Skip to main content

Harbor Freight’s Secret Weapon is Deception

Harbor Freight has a secret weapon to take over the world of tool retail sales. Here’s how you can make it work for you.


Why are traditional brick and mortar stores going out of business and yet Harbor Freight is constantly increasing its number of stores across the U.S.? That’s the big question (and explanation) in a recent DIY with Dave YouTube channel episode where the host reveals the genius behind Harbor Freight’s secret weapon.

Harbor Freight Growth

The number of Harbor Freight stores has grown from a single store in 1980 to over 1,400 by 2023. However, the significance of this is not just its physical growth, and its growth in popularity, but that it is growing during a period when so many other businesses like Sears, JC Penny, Best Buy, etc., have bit the proverbial dust.

In fact, Harbor Freight is raising actual dust as new stores are cropping up everywhere and notably in smaller cities with populations under 20,000. And there’s no sign of it slowing down.

There’s a Secret to Their Success

Part of the secret to their success is that of a tiered pricing model. In short, it is providing customers with options when it comes to pricing and meeting their needs. Think of it is a way of having something for everyone regardless of their lifestyle and budget by offering a range (or variation if you will) of similar items that are categorized for the consumer as “good”, “better”, and “best” that are sold with respectively higher price tags.

As the host of the YouTube channel aptly makes an example of, consider what airlines are doing with offering “First” class, “Business” class, and “Economy (cattle car)” class. If getting from point A to point B is all that really matters for a customer’s travel needs and budget, then “Economy” is the way to go. However, if customer’s needs for comfort and avoiding a leper colony level of travel are more pressing than cost, then “first” or “business’ class takes precedence.

Going Beyond the Secret

However, other stores know about this “secret” and rightly use it. But what makes Harbor Freight even better at it is their secret to their secret, and that is what the video from the DIY Dave YouTube channel is about.

That said, follow along with Dave to learn the intricacies of the secret behind the secret and discover how this is actually affecting your shopping decisions every time you buy a tool or hardware item at Harbor Freight.

A Final Thought About Harbor Freight’s “Secret”

Personally, as a consumer who shops at Harbor Freight, I do not have a problem with their strategy and sales tactics. Yes, the deception of different brands not really being different brands is a little disconcerting. As the host stated in the video:

These brand names themselves are a complete façade. They are all made by Harbor Freight: There is no ‘Hercules” tool company; There’s no ‘Warrior’ tool company; There’s no “Bauer’ tool company; Those are all Harbor Freight brands,” which the host says is used to essentially manipulate customer buying decision process of which tool to choose.

However, by knowing and understanding this, customers can take advantage of Harbor Freight’s strategy and tactics by doing your homework (reading tool reviews) and some trial-and-error tool purchasing from which you can pretty much figure out which tools are the better choice for your needs…while saving money.

For example, I recently bought their purple-colored, gravity fed paint spray gun for $19.99 (or maybe actually a little less as I had a coupon on hand that day) and it was the third one I had bought over the past 3 years. When I went to the counter to pay for it, I was asked the requisite question of whether I wanted the protection plan coverage of the tool. I said, “No thanks, it’s throw-away tool.” The clerk looked a little confused by my answer, but politely finished the transaction and I went my way.

What I meant by my reply is that my experience is that for my needs of spray-painting primer and cover coats of paint on auto frames, the inside of fenders, the inside of engine bays and the inside of the hoods of vehicles, that $19.99 spray gun rated as “good” is good enough for the canvas and media of my vehicle painting. Paying more for a “Better” or “Best” spray gun is throwing good money away. Granted, however, under different painting needs, I might be better served with an upgrade.

What I discovered by reading Harbor Freight tool reviews of paint guns and using a few models through actual practice is that the $19.99 tool is perfect for non-critical paint applications, but good for only about a few paint sessions.

No matter how well I clean the paint gun afterwards, I still experience application problems after those few sessions. Especially if the next paint job is months later.

Regardless of the reason(s) why this is true for me (Perhaps the lacquer thinner is eating the rubber/plastic seals), I’m happy to spend $19.99 for a tool that does its job as well as it does for the need I have for it. Which is why I plan my paint jobs ahead of time to cover as many parts as possible in a single session or two.

Another way to think about this is that spending the time, the mess, and the frustration of cleaning a cheap paint gun that will fail on me afterward, it makes sense to treat a cheap tool like this as a throw-away. Especially when you consider the price of lacquer thinner to clean said spray gun.

In other words, you can let Harbor Freight’s secrets work for you once you understand what is going and how it affects you.

But, then again...maybe that’s just me.

For additional articles related to Harbor Freight, here are a few for your consideration:

Timothy Boyer is an automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily news and topics related to new and used cars and trucks.

COMING UP NEXT: Torque Your Toyota’s Spark Plugs the Right Way Without a Torque Wrench

Image source: Deposit Photos


Roger Marble (not verified)    September 24, 2023 - 9:15PM

I understand the Good, Better Best model as it gives me a choice. I do not understand how that is deception.