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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.


I share Which?’s concerns over this practice. A few year’s ago I bought some Wilkinson Sword-branded gardening products believing them to be superior to other makes and expecting them to be manufactured from higher-quality steel. Quite shortly after purchase the spade bent during some ordinary digging tasks – work for which the product appeared to be designed. I took advantage of the 10-year guarantee and discovered that the Wilkinson Sword brand was licensed to Fiskars who made the tools; I received a replacement spade but was out of pocket because of the high cost of returning the original. There is no doubt that consumers attach strong values to brands [which is what makes them lucrative to their owners as licensable property] but in the long run it is harmful to the original brand. In gardening tools and equipment there are innumerable poor quality [but expensive] products which we have all bought at some time or other so now we look for durability, strength, sharpness, performance, and reliability – qualities which firms like Qualcast, Spear & Jackson and Wilkinson Sword have invested heavily in and spent decades cultivating. To know that look-alike products made elsewhere are being sold under their name is very disappointing and makes one more likely to distrust other good names. I would not say it was deceitful in the same way that counterfeiting clearly is – although the thought did cross my mind – but nor would I describe it as honest either. I suppose we have got used to this kind of commercial behaviour in other categories like cookware and clothing [somebody once gave me some socks marked with the famous Pringle brand but I discovered that they were not made by Pringle of Scotland and were clearly inferior to High Street chain store socks] but to rip gardeners off is decidedly below the belt.
I think it is unrealistic to expect this practice to be made unlawful so the way to deal with it is through publicity and I hope Which? will use its authority and influence to make sure that everyone knows that Homebase and Argos are taking us for a ride.

I’m surprised that you did not claim back the cost of returning the faulty spade. My understanding is that you were in your legal rights to do so. If you have the receipt, you should still be able to claim.

ron bates says:
26 October 2010

This ‘mis-branding’ definitely should be instantly made illegal – we are being lied to, and in more potentially dangerous areas such as food. We should be not interested in the sly prevarications of industry and commerce. If any part of anything is not made in this country then this should be made clear, as it should if not grown in this country. Packing only is obviously not a legitimate claim on ‘made in the UK’ if the product is made, grown/processed etc anywhere else – this should apply within the/a country to products not fully made by the company supplying and/or selling it. Simply putting a sticker/label on a product naming a company that has had little or no part in its munufacture is a lie. Perhaps the buying public should start purchasing these products on false debit and credit cards or with forged money – and claim it’s the genuine article. Lets see if they then get the message!

I absolutely agree with Which?’s concerns and with the comments already posted by John and Ron.

“Badge Engineering” (which I understand is the ‘official’ term for this practice) has gone on for decades but in modern times it appears to be exclusively at the peril / cost of the customer. Way back into the 60’s and 70’s Hoover made appliances that were “exclusives” for the Electricity Board and the Co-Op (and probably others). These items were identical in build quality and standards to the “standard” ranges by Hoover, and could usually be clearly told apart by a simple cosmetic changes such as a different coloured fascia or bag. In most cases the model number was suffixed by “E” (for Exclusive).

Many high-end Hi-Fi manufacturers also made products equal in quality to their “standard” ranges, but sold them under a different brand name for a lower price via chain stores and so on rather than specialist Hi-Fi dealers.

These practices were OK for the customer in terms of getting a good product at a competitive price, but now, as illustrated withe the Qualcast / Bosch / HRG and Wilkinson Sword examples above, we are being conned into paying a Premium price for inferior goods.

Sadly, because we didn’t shout and stamp our feet when earlier examples existed (presumably because they worked in our favour) we’ll be on an uphill struggle of Kilamanjaro proportions to get this practice stopped now.

My view is that this is deceit and that it should be punishable under trading standards law as being misrepresentation. Perhaps the legal team at Which? should say something in this thread.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy says:
15 April 2012

Considering the economy struggling its challenging to locate help or buy new toys. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully in a couple years I’ll be in a position to put the information to use.

Brian says:
10 May 2012

I purchased a “Qualcast” lawnmower from Homebase in April last year. I chose it because it had a reasonable sized motor, 33cm cut , a double control lever and was reasonably strong. However I can’t get a new blade for it. Qualcast disown it as it was made under licence and Homebase have no spares of any sort. I did source a blade from an independent supplier but it wasn’t the correct size. Apparently the model has changed since first introduced.

Homebase have offered to exchange it for me as a good will gesture (!) but can’t give any assurance that spares will be available for any other Qualcast mower I have in its place. Not a good situation at all.

Unless the blade has been seriously damaged, it should be easy to sharpen. If you do need a new blade a lawnmower engineer should be able to provide or modify a blade to fit. 33 cm Qualcast blades are available from online suppliers, so it might be worth doing a Google search.

Brian says:
10 May 2012

As I said, I found a blade for that model of mower from an independent supplier but it doesn’t fit. It appears that “Qualcast” changed the design part way through.

However, I shouldn’t have to go to this trouble with a machine that is just over a year old – parts should still be available. I expected better from a machine made by Qualcast and supplied by Homebase.

This has been a problem for years and it is not helped by the fact that manufacturers frequently update their products. You obviously have rights under the Sale of Goods Act but lawnmower blades are probably excluded because they will regarded as items that may need to be replaced as a result of use. That is no help if replacements are not available.

Brian says:
10 May 2012

Quite right – I don’t expect to be given a replacement blade but I do expect spares to be available. Am I supposed to bodge the machine if a part goes? Or throw it away even though it is only just over a year old?

As far as I know, there is no legal requirement for manufacturers to hold a stock of spares for a fixed length of time. If they cannot supply spares it is likely to damage their reputation. Trade associations may have a code of conduct for members.

This is not the first time that non-availability of spares has come up on Which? Conversation and I suspect that premature failure combined with lack of spares is a major contributor to our mountains of consumer waste.

The traditional solution, used by both amateurs and professionals, is to find an identical model with a different fault and make one good machine out of two. Fair enough for antiquated equipment but not reasonable for a product one year old.

David says:
31 May 2012

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Brand names are traded freely and what is a reputable name one minute can be quite worthless the next. The camera lens maker Vivitar, for example, used to make top-quality opticals often used by photography professionals. But the name was sold to another company which simply uses it to badge cheap point-and-shoot cameras from China.
Nothing illegal about that, but it’s certainly trading on past glories.
As for Qualcast, I can find no information on the current owner since Bosch disposed of it.
A reference “who owns who” website would be a start.

Stephanie says:
6 January 2013

I came to this page after buying a Spear and Jackson Select Stainless Steel Soil Rake from Tesco Express. The rake had received good reviews in the press and on the web and at £11.95 it was apparently significantly cheaper than the same rake selling on Amazon and other retailers. However on receiving the tool I noticed that the join between the head and the head differed from the one on the photo. I suspected something fishy and your report confirmed my suspicions. I have now lost all faith in the brand and am considering returning the rake.

Stephanie says:
6 January 2013

Sorry, I meant the join between the head and the handle, of course. And I bought the rake from Tesco Direct for £11.97.

Jim watson says:
22 August 2013

I have been a victim of this last year. I bought a Spear and Jackson hedge trimmer at Argos which lasted a day, yes ONE DAY. I took it back and got another which lasted not much longer and they then gave me another which I reckon has lasted about an hour or maybe an hour and half but I forgot to use it before the warranty ran out so it was a month out of warranty and they basically said tough. Spear and Jackson have admitted that they licence their name but they seemed interested in my case and I think they are worried about their reputation being ruined by cases like this..


Even if Spear and Jackson are no longer selling high quality products, they should be reasonably durable and fit for their purpose. Your rights are against Argos, the retailer, and not the manufacturer.

Have a look at the current Conversation about the Sale of Goods Act. I suggest you print a copy of the information provided on the Which? website and show this to Argos. The fact that you have had the hedge trimmer replaced twice could be good evidence that the product is substandard. After this time the hedge trimmer might be obsolete and you could be offered either a different model, a partial refund to allow for use, or if you are lucky a full refund.

Brian wh. says:
19 October 2014

Spear and Jackson? no leave it. Badge engineering again.It would appear that Einhell are involved in some way in the marketing of as many as six different labelled trimmers. If like me you are capable of taking apart and finding the guilty fault,forget it if you want spares. I had an S&J 600w Hedge trimmer. After doing 6 hedge cuts it failed on big end pin &bearing inside of the gear assembly. [Not repairable]. They are inferior materials,ie. the steel is not properly hardened.
This is why Makita cost twice as much for the same size and power.You only get what you pay for.

Jim watson says:
23 August 2013

Hi Wavechange, thanks for that. The model is actually obsolete now and if I go to the trouble of getting an independent expert to verify it is of poor manufacture they did say I would get a refund due to the obsolescence of the item. I nearly offered to buy a much more expensive Bosch item if they gave me a full refund as part exchange so to speak but I do not really want to buy anything from them ever again. However I will probably go back with a print out of that Sale of Goods act, cheers for now, Jim.

John Lee says:
28 April 2014

About 2 years ago I purchased what I thought was a Qualcast strimmer from Argos. After just over a year of use the base of the spool housing stared to wear through. (This is a bump feed model so such wear is a feature.) I visited my local Qualcast agent for a replacement and was told that from the model number they knew it was an “Argos Special” and they could not supply a spare part. They suggested I try Argos. No spare part for this model is listed on the Argos Spares website. I managed to bodge a repair which enabled me to use the strimmer to the end of last summer. The spool cover has now failed completely and I have now had to purchase a new srtimmer, this time a Bosch model. This is also a bump feed design but has a metal plate to protect the spool cover from wear.
I think that this type of false branding should be made illegal. It is totally misleading to consumers.

It is disappointing that this topic has not resulted in many comments.

I see it as FRAUD to market a product under a brand name if that company does not own the brand. This practice just shows how little respect well known companies have for the consumer.

It is time for consumers to push for ten year warranties on most ‘consumer durables’. They can carry on playing their silly games and the consumer would be protected from buying second rate products. If manufacturers are responsible for the cost of repair of goods (assuming they have not been abused), product quality will have to improve to avoid them having to face the cost of repair/replacement of insufficiently durable products.

Old school says:
30 June 2014

I purchased from Argos “Qualcast” strimmer. Having problems with the feed I thought I would contact Qualcast. On the web a Homebase window opens saying “Oops” something is wrong. I thought it was a fault that would be rectified but but no, it seems impossible to contact Qualcast. I cannot believe that this “passing off” can be legal because in effect my strimmer is counterfeit.

Has there been no explanation by either Argos or Homebase? Surely they should publish a warning – that the product you are buying is not “Qualcast”? I chose Qualcast on the strength of their past reputation!

I think Which is just as bad at misleading. In the recent review of lawnmowers Which states ”

“The Qualcast brand was started in 1920 and is still going strong”.

What is not mentioned is that Qualcast started out as a British company but is now Chinese owned and manufactured! And many of the other products mentioned are not British anymore. With new EEC directives requiring Country of Origin surely Which can inform us of the companies which are British owned and/or manufacturing in the UK. Japanese company Makita has a big production facility in Telford and German company Bosch make their mowers here. With the resurgence of Made in Britain at least Which should be supporting it even if our Government does not.
The Bradshaws are a British family who spent a year trying to exist on British produce. They are now trying to get support for Made in Britain. Many manufactures have signed up but the Government has not! You might like to support our manufacturing and sign up your support too, [link removed, thanks mods.]

Alan S says:
8 April 2015

If you want quality well built British made garden tools then the only real brand is Bulldog.

Marie says:
5 June 2015

After almost 20 years the time came to buy a new lawnmower. I opted for a Qualcast and purchased one from Homebase. At the checkout I was offered a 3 year warranty for £14.99, which I declined as it stated on the side of the box that it was guaranteed for 2 years. There was nothing inside the box or in the instruction manual to verify this, so I decided to contact the phone number thereon to ask about it. Very disappointed to discover the phone number belonged to Homebase. I then discovered the article about Homebase using the Qualcast name. It should state on the box that Qualcast products are now made by Homebase. Fortunately we have a big loft to keep the box in.

According to Which?:

“Qualcast is an English brand, based in Derbyshire, that started making lawn mowers in 1920. Its first mower was a hand-push cylinder and the brand is still well known for cylinder mowers, including the Atco and Suffolk Punch range. 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.

In May 2011, UK lawn mower brand Allett acquired the design and manufacturing rights to the former Atco and Suffolk Punch branded petrol and electric push-cylinder mowers. These have now formed the new ‘green and gold’ Classic and Expert cylinder mower ranges. If you have a Suffolk Punch or Atco mower that needs parts, it may be worth looking to see if an Allett part would do the job.

The Atco and Suffolk Punch brand names have been sold by Bosch to Global Gardening Products (GPP). GPP launched a new range of Atco lawn mowers in 2012.”

When we trust a brand name it seems wrong that the name can be transferred to someone who may, or may not, uphold that names previous standards. It seems like deception. I hasten to add that in this case I do not believe Bosch and Allett to be acting deceptively; it is the principle. I could argue against that because even if a trusted brand stays in the same company, that company can be bought, or the original company may change its standards. So perhaps the only safe way is not to trust brands, just a properly tested product.

I think the Brand at the top should be part of the product name.

In your example Atco should be called Bosch Atco, Allett Atco, GPP Atco.

You might like products made by Bosch but not GPP and using a brand name to pass off what might be cheaper products is deception.

John Gibbings says:
21 July 2015

Having purchased a Qualcast 1600W x 37cm Electric Rotary Mower, I discovered the Blade had been ground incorrectly reducing it’s efficiency. Trying to contact Qualcast only got me Argos, where I had made the purchase. It struck me that firm with so much experience should make such a fundamental mistake, now I know why, it is obviously a substitute, and not up to scratch, so I believe Qualcast/Bosch have made a serious error of judgement in allowing this public deception, I can’t understand why there is no law infringed here.