Friday, August 07, 2015

Bosch throws down the gauntlet

There's a shit-storm brewing in the woodworking world, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Anyone who works with wood knows that SawStop developed the first tablesaw with flesh-detection technology. Their products have, without a doubt, saved many fingers. 

A high school woodshop teacher once told me that every time a kid cuts off a finger at his school, the school district simply cuts a check for $50,000 to the family, to avoid all lawsuits. Spending $5000 on a saw (or much less, depending on which model is purchased) seems like a bargain to me.  And I know the bone-head things that kids do in woodshops, so it's not surprising that this could happen a couple of times a year in any given classroom.

When Steve Gass, owner and inventor of SawStop's technology first developed his product, he offered it to license it to every saw company out there, but they declined his offer. The general consensus was that consumers wouldn't want to pay for that technology. So he started building his owns saws, and surrounded himself with patents, protecting his idea.  As an attorney, Steve knew that protecting himself from patent infringement was key. 

How many of us have thought up an idea, only to see an infomercial about it on TV a few years later, and thought to ourselves - I shoulda patented that idea!

But - Steve's heavy-handedness turned off a lot of people - not just tool manufacturers, but consumers, as well. He lobbied for federal regulations that would force the other tool companies to adopt his technology. (That lawsuit was eventually dismissed.) He's been a huge spokesman for mandated safety regulations, all geared toward furthering his domination in the flesh detection field. 

At first glance - flesh detection isn't a bad thing. Think of students across the world, doing stupid things on tablesaws. Hell, I've done stupid things on saws. But it's the way that Steve has bullied the rest of the tool makers our there that leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. 

You're either about safety. Or you're about profits. Which is it?

So when Bosch developed their latest REAXX tablesaw, competing with SawStop's technology, the gauntlet was thrown.  

Bosch uses a completely different method for stopping their blade - based on air-bag technology, a market in which Bosch has long been a big player. So adapting their air bags to stop a blade isn't an idea that is that far outside of the scope of their products. 

Still - would they have come up with that idea if Steve hadn't thought of it first? I kind of doubt it. And if that's the case, they don't want me on that jury. 

So - where do I stand? 

I'm a huge fan of SawStop. I like their tools, they are excellent in just about every way imaginable. I like their tech support - Darren has bailed me out so many times, he's on speed dial in my phone. Upper management has always been great to my students - sending us demo blades and cartridges to sample. (Thanks Patty!)  From the bottom to the top, I couldn't be happier with their service and products. And this is huge - everyone in the company just seems happy. You know how you can talk to a customer service agent and just can tell that they are miserable in their job? You never see this at Sawstop, these people like what they're doing. That's a big deal to me. Even the people that answer the phone are nice, not bitchy, as I often experience when calling some of my other vendors. 

My second opinion is that if you're smart enough to come up with this technology, then it would be wise to protect yourself inside out and upside down. That's what Steve Gass did. Wouldn't you? 

If any of us were smart enough to invent something great, wouldn't we do our absolute best to protect it? People are always out there trying to steal ideas. It's just the heavy-handed way that Steve went about it that turns people off. I get that. Still - as an entrepreneur and small business owner, I would probably do exactly what he did. It's called Business Survival 101. 

Still curious what people think? Check out this article, and read the comments at the end. There are some serious haters out there.  (For the record - I think haters ought to do us all a favor and just disappear - their negativity dissolves my capacity to hear anything important that they think they're saying to me.) 

So - where do YOU  stand? 


John Frame said...

I totally agree about the haters out there. I am pro Saw Stop all the way, and some day I am sure I'll own one. He thought of it first, and gave everyone a chance to get on board with it. I do feel it was wrong to try to force it on everyone, but I don't hate the product over it. 100% USA made product too. Now how much is corporate Bosch going to spend trying to steal, what I bet they could still buy a license to use.

Christine said...

Yes, perhaps Steve Gass was heavy-handed in crusading for new legislation, but not in the sense that he was being motivated by greed. In this case, I'm convinced that he's passionate about his idea, which is to promote safety.

Vegas Lupe said...

Recently, I looked up the market value of Bosch, vs. the value of the SawStop Company. Bosch is worth nearly 50 billion dollars, while my cursory research reveals that SawStop makes 200 – 400 million per year. It is truly a David vs. Goliath situation.

In such a situation, Mr. Gass did what any small business would do: Tried to license his product, when rejected, he patented his ideas, and then when everything failed, took a risk and went on his own.

I do not condone Mr. Gass lobbying the government to regulate the safety of tools to benefit his company. Once a government gets involved to benefit companies from the private sector, you create corporate cronyism which only lasts according to the whims and decisions of the bureaucrats in power. Such power can be given or taken away, and rules of basic economics go out the window when government gets involved.

Going as a single company, and allowing the consumer to make a decision regarding their products is the best thing that SawStop has done. I currently have and Industrial SawStop table saw in my workshop, and it is probably the best purchase I have ever made. I am relatively new to woodworking and my husband is aging and is not as sharp as he used to be. Having the safety mechanism in the saw provides peace of mind, and it is cheaper in the long run. It only takes one distraction, or one operator error to lose a finger in a table saw. I have also used the Contractor and the Professional model, and those two are great tools.

I don’t care about the negative stories regarding Mr. Gass is as being a not so nice person. What I care is about the PRODUCT he offers and the superior customer support his company provides. I am willing to pay a considerable amount of money for excellent customer support – which is very rare these days. Companies like Apple or Amazon are shining examples of this. When everything is equal, customer service will make the difference between which business fails or succeeds.

Because Bosch is so diversified and huge, at this time, they are no match of SawStop’s customer service. Their saw is made to compete with SawStop’s Jobsite model, and I would love to see a review of both saws side by side. From experience, my money goes to SawStop. It might be a bit more expensive, but it is a better product with better service.