Sheila Johnson just bought a house in Oak Park and has a lot of DIY projects on her agenda. So when a neighbor told her that Carhartt’s flagship store in Detroit had recently launched a new tool lending program, she was all in.
“My favorite channel is HGTV,” says Johnson, a procurement and contract lead for Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. “I’ve always enjoyed home improvement.”
Soon Johnson had borrowed an orbital hand sander, a floor scraper, and a tripod work light from Carhartt.
“At the time, I had pulled up all of my carpet and I had padding and all of these staples. I needed a scraper, more light, … and I needed a hand sander,” she says. “I had just closed on my house. A lot of your money is gone, so this was such a huge help.”
That’s exactly what the company had in mind when it established its Carhartt Workshop with a Tool Bench “lending library of tools,” says Gretchen R. Valade, director of sustainability and daughter of current CEO Mark Valade, who is a great-grandson of company founder Hamilton Carhartt.
The Detroit program is the company’s first and only — an opportunity to give back to the local community.
“We were born in Detroit 130 years ago and we just always looked for ways to connect with our community,” Valade says. “We kept throwing around … how can Carhartt be a resource? How can Carhartt remove barriers?”
While Carhartt manufactures clothes — not tools — its customers are “people who work with their hands for their job or on the weekends or in their off time,” says Carhartt’s Detroit Workshop manager, Achille Bianchi. Making tools available — particularly specialized or expensive ones that might be used for only one project — removes a barrier for would-be DIYers.
“Some people may have a necessity for … a wet tile saw for a bathroom or kitchen remodel,” Bianchi says. “It’s going to come in really handy for about a week. Then it will sit in the garage and collect dust. For the average homeowner looking to tackle a project on their own, it probably doesn’t make sense for them to buy.”
Carhartt partnered with nearby Colony Hardware to identify and order tools to inventory — most in the Stanley Black & Decker family. For now, it’s stocking about 150 tools, including some duplicates of tools that are most in demand — chain and pole saws have been especially popular, Bianchi says — and it’s considering adding others based on customer feedback.
With a free membership, customers can borrow tools for seven days and then get a seven-day extension. They’ll also have access to on-staff experts who can guide them on which tools to use for various projects. Staff also provide demos and recommend additional tools customers might need. By early August, just a few weeks after the program opened, about 80 people had signed up, Bianchi says.
Adam Murphy, director of the nonprofit Focus Detroit, was one of them.
Most of the organization’s revenue goes to programs that support city youth and their families. So, construction projects are DIY and typically dependent on the kindness of volunteers to lend their own tools.
“We’re always doing some kind of work,” Murphy says. “I was building out our cargo van and needed some tools and saw on Instagram that this was happening. I was able to rent out tools that I needed, and it was super easy to go in — just like making a library account, basically, and checking out the tools.”
The Carhartt Workshop, 5800 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1274; carhartt.com.
Rent or Buy?
Achille Bianchi, manager of Carhartt’s Detroit workshop, says these five tools are probably better borrowed than bought.
1. Wet Tile Saw. You may need this specific tool while remodeling a bathroom or kitchen, but you will likely only use it once or twice in your lifetime, making it the perfect candidate for renting.
2. Portable Bandsaw. This tool is good for hard-to-reach items and is ideal for working with metals, such as conduit or steel fence posts.
3. Biscuit Joiner. The biscuit joiner is good if you’re making a DIY kitchen or coffee table and want to add some extra strength to your glue-ups.
4. Tuck Point Grinder. If your home needs some brick-and-mortar remodeling, this tool makes quick work of cleaning out old, crumbling mortar — necessary before you apply new mortar.
5. Automatic Caulk Gun. Manual caulk guns are great for small jobs, but if you’re resealing the foundation of your house — or a bunch of new windows — the automatic caulk gun is great for consistent application and preventing hand fatigue.