Mark Robert Halper Photography

Recently, I was faced with making a small repair to the vinyl siding on the rear wall of my Washington, D.C., row house. I knew right away that I needed a “zip tool.”

For those of you who have never worked with vinyl siding (or still refuse to), this specialty tool makes quick work of removing and replacing a course of vinyl siding by smoothly “unzipping” and “zipping” the locking strip. About the size of a putty knife, a zip tool blade meets the handle at about a 30-degree angle, to keep you from scraping your knuckles, and the tip of the blade is curled back across it’s width, creating a “hook” with which you can catch the bottom edge of the siding. I can’t remember how I made this kind of repair before I discovered the zip tool, but I know of no easier way to go about it.

I don’t know what happened to my old zip tool — now that I’m not a practicing contractor, my tool collection isn’t as well organized as it used to be — but I figured it couldn’t be that hard to find a place to buy a new one, and worth every minute I spent looking. I thought about ordering one online, but I wanted to make the repair that day and didn’t want to wait for delivery. And besides, how hard could it be to find a zip tool?

Search Terms

I started at my local lumberyard, which caters to professional remodelers but, it turns out, doesn’t stock vinyl siding; no one there had ever heard of a zip tool. Next stop was The Home Depot, which had a pretty impressive hand tool section, but no zip tool; nothing doing at the other Home Depot store, either. Or at either Lowe’s store near me.

After wasting most of a Saturday morning, all I’d gotten was a bunch of funny looks, and a lot of practice explaining what a zip tool looks like and what it’s for. (It’s hard to find good help these days.) So I finally typed “zip tool” into Google.

It was obvious from the first two pages of results that Google was headed in the direction of “Winzip” file compression software, so I changed the search terms to “siding tool.” Bingo. Actually, the first nonpaid search result is not a place to buy a zip tool, but it is a good photo-essay on how to use it to remove and replace a section of vinyl siding.

The second result, from, is for the Malco SRT2 Straight Handled Siding Removal Tool, also called the “Side Swiper.” (I checked Google again as I wrote this and the item is still in stock.) A new tool sells for $4.85, but I ordered one of 12 available used zip tools for $3.00. I paid five bucks for shipping (less than what I’d spent driving around all morning), and the package was waiting for me when I got home from work on Tuesday. The repair was complete before dark.

Long Tail

It’s clear to me now that none of the retailers I checked is ever going to stock a zip tool because no one — or almost no one — is ever going to walk in off the street looking to buy one. Retail is all about shelf-space turnover, and a real, three-dimensional zip tool is going to sit on the shelf a long, long time. Much better is an online ordering system that allows the manufacturer to centralize storage and retrieve one zip tool at a time, just in time for delivery to anyone anywhere who wants one.

The same is true of essential business information. It used to be that you had to wait for Remodeling magazine to arrive in the mail to read what the experts had to say about business conditions and to learn how other remodelers were solving the problems you are facing. Not anymore. Now you can go online to whenever it’s convenient and find everything you’re looking for.

We’ve just redesigned and reorganized the Web site to bring you not just the archive of past Remodeling magazine articles, but lots of Web-exclusive articles, videos, and slide shows, plus new interactive features, such as business topic forums, expert Q&A, and business calculators. You can even “subscribe” to certain parts of the site and have the content delivered to your home page, inbox, or mobile device.

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