Sharpener lifts Darex out of slump

ASHLAND — Darex, the maker of Drill Doctor products, was once the toast of home do-it-yourselfers and handymen from Boston to San Diego.

That was before the recession shattered the nation's economic psyche, and construction — especially home-building — slowed to a crawl. The bubble burst and pink slips went out. The Pro Tool component of Darex faded and was folded into one downsized company.

In recent months, however, the Ashland-based company has once again caught lightning in a bottle, and the 50 hardy souls who persevered through the tough times are being rewarded. Five years of research and development paid off this fall when Darex introduced its Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener. The Hersey Street company has shipped 10,000 of the devices, which carry a suggested retail price $79.95, this quarter.

"Basically, we are sold out all over the country," said Darex President Hank O'Dougherty. "We've caught back up, but we haven't got to the market for Christmas. Amazon ... said it's (back-ordered) six to seven weeks on their website. We are feeling stretched right now."

With retailers ordering the new product and continued sales of other sharpening products, Darex's balance sheet is looking strong.

Last week, the company distributed $150,000 in bonuses among its employees.

"That's only a part of the bonus," O'Dougherty said. "There is a piece at least that large coming in March (at the end of Darex's fiscal year), as well. We thought we'd give them bonuses now so people can have a nice holiday season."

The new sharpeners target customer is the outdoorsman.

"It's the guy that needs to field dress an animal and needs really sharp knives when they're dressing an elk or fish," O'Dougherty said. "To this point, there was no way to get a razor edge on knives other than by hand. These guys can't do what their grandfather did with a stone. This tool is able to get an edge very quickly. When we showed it to outdoorsmen, they went nuts."

O'Dougherty said Drill Doctor sales were steady during the recession.

"The challenging economy has got people buying Drill Doctors — because they are trying to save money — instead of buying drill bits. Darex (industrial) products are doing real well because of the same kind of thinking."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail

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