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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.

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!