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A tale of two spades

All I needed was a garden spade. So after careful consideration, I chose a mid-priced spade, costing $22.98, with a 10 year guarantee, from an Australian company. I expected it to last. A guarantee is not just a promise of a replacement, but also, an indicator that a product is of high quality and is built to last.

But what happens when a product has a guarantee, but isn’t built to last?

Andrew Horton from

Andrew Horton from

A month later my spade, guaranteed for 10 years, was broken. It wasn’t until the spade’s wooden shaft had snapped that I noticed it was made in China. Companies in search of higher profits and lower prices have chosen China for low manufacturing costs and lower wages. Unfortunately, companies that have moved manufacturing to China haven’t just shaved cents off the dollar, but have also shaved the edge off quality and brand reputation.

With mud still on my shoes, I returned the broken spade to Bunnings. Bunnings is the biggest home improvement retail chain in Australia and New Zealand. The range is good and the “lowest prices are just the beginning”. I knew Bunnings would offer me a replacement, but how could I know the replacement would be better?

The selection of spades at Bunnings

The selection of spades at Bunnings

Up and down the aisle, I searched for spades with signs of durability. I read guarantees, checked where products were manufactured and noted prices. The friendly and helpful staff told me they had seen broken Spears & Jackson spades crossing the returns desk, but so far, they hadn’t seen any Cyclone spades being returned. That was good enough for me. So I walked out with the green Cyclone spade for $43.95. It cost nearly twice the price of my broken spade, and I gladly paid the difference.

Both spades at the Bunnings returns desk

Both spades at the Bunnings returns desk

Is the green Cyclone spade actually better than the blue Spear & Jackson spade? What does a guarantee actually mean? A lifetime guarantee versus a 10 year guarantee is basically equivalent, but, if we can’t look for guarantees as an indicator of quality, what can we look to? We can seek companies with long histories, ethical commitments, and sustainable supply chains. We can avoid products made in countries that are known for cutting corners, and favour nations with reputations for producing the highest quality products. Sometimes price is an indicator, but often we don’t get what we pay for. Instead, we just pay for brand positioning.

Both spades are made by companies that have long, proud Australian histories. Spear & Jackson was established in Australia in 1957 but, the current company has a history dating back to the 1700’s in England. They have divisions in England, France and Australia. They distribute their products across the globe and also own the famous WHS trowel brand. WHS is popularly said to stand for Work Hard or Starve, echoing the brand’s commitment to durability. Cyclone also has a long Australian history and was established in 1898. They quickly gained a reputation among farmers for high quality wire fencing. When construction began on the Sydney Opera House in 1958, Cyclone was there supplying scaffolding that could be relied on. Cyclone are now known across Australia for their hard wearing garden tools.

Both companies make commitments to ethical manufacturing. Cyclone signed the Australian Packaging Covenant, a progressive initiative to reduce waste and increase recycling. Spear & Jackson, have a “Supplier Code of Conduct” that prohibits human rights abuses and unethical practices by them and their suppliers.

Both spades have long term guarantees. Both spades are sold by Australian companies with long histories. Only the green Cyclone spade was made in Australia, whereas the blue Spear & Jackson spade was made in China. Cyclone writes on their website that “the reason our tools populate Australian garden sheds and tradesman’s trailers from Hobart to Darwin is simple…they last!”

When I buy online I read reviews, I check the background of companies, and do my best to find products that meet the “buy it once” standard. But sometimes I don’t have time to buy online so I just go to a mall. From now on I won’t just look for a guarantee, or just buy from a local company, but I will stand in the aisle reading reviews, checking where products are manufactured, and be sure that what I buy is truly “buy it once”.


  1. Commented on
    Comment by nask

    It’s not because “made in China”. It is because the company lowered quality standards. In the end it does not matter where the product is made but what specifications are used. Factories in China (just like in every other country) produce products based on specifications.

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