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Stihl Chain Saws Thrive Outside the Big Box

Stihl builds chain saws in America and sells them through the kinds of little stores that are supposed to be going out of business And it’s working great
The MS 271, a midgrade workhorse, appeals to pros and the homeowners who want to be like them
The MS 271, a midgrade workhorse, appeals to pros and the homeowners who want to be like themPhotograph by David Brandon Geeting for Bloomberg Businessweek

When he bought Speed’s Power Equipment in 1991, Sam Wilson felt the thrill of owning a small business wear off quickly. Amid a recession, his 15 employees struggled to sell pretty much any available brand of power tool in his shop about a mile south of downtown Salt Lake City. Then Home Depot opened eight blocks away. Wilson, now 51, was ready for a strategic Hail Mary.

He stopped carrying almost every brand of machinery that could be found in a big-box home-improvement store, which left him primarily with a bunch of chain saws, blowers, and hedge trimmers made by Stihl. Wilson also moved his business to a new location six blocks away—six blocks closer to Home Depot, that is. “I’m not going to lie; I was nervous,” he says. “But my sales went crazy. It was just awesome.”