/ Home & Energy

Gardening tools using confusing branding

Pruning a tree

If you buy a branded item you expect it to be made by that brand, right? Not necessarily, as we found out when we scratched the surface of some top gardening tools and discovered that all’s not what it may seem…

American investor Warren Buffet said it can take 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it.

So I was surprised to learn that a couple of famous British brands have decided to risk their reputation by allowing products they haven’t made to be sold bearing their name.

What’s in a name?

Two big names in gardening tools – Spear & Jackson and Qualcast – have both sold licences to the Home Retail Group (Argos and Homebase).

This means that Argos and Homebase can use these prestigious brand names on their own-brand products. Not only that, but the companies that own the two brands continue to make and sell their own products through Argos and Homebase.

In other words, if you buy, for example, a Qualcast mower at Argos or Homebase, it may not be made by Qualcast. In fact Qualcast may not have had anything to do with the product – but it will bear its name.

Branding could mislead buyers

We only discovered this practice when we were testing a new Qualcast Lawn Rake for the November issue of Which? Gardening.

We discovered that the machine isn’t manufactured by Qualcast but is sourced and supplied by the Home Retail Group for Argos and Homebase. But to all intents and purposes it looks like a Qualcast product – it says Qualcast on the box, and when you ring the customer helpline you’re welcomed to Qualcast Technical Support. It’s not clear at any point that you’re buying a Home Retail Group product.

We also bought two Qualcast-branded mowers from Homebase, one manufactured by Bosch and one made by the Home Retail Group. We thought both products looked very similar – to the untrained eye it would be impossible to tell which one is genuinely made by Bosch.

Think before you buy

While others may be concerned about the risk to the Qualcast and Spear & Jackson brands, here at Which? we’re more concerned with how this could mislead consumers.

We know that many people buy products based on the strength of the brand in the media or their own experience of buying and using a branded product previously.

Do you feel that this practice could mislead you into buying one of these ‘branded’ products? Do you care? Maybe you’ve bought one of these products, only to discover later it’s not what you thought it was.

Comments
bt991 says:
30 October 2018

Being in the industry I find these branded mowers a total con and very misleading to the customer. The majority of the Qualcast, Mcgregor, Spear and Jackson mowers are built by the chinese company Sumec. There are also other manufactures online doing the same thing such as Hyundai and BMC. The intresting thing I found out with the Argos/ Homebase equipment (and the other own brand DIY store garden machinery providers) is that they only have one service and spares provider in the UK. Most other lawn and garden manufacturers such as Honda, Mountfield and Hayter etc. have a nationwide dealer network with access to spare parts to the vast range of machinery they sell so they can be repaired in and out of warranty and keep the consumer happy. I also noticed that these machines are featured and tested in the lawnmower tests and seem to be given good reviews only because of price. I would factor in to the lawnmower tests a dealer network spares and service back up across the country for any product like this because when they break consumers want to get their purchase they spent a lot of money on in the shop fixed.

James McCartney says:
21 May 2019

I bought a Qualcast extendable hedge trimmer from Argos in June 2016 as I had owned a Qualcast lawnraker for many years and considered Qualcast a reliable firm. When I went to use the trimmer last week the battery was flat. The charging light turned green after a couple of minutes indicating fully charged but after 5 secs use the battery was flat again. Unsure whether the battery or charger was defective I contacted Qualcast. They said it was likely to be the battery but they did not supply replacement batteries or chargers and I should contact Argos as it was one of their items. Argos said they no longer sell this trimmer and do not supply batteries or chargers for it. Since it is outside the warranty period, Argos said that I should get a signed statement on headed paper from someone who makes or repairs such items stating the cause was a manufacturing fault and send it to them. Surely if you sell a battery powered item you are responsible for making replacement batteries available for a few years. For me this falls under the “not of satisfactory quality” part of the 2015 Consumer’s Rights Act.
Moral is steer clear of Argos when buying anything but basic items.

Lack of “durability” is perhaps the appropriate contract term to pursue under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Given its price and use, a product should have reasonable durability – one of the terms in the legal contract you make with the retailer. Argos are responsible for dealing with this. If they behave sensibly they should offer you at least a partial refund based on the use you have had.

This site lists a number of Qualcast batteries.

Time we had common interchangeable batteries.

The problem is a common symptom of a faulty battery.

Qualcast is now just a brand name owned by Argos and the manufacturer has no responsibility for faulty goods. Your rights under the Consumer Rights Act are against Argos, the retailer.

Batteries are usually excluded from manufacturers guarantees but I do not believe that this applies with the Consumer Rights Act. Perhaps Which? could advise us.

There has never been a requirement for manufacturers to supply spares for the goods they make and when we return new products that don’t work properly they may be scrapped after replacement. With high value items, the expensive parts may be recovered for reuse.

I suggest you follow the advice and get someone in the trade to confirm that the battery is faulty. Since a repair seems unlikely, the possible remedies available would be replacement of the hedge trimmer or a partial refund, taking into account the age of the product and how much it cost. It would be interesting to know how your case is handled, James.

When buying cordless power tools, the best bet is to go for ones with lithium batteries, which are rapidly becoming standard. It’s only worth choosing cordless for tools in regular use because even if spare batteries are available they can be very expensive.

To confirm – batteries are covered by the Consumer Rights Act and are actually specifically mentioned in the guidance notes.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/notes

You will need to get someone to look at it though to prove the fault that led to the battery failing was there since it was sold. Good Luck and do let us know how it works out.

@abbysempleskipper, proving the fault in a battery, or its charger, was present at purchase on a 3 year old product would, I suspect, be difficult and maybe expensive. That is why I suggest using “durability” as the complaint. It is specifically covered in the legislation but the problem, of course, is defining what is a reasonable life. Here is where Which? could help by looking at battery life c/w cost to give James some idea of how long similar products normally last. It is an area that needs much more attention to help people like James pursue claims.

Thanks Abby. It would be good if Which? featured the premature failure of a battery in one of the ‘Brief cases’ series to help guide us with what to expect from the retailer if there is a problem. Faulty batteries result in power tools, vacuum cleaners, phones and lawnmowers being scrapped prematurely when the battery is the only faulty component.

I’ll add it to the list of potential convos – definitely an issue a lot of people have experienced.

One of those topics where regular surveys of Connect Members could gather invaluable information. I think this sort of information needs structured compilation, something that Convos do not normally offer. I suppose they could if you asked people to just contribute information on their battery, charger, appliance, battery life and whether they pursued a claim. .

From an article on lawnmowers on the Which? website: “Qualcast is now owned by Bosch, which in January 2011, signed an eight-year licence agreement with the Home Retail Group (Argos and Homebase) for exclusive use of the Qualcast name.”

There is a possibility that Qualcast products use the same products as Bosch ones, albeit with with a different brand label.

Roxanne Sheppard says:
12 April 2020

Have a qualcast lawn mower that was working perfectly, now it won’t retain the oil and I am wondering if it has a puncture as the oil once poured in is all draining onto the ground. Any ideas on how to fix problem?

Have you googled for how to fix a qualcast lawnmower leaking oil?

There are several reasons for a leak and searching for your model number might give you better information.

I would start by cleaning the engine, which should make it easier to identify where the leak is coming from. As Alfa says, there can be various reasons. Is it a rotary mower or a cylinder mower such as the Suffolk Punch? Most of the rotary Qualcast mowers use Briggs & Stratton engine (as do most makes of rotary lawnmower). Manuals for B&S engines are available from the B&S website: https://www.briggsandstratton.com/eu/en_gb/support/manuals.html

I once had a used and abused Honda CB400T which came with a hole in its crankcases. A previous owner had repaired this with some kind of DIY filler, such as one might either buy in a tube like glue or mix up Isopon style. I’m not sure of the exact material used, but, as regards keeping oil in, it worked well enough to not require any further attention.

Roxanne – presumably you have checked that your mower’s sump drain plug is still present?

I’ve never had the misfortune of loosing one on the road, but I’ve certainly come across a few self-loosening ones in my time.

Alec Beanse says:
14 June 2019

I brought a ‘Spear & Jackson’ Electric Cylinder Lawn Mower eighteen months ago and was not impressed with it but it did the job sort of. Now, after not a lot of use the motor is playing up. The noise sudenly changed and it sounded as though it was struggling before finally stopping. I left it and once it had cooled down it is now going again but obviously all is not well with it. I would suggest that anyone thinking of buying one or the equivalent ‘Qualcast’ model to think again!

Boffo says:
6 April 2020

I have had the same problem with a Hitachi TV set. Although the TV is fine I was annoyed to find out that Argos bought the Hitachi name and the TV set was manufactured in Turkey by Arcelik, who also make budget brand Beko and also own and manufacture under the old German Grundig name. There should be a law that says when you buy something it must state clearly on the bod and in the description where it was made. If you buy a Philips product you don’t want to see that it is manufactured in the far east or that Zanussi washing machines are now no longer Italian but made in Turkey as well. There is also a 1 in 3 chance your Samsung smart TV is made in China and a Sony DVD player I bought recently was made in China too.

As for lawnmowers, didn’t Qualcast even used to put Union Jack sticker on their products to show it was British made? Shame on them then if they have opted for cheap and shoddy Chinese manufacturing now, same with Spear and Jackson. But I can happily tell you that although they are a Swedish company, Flymo lawnmowers are still built and packaged at the Flymo factory up near Middlesbrough. Flymo lawnmowers last for years and are very reliable from my experience so not only are you buying a good product but you are keeping jobs in this country.

Boffo – I don’t think we should condemn all Chinese-manufactured goods as poor quality. There are good and bad products made in all countries, including rubbish made in the UK. In general it comes down to how the product is specified, designed, and quality-controlled throughout the manufacturing process.

You mentioned Philips. Most of the LED lamps I have bought have been Philips products made in China and very good they have been – because the product has been well-designed [probably in the EU] and carefully produced using good quality materials which have been controlled all the way through the process. We also have some small household appliances made in China and sold under UK brand names and they have also performed very well. It does all come down to the degree of involvement that the UK or EU company has in the manufacture. Price often has something to do with it as well.

I partly share your concerns over the trade in brand names because that is designed to mislead, especially when older – reputedly more reliable – brand names are resurrected to enhance the appeal of a second-rate product; but that has been going on for decades and consumers have to remain on the look-out, helped by independent product testing and reviews. Qualcast were taken over by Bosch and excellent lawnmowers continued to be produced in British factories; I believe they are all sold under the Bosch brand now and there is a range of qualities from the cheap and cheerful to the more expensive and more powerful; the customer can choose. The customer can also go on a website and have the pick of a host of similar-looking products out of the same Chinese moulds in different colours with unheard of brand names at half the price.

We continue to pay the price for the troubles in UK manufacturing 40-50 years ago which reduced our industrial capacity to a shell and drove consumers to avoid British-made products. The climb-back has been long and slow but it is still possible, at a price, to get good quality products designed in the UK and made for the British consumer.

I agree that the country of manufacture should be clearly presented in product descriptions but I still do not believe that “Made in the PRC” automatically means bad and “Made in England” automatically means good. The consumer needs reliable information in order to make their choice. The important thing is to know who the seller is and how easy it is to deal with them when something goes wrong so that it is possible to get it fixed and to exercise rights under the warranty. If it is sold in a shop you can take it back and get redress; if it is only sold on-line the chances are greatly reduced.

Mark says:
28 April 2020

I want to purchase a electric lawnmower, but do not want to support a ‘Made in China’, brand. This is proving to be impossible to do online as no suppliers mention the country of origin.

Jacqueline Sykes says:
4 August 2020

I am trying to buy a British made, NOT CHINESE, Pressure washer and grass strimmer, this is proving almost impossible, I brought, yesterday, a Spear and Jackson Pressure washer, which I thought was British made, after reading these comments I dont think it is! I’ve narrowed the grass strimmer down to Flymo, Black and Decker (American?) and Bosch, but still dont know if these are made in China, some say they might be? help!

Jacqueline – I have a Hozelock pressure washer and it has performed very well. It might not be the brand leader [which is probably Kärcher, a German company] or be the most powerful machine but it has been cleaning our patio well for many years.

The Hozelock website explains that the company was formed in England in 1959 and says that, today, “we are a global garden equipment manufacturer with our head office in Birmingham (UK). Over 75% of our products are made in Britain. With the remaining 25% built in our overseas factories in France, Malaysia, Taiwan, and China”. You could give them a call and ask where their pressure washers are made. I have other Hozelock garden products like sprinklers, hoses and hosepipe fittings and they are well made and they have supplied spare parts for the pressure washer.

Hi Jacqueline – Most products have a label that shows where they are ‘made’, though this may just be where they were assembled. Spear & Jackson is part of a multinational company with HQ in Sheffield. Perhaps you could say where your new pressure washer was made.

I have numerous Bosch power tools made in China, Hungary and Malaysia, and a blender made in Slovenia. I still have a couple that were made in Switzerland, but they are more than 20 years old. Black & Decker is based in the US though it has sold in the UK for so long that some people have assumed that it is British, especially since some cities had their shops or service centres. My B&D sander was made in China. Flymo does have a factory in County Durham.

As John says, Karcher is the main manufacturer of pressure washers, certainly light duty domestic models. The ones I have owned over the years were made in Germany have all developed problems and the only reason I have stayed with the brand is that I have various older accessories that can be used with a new pressure washer.

I had not heard of the Hozelock pressure washer mentioned by John. I presume that it has been discontinued, though spares are mentioned on the website.

There have been various efforts to produce lists of British products but I am not aware of anything that is up to date and covers a reasonable range of products.

I think it would be quite reasonable for Which? to give the origin of any product they test and/or report on. Then any consumer who might have views on where what they buy is made could make a (partially) informed decision. They may have political, human rights, exploited labour, or other factors in mind and should be able to exercise their choice.

Several of us have suggested this over the years. In some cases it might be necessary to show more than one country, where manufacturer produce the same product in more than one country. It would be good if we could have some discussion with Which?. I look back fondly to when members of their teams used to drop in and join in with our discussions.

I have suggested that Which? could use the ratings provided by Ethical Consumer in their product reports. https://www.ethicalconsumer.org To see detailed information requires a subscription. It would be useful if Which? was to look at a sample of EC ratings to see if they are based on fact and up to date.

I had realised that Hozelock no longer made pressure washers. Presumably the Kärcher and imitation models have taken the market and with universal fittings available there is no longer enough demand. Plus they perform so well they last for ages – ours must be fifteen years old.

It looks like the Hozelock flood pump is no longer available either. We had to use it regularly at our previous home if there was a long spell of wet weather which flooded a depression in the garden. No such problems where we are now on light sandy soil.

The instructions for pressure washers are still on the Hozelock website, John, so it might be that they have been removed because of supply problems caused by the coronavirus problems. I looked at the instructions for model 7920 – Pico Power and they showed that this model is made in PRC, so your Chinese pressure washer has outlasted my German ones. I had to take my present one apart to correct a leak recently and all I can say positive is that it’s much easier to dismantle and reassemble than the earlier models I have worked on.

I have just ordered a ratchet-lopper from Wilkinson-Sword. Back in 2016, this Convo made me a little wary, but I risked buying a W-S telescopic anvil pruner and that has served me very well indeed. I’m hoping that the ratchet version will reduce the amount of effort.

Ratchet loppers are brilliant – they take the effort out of cutting larger stems. I have several loppers of various makes, both anvil and by-pass, but my favourites are the Wolf ratchet ones with telescopic arms – although at full extension they can be a bit of a stretch to open the jaws to the maximum extent and they are on the heavy side.

I am not sure that my Hozelock pressure washer was made in China 15 years or more ago but it might have been. I accidentally kinked the delivery hose leading to a loss of pressure and was very pleased with the speed of supplying a replacement.

I see that I left out the word “not” in the opening sentence of my previous comment.

It was using ratchet secateurs that has convinced me that I need ratchet loppers too.

Your pressure washer may well have been made in the UK, John, and you can check by looking at the rating plate. My early Bosch power tools were made in Switzerland but they moved production to China and eastern-European countries.

All my Bosch power tools show where they are made and the year of manufacture. This reciprocating saw is the first I have seen that shows the month as well as the year of manufacture:

I wrote to Bosch to complain about the lack of interlock to prevent the power button being pressed if the saw is carried by the handle. I did not realise when I bought the saw because a cheaper and a more expensive model in B&Q did have this feature. There is also no blade cover for when the saw is not in use.

RJF says:
4 May 2020

A few years back I asked someone I know the question ‘what ‘make’ is your lawnmower?’.

They replied ‘There’s no such thing as ‘makes’ anymore’!

What they really meant was in many cases, ‘brand’ names were no longer the actual ‘manufacturers’ of many products bearing their name/corporate logo.

Homebase must now be the only UK outlet still selling Qualcast-branded products as Argos abruptly switched to the McGregor branding around 2017 (I think), whose products still look very similar to the former Qualcast-badged products but with a different brand name. Surely Homebase are flogging a dead horse by continuing to sell products badged with a ‘historical’ name that is now simply a pale shadow of its former self, and presumably retained in name only over the past decade or so for ‘sentimental’ reasons, despite bearing no relationship whatsoever with the original company. Also Bosch were already well into producing high-quality lawnmowers (and likewise products) under their own branding by the latter half of the 2000s, which was probably when and where the rot started to set in for many of their ‘offspring’ brands.
The Bosch ROTAK now seems to be king!!

And all these deceitful practices concerning product branding are still going strong almost ten years on from the original article expressed above. And the powers that be have still remained blasé about it just the same during the time that has since elapsed.