The Sears/Kmart dot com = Horrible Commerce Sites and Craftsman made over seas?

First let me clear the air, the sears.com / kmart.com (And all other domains it takes itself on as) are horrible sites for web commerce. Also troubling is the trend to manufacture Craftsman hand tools over seas.

Searching for Craftsman Tools on a Mobile Device

Searching for Tools on sears.com with a mobile device is nearly impossible. First, the search on the mobile site is terrible. Second, most of the content is not there. The worst part is there is no way to switch from the mobile site back to the regular site. Hint: iPhone and Android based phones don’t need a mobile site. I usually prefer the regular site on my iPhone or Android phone 99% of the time.

My alternative method of finding stuff on sears.com from my mobile device is to search Google. Well, guess what, when you navigate to the link, the sears.com site refreshes to a mobile version of the same page, which in most cases does not exist because the mobile site doesn’t have all the content as the main site.

What can Sears do to improve this situation? They can add a link at the bottom of the mobile site to allow users to switch to the regular one.

Why should they do this? Because it can make the difference of a customer coming to the store or not. Last thing I need is going to a store to find they don’t sell what I’m looking for.

Intermingling of Products on Sears.com that are not sold by Sears

First, if you’re not aware, many of the items on sears.com are not sold by Sears. Let me be clear what I am saying, there are items on sears.com not sold by Sears or companies that are part of Sears like Kmart or the Great Indoors. There are products on sears.com sold by other, competing businesses. Why does Sears sell their web real-estate to other businesses? My only guess is that someone pitched the idea to be like “Amazon.com” at a board meeting but didn’t think it through. Unfortunately, someone didn’t explain the Amazon.com model very well to the sears web developers, and what you end up with is a web site that pulls away customers from Sears to other vendors. Signs of an Amazon.com model would include products that are shipped and processed by Sears, with Sears products featured first. Quite the opposite, it appears non-Sears products get priority in search, and worse yet they compete against Sears in number of ways.

Further harming Sears, there appears to be a glitch in Sears’ web application as non-Sears businesses are capable of selling identical Sears merchandise, and those items are featured over the same items sold by Sears, even if Sears has the lowest price on the item. Take the following example:

Craftsman 7 Piece Standard Nutdriver Set (link). As of this writing, this 7 piece set costs 112.83 and is sold by “OnlineSuperSeller” (not Sears). When you search Sears.com for “Craftsman nutdriver”, you get the following results (as pictured) with the 2nd and 3rd results being Craftsman nut drivers listed at nearly 4 times their normal retail price.

After some additional searching, I finally found the product I was looking for (link). Though the Craftsman part numbers are different, the 4-5 digit number is not something I refer to when I look for products. Incidentally a search for “nut driver” with the space in between the two words has completely different search results.

Production Dilution

The web site is diluted by products that compete with their own line of products. For example, when you go to a Sears store, they have 1-2 alternatives to Craftsman Tools (Evolv Sears economy line of tools and GearWrench. Online you have even more brands, most of which again are not sold by Sears or affiliated companies.

Different Prices on Different Pages

When you do the search for “nut driver” and find the nut driver set in question, it will be priced 26.99. When you go to the actual product’s page, the price changes to $29.99. I am sure many customers get this far, see the price change, then immediately leave the page. Those that swallow the price increase and add the item to the cart, they will magically see a $3 discount to the item, bringing the price back to 26.99. Unfortunately, how many customers is Sears loosing when the customer changes their mind when the price changes?

Non-Intelligent Search

The search system for normal (not mobile) Sears and related web sites is horrible. Take for example, a search for “Craftsman Combination wrench set”. The first 2 results are a couple of combination sets, 6 point wrenches, which is good, but then to find more combination wrench sets, you need to brwose beyond the rest of the first 25 results to find more sets. I shouldn’t see individual wrenches when I search for “sets”.

To add insult to injury, the search box does not keep what you last entered, which means if your search isn’t giving you the results you want, you have to re-type everything in.

Craftsman Tools no longer made in USA

I don’t necessarily have a problem with tools being made all over the world, but I do have a problem with the current trend at Sears/Craftsman to move previously made in USA tools off-shore. At first I was not concerned because it appeared obvious that the “Evolv” line (priced accordingly) are made over seas while the traditional Craftsman and Craftsman Professional tools are made in the USA. The price difference between Evolv and Craftsman reminds you that your paying for quality tools made by your own fellow citizens. The first sign of Craftsman tools no longer being made in the USA was when I purchased one of the new Craftsman Dog bone wrenches. When I got home I was surprised to see “made in China” stamped on it. At that point I accepted the idea that perhaps new tools will be made over-seas. More interestingly, the Harbor Freight dog-bone wrenches are identical to the Craftsman dog-bone wrenches.

More recently I’ve been shopping for a set of flare wrenches. When I looked at the Craftsman Professional flare wrench set, I discovered they are now made over seas. This scares me, because over the past 20+ years I’ve been purchasing Craftsman hand tools, usually priced 2-3 times more than their import counterparts, with the satisfaction that I was buying a quality tool made in the USA. I have no problem paying a premium knowing the money I spend is paying some tool makers salary somewhere in the country. If someone told me back in 1993 that in 20 years from now the tools you buy will no longer be made in the USA, I wouldn’t have bought them. I’m not questioning quality of the tools, I have some tools from Harbor Freight made in China and they’re great. My issue is with what I thought the brand represented, and apparently I was wrong.

Again, new or specialty tools made over seas with a Craftsman logo on them I can understand. I have a vintage (made in the 70’s-80’s) Craftsman Distributor wrench 9/16″ #47755 that’s made in Japan. Craftsman no longer makes the wrench, most likely because cars no longer have distributors, so it was a smart move on their part not to invest on the tool and die here in the states for such a tool. But the idea of the core hand tools no longer being made in the USA yet still having the premium pricing bothers me.

Lowes just recently completed their transition to a made over-seas tool line,  and I’ve made a point never to buy Kobalt tools. If I find out the traditional Craftsman wrenches and hand tools are produced over seals then Craftsman will go on my “never buy list as well”.

By the way, if you are looking for USA made tools, try Wright Tool (made in Barberton, Ohio!), Williams (division of Snap-on), or Masterforce (a Menards brand, not all Masterforce tools are USA made, but most are).

My Thoughts

Sears has a lot of brands with brand recognition built up over many years that is now negatively impacted by a poorly executed web site and possibly poor decision making on where some of their items are made (Craftsman no longer made in USA). Though I love going into a Sears store when shopping for Tools, between the web site making it difficult for me to make the decision to go to the physical store and the fact that the product brand I seek now has issues that trouble me, I find it harder and harder to pick going to a Sears store over my local Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes or Menards.

What can Sears do to fix the problems? Stop meddling with the Craftsman line and put out a press release guaranteeing that their tools will remain made in USA. Stop trying to be like Amazon, and use their web site to re-enforce sales at your local stores. Physical stores should use their web sites to reinforce sales at the stores, making the web site compete with the stores is just a bad business practice in my opinion, unless your plan is to eventually close all the stores. Fix the search system by adding better product descriptions, incorporating product importance weights and creating special search algorithms for different departments (e.g. a Tool finding widget). Keep pricing consistent, if you show a price on a web page, make sure the same price appears on all other pages. I would take down the mobile site and only replace it when developers use the same database and infrastructure as the regular site  and include the ability to go back to the regular site.

Pegboard in the Garage and Snags Tearing Down the Pontiac 301 Turbo


PegboardThis Memorial Day weekend I got to do some work around the house. My initial plan was to start building the Pontiac 400, but I recently discovered I needed one more part (Cam thrust plate) and it did not arrive yet, so I decided to work on the firewall and other various little parts on the Trans Am. After spending about an hour in the garage moving stuff around, I decided to switch my car project to a Garage improvement weekend. By Monday I installed 64 square feet of pegboard and enough hangers/hooks to get just about everything shy of 15 pounds off the garage floor.

On Monday I started work on tearing down the Pontiac 301 Turbo. If you’re not familiar with the Pontiac 301 Turbo, it was made in 1980 and 1981 for the Pontiac Trans Am and Formula making it a rather rare engine. Some say it was ahead of it’s time, others say it was plagued by it’s oil cooled turbo charger. It was the last true Pontiac designed V8. What ever your thoughts on this short lived engine are, once I confirmed that my Trans Am was not a special edition, I decided to swap it out with a Pontiac 400. Since last fall this V8 has been sitting in the garage just taking space. This weekend I decided it was time to take it apart to see what was wrong with it and recycle what ever parts that can be reused. Believe it or not, this engine shares a lot with it’s larger cousins (350, 400 and 455) such as engine mounts, fuel pumps and the bell housing.

During the initial tear down I ran into a couple snags. First was the flywheel bolts having 12 point heads. My plan was to use my compressor with the impact wrench attached. My plan went foul once I discovered that the impact sockets I got with my compressor are all 6 point. A run to the neighborhood home improvement stores showed me how rare 12 point impact sockets are. I do understand that a 6 point socket is better for 6 point bolt heads and that’s most likely why the 12 point impact sockets are hard to find, but come on, someone has to sell 12 point impact sockets! When you’re dealing with a 12 point bolt head, you can’t use a 6 point socket.

So after doing some online shopping, I found that only a handful of tool companies make such sockets. Sadly most all of these sockets are through brands like Snap-On, which make the tools too expensive for a weekend mechanic like myself. I did find a set of 12 point SAE impact sockets on Amazon.com that meets my price range. (see picture). They also have 12 point metric impact sockets.

The second snag working on the 301 Turbo came when I made a rookie mechanic mistake! I am using an engine leveler for lifting the motor, that way I can easily level the engine with the engine hoist/cherry picker. I recall today reading somewhere “Always connect engine levelers and engine hoist chains using grade 8 bolts to engine heads. Avoid connecting to bell housing or aluminum intake manifolds when possible“. Well I learned yesterday the hard way why you don’t connect your engine hoist to the bell housing! When I got ready to bolt the engine to the engine stand, you can guess the colorful language that came out of my mouth! Lesson learned the hard way, never never NEVER ever use the bell housing when lifting an engine!

 

My Enthusiasm for Pontiac Continues

Trans AmIf you’ve talked about cars with me in recent months, you know I’m in the process of restoring a 1981 Trans Am. I bought the car knowing the motor needed rebuilt or replaced. Last fall I picked up a Pontiac 400 V8 (more specifically, a W72 from a 77 Trans Am with the transmission and carburetor, the W72 is arguably the last great V8 designed by Pontiac engineers).

Since about October, I’ve been doing a lot of research on Pontiac V8’s built from 1955-1982, as well as other research specific to the mid to late 1970’s Firebirds. I quickly found that I have about 30 significant web sites I now visit to read about Pontiac engine specifics, as well as about a dozen or so vendors who sell Pontiac specific parts. I also have accumulated over 200 bookmarks. the process has lead me to become rather frustrated. There’s lots of great information, but it’s all over the place and no one has a really good site map to all of these sites. Out of this frustration I am going to launch a new web site that will link to everything I’ve bookmarked. Stay tuned for an official announcement when the site is launched.

Aside from the Pontiac site-map web site I have planned, I’m also going to launch a video podcast of all the work I do on the car. Expect an announcement on that sometime this month as well.

The Details

My original plan was to freshen up the 400 I picked up last fall and drop it into the Trans Am. After stripping the top end of the motor down I discovered a lot of rust in the top of the heads and a lot of sludge in the oil pan. At this point it became obvious I would need to tear the motor down further.

In October, I finally got the motor further apart and found a lot of carbon build-up on the pistons, and I also found during the break down that an exhaust manifold stud was broken inside of the drivers side head. I reluctantly decided then I needed to take at least the heads to a machine shop. After further dis-assembly, I decided it would be worth the money to have the motor completely rebuilt.

I decided to take the heads, block and crank to Kauffman Racing Equipment located here in Ohio. They did a great job and kept me updated through the entire process.

Over Christmas I got a few books and a video on engine rebuilding. After reading the books and watching the video I decided that I (Yes I) will rebuild this motor myself! I was able to take it apart, I should be able to put it all back together, right? Following this decision, I’ve done the following:

  • Researched and purchased torque wrenches (I will have a detailed post about my research in the coming months)
  • Researched and purchased other specific tools (caliper, feeler gauge, bore gauge, plasti-gauge)
  • Researched and purchased specific books on Pontiac V8’s made from 1955-1979 (there is not much documentation for the last 3 years of Pontiac v8’s unfortunately)
  • Researched and purchased books on the Rochester Quadrajet carburetor
  • Took a welding class where I learned how to stick and MIG weld
  • Research specifics to the Pontiac V8 (350, 400, 455 cubic inch family specifically)

Last week I picked up my block, heads and crank from the Kauffman Racing and boy they look great. I have new pistons, new rods, a turned crank, 400 block bored .030 over , and new stainless steel valves and springs on 6x-4 heads. Oh, and the crank, rods and pistons have been balanced as well. Based on a compression calculator, I estimate the new compression of this motor is somewhere between 8.3:1 to 8.5:1. The head gasket I end up using will be the final determining factor of compression. Either way, 8.5:1 is ideal, that way I can run unleaded gas from any gas station in the country.

The Pontiac Community is Awesome!

I’ve met some pretty cool car guys that have been very helpful through the project. I will say that the stereotype that many folks associate with 70’s muscle car owners could not be further from the truth. It’s a pretty diverse crowd of car enthusiasts from all walks of life. What has surprised me is how many younger folks younger than I are 100% into the hobby. Another common trait seems to be hard work and dedication, which appears to not only show in their love of Pontiac but also in their careers and family life. What blows my mind is how GM not only failed to capitalize on this passion for the brand over the past years, but they completely turned this community away when they ended Pontiac.

What’s Next

The next 2-3 months will include rebuilding the motor, painting the engine bay, fixing the turn signal and the T-tops. Hopefully by summer she’ll be on the road!

Stay tuned, I’ll be posting pictures of the motor soon.

Project Trans Am – Focusing on the Engine

To update on the progress of my project 1981 Trans Am, the Turbo motor has been successfully pulled and I’m now in the process if getting it sold. So if you’re looking for a Pontiac Turbo 301 from a 1981 Trans Am to rebuild or for parts, please contact me!!! I’m going to keep some of the core parts for the Turbo just in case I need them for the other motor.

Pontiac 400 W72 EngineIn late August I acquired a Pontiac 400 V8. It is a Pontiac 400 from a 1977-78 Trans Am with the W72 option. Click here to read details about the motor. What makes this engine special is the heads, which are 6x-4 higher compression. Even though this engine does not have the same compression as some of the older Pontiac 400’s, it should be just right for the desired mixture of performance and economy I’m looking for in a car I can drive on an almost daily basis. The motor included the TH-350 automatic transmission with the original torque converter as well as the original carburetor, which helps out tremendously with the swap.

My initial plan was to just go ahead an use the motor right away in the car. After spending a good month trying to clean the motor and do some light dis-assembly, I came to the conclusion that I really need to take the engine down completely and have a machine shop do their thing to the crank, block and heads. This weekend I plan on taking it apart and taking it to a reputable machine shop known for Pontiac motors to do the valve job and let me know what sort of condition everything is in.

I’m recording video of the process, though I am on the fence if I should release all the work I’m doing as a podcast or not. What do you think, should I post all the video as a podcast? My only reservation is, I’m no automotive mechanic expert and I don’t want folks to watch thinking I am an expert.

I have to thank Mr. Yuhnke for all the help acquiring parts for the motor and Chris Goetz for coming down to helping me with the engine swap and for putting up with going to Greaters for Ice cream, I know it’s hard!

Thoughts on GM’s Volt Hybrid Technology

2011 Chevy VoltIf you know me really well, you know that I wrote a report on hybrid technology my senior year of high school. When the first hybrids came onto the market 7 years later, I didn’t rush to buy one. I admire the technology but up to this point, I’m not completely sold it’s the best approach to the problem. The Chevy Volt approach though has a lot more potential and if it is executed well, GM may just get me to buy a Volt type product.

GM’s Volt Hybird Technology

Back in 1994 when I wrote my report on alternative engines for automobiles, the concepts for hybrid car technology is essentially now what both Honda and Toyota have designed. Honda’s approach is to have electric motor work in tandem with a gasoline engine, thus optimizing the use of fuel. Toyota took a different approach designing a hybrid system that can use the electric motor alone, gas engine, or both together. On paper, Honda’s design makes the most engineering sense. In practice though, the Toyota approach is working out much better and is reflected by the higher mpg observed in the Prius line. The Prius can also be converted into a plug-in hybrid, making it a more diverse system.

What GM is about to release with the Chevy Volt was not discussed in the research I did back in ’94. It’s a rather simplified approach to the whole hybrid concept. The electric motor does all the actual propulsion of the automobile, while the gasoline engine’s role is simply to provide electricity when it is needed. This basic concept is not new. For example, post 1940’s locomotives, which have proven over 50 years ago how much more efficient they are to directly driven locomotives,  use electric motors do the propulsion while a diesel engine or aircraft turbine creates the electricity. Chevy is simply applying the same basic technology in the Volt.

What GM’s about to launch with the Chevy Volt isn’t revolutionary as far as technology is concerned. What is revolutionary, is how the technology is being put to use. With the combination of batteries, the Chevy Volt can run without the gasoline engine on short distances. It promises to run without gasoline on most commutes and trips to the store. For most of us, that’s convenient. On long road trips, we have to treat the Volt as a regular car and fill it up every 40 miles, and on local drives in theory we’ll never have to put gas in the car. Brilliant!

Why this is Brilliant!

Here’s where the real excitement comes into the usage of the Volt technology. If you’re a programmer, you know the importance of separating the presentation from logic. The Volt technology essentially does the same thing with the propulsion and the energy used for the propulsion. So in 10 years from now, if Fuel Cell batteries become cheap and plentiful, the gasoline engine can be replaced by a Fuel Cell. Between then and now, hobbyists will be tinkering with other energy ideas, possibly batteries, natural gas powered engines, etc… The rest of the car doesn’t have to change at all, just the energy creating portion (aka gasoline engine).

Taking all this into considering, I think GM has a home run on their hands with the Volt technology. I have two concerns though regarding the cost and how they are marketing the product.

My Thoughts on Price and Marketing

First is cost. I think the Chevy volt is just too expensive. The price point of 41k (or 33.5k after a federal rebate) is just too high. The Toyota Prius can be had for nearly 10k less than that not even considering any rebates or tax credits. Like Henry Ford 100 years ago, I think GM should take a risk and put a retail price on the Chevy Volt at 22k (before the federal rebate). The risk pricing something for less than it can be produced is risky though. This is how I propose they get to this price point.

  • Remove the extra technology in the car that lets you manage it from your iPhone. – I think it’s cool, but should be an option.
  • Optionally package less batteries in the car – Yes it may limit the car initially to 10-20 miles before the gasoline engine is required, but it would allow for a lower priced Volt.
  • Price the car based on how much battery capacity the user orders – If the buyer wants full 40 mile on one charge, then price the car at 35k before rebate. The idea here is to get the cars selling, which will drive production costs down. The battery capacity, if it’s possible, should be an option, just like in the past a customer would pick between a V6 and a V8.

I also think the Volt technology has a lot of other practical uses which are not being utilized by GM. The biggest is for commercial use. GM should build a Chevy S10 Volt (Chevy Volt-10 🙂 ), with an optional front grill harness so contractors/construction workers can use the truck as an on-site power generator to power tools. It’s a perfect combination, light duty truck that will get great mileage when using the plugin hybrid technology as well as very useful in a commercial setting. GM should also think about creating utility vehicles such as smaller versions of the Chevy Blazer (Chevy Voltzer 🙂 ), specifically for use as a utility vehicle for municipalities, shopping malls, ground keeping, etc… Imagine being able to drive to a location and instantly be able to pull an extension cord out of the front of the grill to power a fibulator or a refrigerator during a power outage.

If I was able to call the shots, this utility vehicle would look more like a modern El Camino (Volt Camino) and Nomad (Volt Nomad) car type truck than a traditional truck/SUV. TV commercials would tie together the concept of the vehicle being “green” (good to the environment) not just because it uses less or no gasoline, but because it can last longer since using electric motors for propulsion should last longer with less maintenance than a more complex gasoline engine, and that the gasoline engine that is packaged in the Volt is not the only option this car will have in the future. I’d even show lots of examples of what the car could do for camping, traveling, emergency uses, etc… Just picture a commercial where the power goes out in the house, mom runs outside, runs back in with a special green power cord from her Chevy Volt  and plugs the frig into it saving all the groceries. Talk about good for the environment, that just saved all that perishable food!

If GM was smart, they would market the Volt car technology not just as a “Green for the planet” product, but as a Swiss army knife automobile that no one should live without.

My Worries

My worry is that GM will destroy this car as fast as they destroyed Pontiac and Saturn (the last 10 years of Saturn and Pontiac set both of those brands up for failure). Hopefully they’ve learned they shouldn’t rename car models from familiar names to letter+numbers  (Pontiac) or from familiar letter+number combination’s to words (Saturn) without the consequence of disconnecting product loyalists with the newest product lines. I hope they learned not to pre-market a retro looking automobile (late model Pontiac GTO) then bring to market a car that looks nothing like a 60’s or 70’s GTO (Did you know Ford mocked Pontiac’s GTO at the 2004 Auto show when they introduced a truly retro looking Ford Mustang).

GM brass, if you’re listening, there was a reason Alfred P. Sloan in the 1930’s created the Pontiac division from the failing Oakland brand and had it share many parts/components with the Chevy division and that there was a reason why Roger B. Smith and  F. James McDonald created Saturn in the 1980’s. Please  don’t forget why you’re creating the Chevy Volt. It’s not to compete with other automakers making hybrids, it’s to create a brand that reflects your customers values.

Stay Tuned for my related blog post where I discuss my thoughts on the demise of Pontiac and Saturn.

Solution for Civic Si Burning Hot Shift Knob, a Leather Knob Sock

gal_lg18So, I absolutely love my 2007 Civic Si Sedan! There is one item though that has been driving me crazy for 2 years now: the extremely hot shift knob. You can see in the picture on the right that the shift knob is really nice and shiny. When you drive the car, it’s a great feeling to hold while going through the gears. The only problem is when you park your car out in the hot sun for a while and come to find the shift knob is hotter than a Waffle House grill, we’re talking burning hot.

Up to this point I’ve carried a hand towel in the car to use when I can’t handle the shift knob. It works, but it also sucks.

Tonight, I found exactly what I was looking for: A leather sock shift knob cover! It is available at Rick’s custom Leather, here’s  direct link to their knob-sock covers.

The product description on Ricks Custom Leather mentions the hot shift knob problem with the Honda S2000 stock aluminum shift knob. Lucky for us Honda Civic Si Sedan/Fa5 2007, 2008, 2009 owners, the S200 shift knob is identical to ours. The same shift knob is also used on some other Honda 6 speed transmission models such as the Accord and the  2006+ Civic Si Coupe.

2007 Civic Si Transmission Rebuilt!

Civic Si Transmission 6 speedThe 3rd gear problem with my car has been fixed! If you haven’t followed by blog, I was having a problem with 3rd gear since I got the car last year. When the car was cold, it was very hard to get into 3rd gear and sometimes even when hot it required extra force. The problem was more noticeable in the Winter, though this spring it seemed to have continued beyond the cold months. The transmission has been rebuilt now, and you can tell a difference. I wouldn’t say that it’s like new, but the gears are much more consistent that is for sure. The gears have a “looser” feel to them, not nearly like my last 5 speed 2000 EX but enough to notice that the transmission was previously a lot tighter when in gear. This to me is not a bad thing, as long as I can get it into gear I don’t care how much left-right play there is.

The mechanic at my local dealer was explaining to me that they rebuilt one other Si 6 speed transmission this past weekend and were starting another rebuild that day. He gave me a peak at the transmission they’re currently rebuilding. The area marked in red are the gears that they replace. He also pointed to a vertical rod and underneath where one other part is replaced in the rebuild. I’m guessing that they replaced 2nd and 3rd gear. Any transmission experts want to comment?

They received the wrong bump stops so they were unable to replace those at this last visit. I’ll post a follow up when the bump stops arrive and are installed.