Stagecraft as Brand Strategy: Inside Sears' Craftsman Experience

Just the sight of the iconic Craftsman logo and banner at the entrance stirred up memories of rifling through my father’s cavernous red toolbox when I was about seven, hunting for a wrench to (pretend) fix my bike. Better yet, I thought about the time when my father went to the Sears store to exchange a screwdriver that had fallen into (and spewed out of) the engine of a C-140 airplane—and walked away with a brand-new tool at no charge because of Craftsman’s unconditional lifetime guarantee. This experience probably was most memorable for me because of the smoky, ex-mechanic sales associate who regaled us with heroic stories of Craftsman tools enduring the most heinous abuse, primarily in the hands of women. My relationship with the brand essentially ended there (no handy-gal I!), putting me in a 30-plus-year brand vapor lock.


The cool red brick loft that houses the Craftsman Experience, with its steel beams and video screens swirling with images, created an oddly irresistible high-tech-meets-git-‘er-done environment that we couldn’t wait to explore. Exhibiting none of the closed-kimono paranoia that we're often met with in new retail concepts, Bo, the agency rep who cheerfully greeted us on arrival, encouraged to do just that. Cameras? Cool. Video? You bet! Interviews? Of course!  Now that's what I call brand engagement!

And speaking of engagement, 233 West Huron isn't really a pop-up store or even a brand shrine. The Craftsman Experience is one of two Sears-run state-of-the-art live social media studios that operate within a two-block area in Chicago (we’ll cover the Kenmore Live Studio in the next article). Craftsman tool demo stations are scattered throughout the space; however, the DIY'ers that show up for projects may or may not use Craftsman tools (we were told that plenty of people tote their own tools to the space, Craftsman and otherwise), and cash registers are nowhere to be found. If you simply must purchase something, you'll be shown to a discreet area in the back of the studio where a limited inventory takes up a couple of shelves.


The Craftsman Experience tagline says it all. The studio continually streams slick do-it-yourself clinics and product demonstrations to dedicated YouTube and Facebook portals around the clock. Whether it’s the loads of crowd-sourced content, like the Keg-nic table (a picnic table with a keg) built while we were there, or the questions and comments coming into the production team from Facebook and Twitter during live streaming events, the Craftsman team keeps the conversation going, and proliferating, in real time.

The Craftsman Experience team made it clear that providing "stop and start" step-by-step instructions isn't the focus of the studio's broadcasts; instead, they are in the business of ideas and inspirations. Sears doesn't leave you out in the cold if you want to go ahead and build a hovercraft with your leaf blower or overhaul a dirt bike; however, you can find work plans and supply lists online that will allow you to make the magic happen in your own workshop. 

For studio guests, this is a dream workshop where you bring your hairiest problem or craziest cool idea and get your DIY on with experts and other enthusiasts.  For Sears, the Craftsman Experience is pure brand theater and a profoundly logical next step in Sears’ outside-in brand strategy - one that goes beyond its own doors (Ace Hardware, online and others included) and that draws from coveted demographics.


Content to leave stagecraft to the experts, Bo shared that execs from Hoffman Estates, including Mr. Lampert, periodically drop by to check out the action, but that they lay low. The agency that runs both studios, has assembled a top-notch cast of in-house on-air talent, contributing celebrity experts such as Frank Fontana from HGTV’s Design on a Dime, and a rock-and-roll production team behind the cameras (they actually have a rock music maven creating exclusive, high-energy scores onsite for various Craftsman productions).

As several staffers hinted at larger events and developments on the horizon, Carol and I couldn’t help but speculate that Sears is about to take the Craftsman (and Kenmore) Experience beyond YouTube and Facebook to network or cable television . . . or go so far as to create its own dedicated network.

From the front doorstep to a click of the mouse, Sears is seamlessly channeling the energy and creativity of DIYers to create a (large) community of enthusiasts for the Craftsman experience, and bringing an edgier-but-accessible vibe to the brand in the process . . . all by hanging one groovy shingle. This ain't your father's Craftsman . . . but he'll dig it just the same. 

Links you have to check out:

Craftsman Music Experiment will blow your mind!

How about this wild Hammer Golf video?