(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.
I tend to avoid advice columns on how to buy gear because they get into pseudo-philosophical discussions and presume that the same method works for everyone. And I just discovered some of my own methods which are fairly adaptable. Hemingway used Abercrombie and Fitch as his primary outfitter. I did buy some decent clothes there about twenty years ago, but since I am not outfitting myself to be a college undergraduate or slacker Abercrombie has nothing I need.
I worked for a major outdoor outfitter for a little more than six years following my retirement from the Department of Corrections. I also worked in hardware and building supply and in photographic supply and finishing. I learned that the retail business is cyclical and the only place I worked that dealt with immediate “needs” was the hardware store.
When gearing up for preparedness, the camera store is not on your list–I enjoyed supplying the psychological needs of toy seekers, but mostly I dealt with processing and quite frankly I did not make too much in the way of SPIFs or commissions because the equipment I sold the customer on was then purchased from one of the discounters on the internet. Our branch store was a convenience for the professionals who were doing weddings and school pictures and did not want to drive across town It was not sufficient to keep the store open and the one day during December that I had sales of $1,800 there may have been $700 in equipment, film and supplies.
If you are really into preparedness, think first about what you are going to need. Most of us dream about the retreat where there is wind or solar power, a wood stove a complete shop and a 2-5 acre garden. The reality is that we are going to persevere where we are. We need to look at the back yard as our garden space and find storage areas and workshop space where we can.
As a general rule you can start with your basic stores–grocery, hardware and dry goods. Okay, for those of you not alive in 1955, a dry goods store was like a Penney’s or Denver Dry. They were clothing, footwear, bedding etc. My grandfather bought his work clothes at Penney’s and I bought my scout uniform, western clothes. As an adult I bought suits etc. Somewhere we might still have a down vest I bought in 1978 when it was finally discounted to $10 which was probably the store’s cost.
Earl’s observation #1: as a rule hardlines (hardware, electronics, guns, etc.) have a very low margin and are discounted less; soft lines such as dry goods have a greater margin; and consumables such as are found in a grocery store are much more variable because they are impacted by the laws of supply and demand. The margin is the difference between dealer’s cost and sale price.
Your local store is going to have a higher price than the internet or mail order supplier for simple reasons like space and employees. Warehouses are generally located where property is cheap. Some internet retailers will have everything “drop shipped” from a location they do not own. There are still several reasons to buy locally. First is that you can examine the merchandise–although I did have customers who examined my cameras or lenses and then ordered through the internet. Second is that you can take it home now. And third, it pays to have good relations with your local merchants.
Hard lines products bought locally do not have high shipping charges. When buying tools, go first to a small/medium hardware store and look for the associates with white hair. These are generally folks who have been around the block and are working there because they get a discount on stuff they need for their own building projects. This was told to me by a customer who had bypassed the cashier and the slacker with the koolaid blue beard and enough metal in his head to trigger every detector in the airport from a mile away. I could not argue with him. But the first thing to do is decide before you enter the store what you want and why you want it. When I lived at home I used the tools that were there–I did have a pocket knife–Camillus I believe–that had a flathead screwdriver, When we moved to DC my wife and I acquired a tape measure, two screwdrivers and a pair of combination pliers. We added a small hammer and a hacksaw before we moved back and went to graduate and law school.
How I became as equipped as I am took years–my wife and I passed the forty-four year mark in June. But I am going to lay out a strategy. The first thing you do is buy what you need most. And purchase the best you can afford. This does not mean you have to have the absolute best because there is no such thing. Just get on line and into a discussion group and you will discover the “best” tool has as many critics as proponents.
Every magazine and web site has a list of essential tools. If these do not make sense for your situation don’t worry. My list made sense for me. I can recall when a writer in the Whole Earth Catalog waxed eloquent that you needed wood-handled finishing hammers because that is what house carpenters use. Ten years earlier, when I was working on remodeling projects and training as a carpenter, we had just switched to using Plumb fiberglass-handled hammers. It is a matter of choice. I have had over the years wood, polymer and steel handles and my preference is a polymer-handled framing hammer unless I can use deck screws or a nailgun. So I would start out with a hammer, ripsaw, tape measure, combination pliers and a multibit screwdriver. Like I said, my list worked for me, but conditions are different for everyone. One thing I will say is that when I did begin to buy power tools, I bought a power drill–the best I could afford at the time–and a set of Irwin bits. By fastening the drill in an adapter, I could, with a mandrel, use it as a bench grinder.
There are ways to buy tools. Hardware stores, the internet, specialty stores, truckload sales at your grocery store, tent sales and pawn shops. There are several discount tool retailers that have both internet and retail outlets, The top three are Grizzly, Harbour Freight and Cummins. Cummins also runs tool sales at halls, armories, etc. The common denominator is China. My preference is Grizzly and I visit their store when I’m in Springfield. One weekend when some of us were hanging out in the outlying areas we went to a tool show put on by Cummins in Oskaloosa, KS. We ended up getting a couple heavy bench vises for about fifty percent of what we would have paid retail and they were not available in town. I got my generator in 1999 at a tool sale.
Earl’s observation #2: Look for value. It is out there. I bought a heavy duty drill press at a tent sale in one of the less occupied malls in town. I was pricing the tools and figured out that I could have fully equipped a small shop for less than $1000. And these were commercial grade tools, not the bargain bin stuff that you get in the grocery store.
In addition to getting construction and maintenance tools, you may be looking at your outdoor gear or bug-out stuff. My big mobile first aid kit sits in the basement when I’m home. When we travel it rides in the back of the vehicle where it is available. I took a red tool box and put a masking tape cross on top, then spray paint around with white kilz(tm) and let it dry. When the primer dried, I pulled up the tape and there was a red cross. I add new materials an replace perishable items such as ointments and what gets used over the period. If you are starting out you can get a basic kit and add to it.
Earl’s observation #3: I recommend that everyone take a course in basic first aid and obtain a comprehensive manual. That will let you know what the limitations of your basic kit are and what you need. I have had good luck with the Adventure Medical kits available in several configurations which include the manual.
Basically, just do it your own way.