilti is no stranger to stirring up the waters of the UK power tool industry. Its enthusiastic calls for independent testing of vibration of tools, rather than relying on manufacturers' data, have caused apoplexy among some rivals.
The tool manufacturing sector's scepticism is understandable. The concept of independent testing, commonplace in the automotive industry, is virtually unheard of in the more conservative world of construction.
But Hilti's latest campaign looks set to really send its rivals into a flat spin, since it delves into a subject regarded as something of a dark art among retailers of all hues ? from tools to washing machines ? and which is shrouded in mystery as far as many customers are concerned: the warranty.
Rather than mess around with a tide of condit ions, small print and exclusion clauses, Hilti is offering a two-year, no-cost, no-quibble guarantee on its most popular tools. The offer includes wear and tear and free maintenance if service intervals are reached ? a package it believes no other manufacturer offers nor will even contemplate.
It is also offering capped costs of servicing for wear and tear repairs and a manufacturer's warranty on faulty parts for the lifetime of the tool.
Hilti has decided that one of the key strengths of its tools is their 'whole life cost' ? a concept more commonly used in relation to bigger equipment.
It is banking on the fact that, despite being more costly to buy outright than rivals' tools, the quality of its components and design, coupled with bet ter product ivity, will make them more economical to own over the life of the tool.
But British customers are often unwilling to stump up the 30-50 per cent cash premium for a Hilti tool, so to encourage new users to take the plunge the firm has elected to take away all their repair costs for the first two years.
The controversial part is that Hilti reckons that, while other manufacturers all have warranties in place, they all ? without exception ? result in the user paying somewhere along the line.
The firm estimates that a whopping £65 million a year is spent on repair and service, often by users who assume they are covered by the warranty. This figure has been arrived at by taking Hilti's maintenance costs and factoring up the total from its own market share.
According to product manager Walid Hussain, the costs can easily mount up for servicing a warrantied tool, with small print exposing a range of costs.
'First of all, the warranty will only cover the tool if it has a manufacturing fault; it doesn't cover the wear and tear. Then there is the cost of transport to and from the repairer, which is often a third party.
'And the key element that is rarely factored in is the downtime while the user is wait ing for his tool to come back.' This k ind of talk is likely to get many r ivals reaching for their paperwork, if not their lawyers.
So, to put its money where its mouth is, Hilti has been busy taking a survey of how much a user might pay during the lifetime of a range of comparable tools. The results are expected in March.
Rather than mess about with clauses, Hilti is promising to replace anything that has suffered wear and tear, ranging from the obvious rotor and brushes to the power cable and even the plug if necessary.
'We have been able to calculate the risk of this because we know the service history of all our tools and, since we repair them ourselves, we know the costs involved, ' says Joel Rood, managing director of the UK operation.
A key element in this calculation, the firm maintains, is that the tools are designed to last and be easily serviced.
Mr Hussain brings out one of his visual aids to demonstrate the design difference ? a Hilti tool in cross section, together with a competitor model that has been deftly sliced in two 'We have a replaceable chuck section, which makes things simple when servicing, ' he says. 'We have a sealed oil unit, which avoids contamination. The piston is more durable and uses a 'floating' mass rather than a connected spring system that can wear.
'And unlike many other tools the motor is mounted away from that mass, rather than behind it, and so avoids impact.' Given that the estimated turnaround for a repair is 3-5 days from owner's location to Hilti's workshop and back , Mr Hussain says it is in everyone's interest to replace components that are approaching the limits of wear, as well as those that are completely worn.
To drum his point home he flourishes a series of natty graphs factoring in all the costs of a Hilti machine and typical competitor, visually demonstrating that the user saves in the long run.
Lest this does not convince, he adds another salient point for the contractor and his accountant.
'It allows the user to budget with confidence his entire tool costs for the first two years, ' he says. 'One of our customers who is an insulation installer said he would lose five houses' worth of work for every tool that has to be repaired, so it is in his interests to pay for durability.
'It is the customer's decision, do you expect the tool to last you, or do you want a consumable?
It is a clear choice, pay less up front and throw the tool away or pay more and keep it running, ' Mr Rood adds emphatically.
Then he adds, more philosophically: 'But actually convincing British customers of that can be quite a struggle.'