My tenure as a flooring installation specialist began more than 30 years ago when I was about eight years old. It was a real family experience back then; my four brothers, a sister, six uncles, and about 10 cousins all worked together with my dad installing flooring. One of the most important lessons I learned then was, “There is always a way to make things easier.” Work smarter, not harder, as the saying goes.
Everyone knows that having the right tool makes any job easier. I developed my first tool seven years ago. Sometimes, when the right tool for the job doesn’t exist, you just have to make it yourself. That is my role at Beno J. Gundlach – I help talented inventors find markets for their tools. It’s a win-win-win: inventors find buyers, craftsmen use creative tools to complete quality jobs, and everyone profits. I will take you through the process of how ideas turn into an actual tool you can hold in your hand.
The first step in this process is to identify a problem and then develop a solution. Sometimes, even the most complex problems can be solved easily with a simple solution. I spend most of my waking hours, and even some of my sleeping hours, thinking about resolving problems. Sometimes an idea will come to me as I’m driving. I’ve even been awakened from a deep sleep with the answer to a problem I’d been pondering. Whether the idea is mine or an inventor’s, the trick is to turn that idea into reality.
When a new product idea comes to me, I analyze the market to determine if anything similar already exists. I brainstorm ways to prototype and test the product. I visualize the product as if it’s on a turntable, and I study it from every possible angle. My goal is to have all the answers before I run it past the boss. I often will seek out opinions from my team during this time, as a new set of eyes looking at a problem can be helpful. I generally have several products at this stage at any given time. Some resolve quickly and move down the line, and some take months. Until it is ready to go, it’s not ready to go.
When the idea is ready to test, it must be built. No two developments are alike, so I spend a lot of time rummaging around Ace Hardware looking for just the right fasteners and pieces. It’s not uncommon for me to find an even more elegant solution to a problem by shopping the aisles at Ace. Once we have a prototype, I run it by a small group of product testers. First, I test it and bounce my results off Steve Gundlach, and then my team tests it and shares their results with me. Once this process has been completed, we all meet to discuss whether to go forward with production.
If we decide to go forward, another set of experts joins the effort. Our in-house engineer and machinist come together to fabricate a superior quality product in the most efficient way possible. Gundlach has an amazing team that I trust implicitly to take a prototype and turn it into something useful and beautiful. When the first one rolls off the line, it is subjected to rigorous testing. I’m personally involved in the testing phase, and I purposely abuse the product to test the quality of the construction and design. This can be a lengthy process, as production setup requires a lot of sourcing, price checking, and research.
Throughout my career, I have developed a great network of fellow installers and others from around the industry who support my efforts. My mission is to create tools that enable installers to work smarter, not harder, and they are on board with that. Once we have something we feel is worthy, I send examples to some of them for testing and feedback. I realize that I’m taking a risk here, because if I send out a clinker, I will hear about it in no uncertain terms. But that’s a good thing, because I don’t want to promote anything that doesn’t save time, make a job easier, or solve a problem. Market research is key. If we get a good report from our field testers, then we write the marketing material, get some samples in the hands of our reps, and start selling.
The process is actually quite complicated, but this article should give you a good overview of how we proceed. It is a team effort from start to finish, and I rely on the expertise of everyone involved to make it happen.
Eric Zurn is director of innovations for Beno J. Gundlach Co. in Belleville, Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.