Do Not Underestimate Harbor Freight Tools

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I posted about Harbor Freight’s Icon tool boxes the other day, and how Harbor Freight has significantly slashed their prices. I haven’t asked for an official comment yet, and still don’t know whether this move was planned or in response to low sales of their new premium-featured (and high-priced) tool storage line.

According to a January 2020 investor fact sheet, Lowe’s has 1728 store locations in the USA, and 249 in Canada.


Home Depot, according to their corporate website, has more than 2200 stores in the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

At this time, Harbor Freight has “1000+” stores in the USA.

There are two Harbor Freight stores closer to me than the nearest Lowe’s store, and a third just beyond that. All this is to say that there are a lot of Harbor Freight stores, and they’re within reach.

Have you been to a Harbor Freight store recently? They’re big, and they’re mostly filled with tools, plus related equipment, accessories, and supplies.

From a numbers standpoint, would it be fair to say that Harbor Freight is more than half the size of Lowe’s, and closing in on half the size of Home Depot? This seems possible, from a number of store locations standpoint.

Since Harbor Freight is a private company, there’s no sales data, information about growth, or details regarding in-store vs. online sales.

Still, we can conclude that 1) Harbor Freight is a large company, and 2) Harbor Freight is a successful company. Companies don’t grow and add retail locations without making money.

Sears used to have the largest tool departments, with huge amounts of floor space committed to Craftsman tools and other brands. That is no longer the case.

Yes, home improvement stores also have a lot of floor space dedicated to tools and related products. But Harbor Freight is all-tools.

To me, this gives Harbor Freight great potential to be a fiercer competitor.

Right now, there’s a lot of chatter about Lowe’s “closing the gap” and catching up to Home Depot. But when it comes to tools, everyone seems to forget that Harbor Freight is an increasingly big player.

While a lot of people scoff about Harbor Freight tool quality – and I can say I used to be in that group – Harbor Freight sells a lot of tools to a lot more people.

I bought a whole lot of Harbor Freight hand and cordless power tools a couple of months ago. Some of them are abysmal, others are quite usable and in fact I might even consider them competitive.

Personally, I think Harbor Freight’s marketing could stand to be shifted a little, but it seems to be working for them. Harbor Freight compares many of their tool offerings against higher priced alternatives, but in a lot of those cases they’re not quite apples to apples comparisons.

It can be said that you don’t go to Harbor Freight for quality, and that you go their for cheap and even disposable tools, but that seems to be truer for critics and not loyal return customers.

Harbor Freight’s Icon hand tools appear to be quite popular. When I asked about Hercules cordless power tools, and when they’d get more in stock, I was told many customers were asking the same questions.

A lot of people are happy with Harbor Freight tools, and continue to buy more.

Harbor Freight has been striving to innovate and not just compete against higher priced tools but build up brands of high quality and strong features.

When a big box home improvement store wants to bring new tools to their stores, they have to make space for them, and there might be other parties involved in the discussion. Harbor Freight doesn’t need to tip-toe around corporate agreements, they can shift things around as they please. I’d think this gives them greater power to deploy new tools and product offerings.

Let’s sum it up:

Harbor Freight has 1000+ stores.

Harbor Freight presumable doesn’t have to make decisions based on corporate agreements with other brands.

Harbor Freight has a huge customer base.

I would presume that many Harbor Freight customers are loyal or at least returning customers.

We need to take them more seriously. I realized this in recent years, but I don’t think a lot of people realize how large and capable Harbor Freight has become as a company.

I would agree that Harbor Freight has been too complacent with their public opinion, but they are trying to change that and push forward with new higher quality and more featured tools and brands.

There’s more that they could do. If a brand like Tekton can refresh their public image and steadily introduce value-priced USA-made hand tools, why can’t Harbor Freight?

Harbor Freight isn’t flexing their power as well as they can, but that doesn’t mean they should be underestimated.

Harbor Freight is only going to get bigger, and with that potentially more influential.

Right now, a lot of Harbor Freight’s flagship products seem to be copies, inspired by other brands’ leading products. How long before Harbor Freight starts pushing boundaries?

They have acquired new talent in recent years, engineers and product designers who are honing their skills developing products inspired by the best other brands have to offer. That’s okay, it’s what a lot of tool brands do.

How long before Harbor Freight runs with some ideas and focuses not on lowering prices, but on making something better?

The big focus on most of their tools, even the new higher-quality ones, is on “hey look, ours is just as good, but lower priced.”

Will this change? Perhaps, but possibly not. Why break a business model that has been working just fine?

But if, and that’s a really big “if,” Harbor Freight flips the switch on a small sub-section of their offerings – just one brand even – that’ll be a big and disruptive shift to the industry.

Sears and Craftsman used to dominate the consumer steel tool storage industry, and I doubt that’s still true. I bet Harbor Freight has scooped up a lot of that market share. What other tool-related segments will they take appreciable bites out of?

All I’m saying is this – don’t underestimate Harbor Freight Tools. They are a goliath with many stores and a huge customer base.

They’re not making as many waves in the industry as they could right now, and the ones they are making are largely going unnoticed.

Harbor Freight is growing and strengthening, and their potential to influence the tool industry is gaining steam.

Do you think Harbor Freight is content with the way things are now, or are they working towards building something different?

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