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The millionth Drill Doctor

Central Point resident Ken Quick works on an assembly line in Ashland, making Drill Doctor drill-bit sharpeners. Click the photo to see a larger (37k) version. / Bob Pennell — — — Successful drill sharpening tool has made a name for itself around the world


ASHLAND ' Six years after its introduction and nearly five years after its success warranted a spin-off from Darex Corp., the Drill Doctor is still turning heads.

Professional Tool Manufacturing LLC late this morning will produce its millionth Drill Doctor, which debuted at the August 1996 Chicago National Hardware Show.

It's quite a milestone, says majority owner Dave Bernard. I had never really thought about it being possible when we started the project. We thought we'd be happy if we sold 10,000 to 50,000 per year.

Under the Darex heading in 1997, 24,000 units were sold. But by 2000, 153,000 Drill Doctors were retailed with the number more than doubling to 347,000 in 2001. This year's output should hit 450,000.

Drill Doctor is used to quickly sharpen dull drill bits, greatly extending their useful life.

Under president and minority owner Hank O'Dougherty's direction Drill Doctor has carved out a niche since the new company was formed in January 1998.

Soon the sharpener became one of Snap-On Tools' top non-branded products. Then it became one of the top sellers in the Sears catalog.

TruValue and Ace Hardware preceded some of the big-box retailers. Then when Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse bought Eagle Hardware & Garden in 1999 it opened the door for Drill Doctor's national distribution the next year. Sears soon put the product in its mall stores and has since put it on its hardware store shelves.

Home Depot wanted to go national with it in 2001, but Professional Tool wasn't geared up for that much production. Distribution was limited to 40 percent of Home Depot stores until this year.

It was a huge jump in distribution and added to the complexity of the business, the 44-year-old O'Dougherty says.

It's also on the Internet through outlets such as Amazon.com.

The company began with about 40 workers in 1998 and currently employs 189 with that number expected to reach 200 later this year.

The company has 50,000 square feet of warehouse space in the Rogue Valley filled with inventory in anticipation of the Christmas shopping season.

Professional Tool is considering warehouse sites in the East or Southern California that would allow bulk shipping and is looking for international partners for distribution in European and Asian markets.

I think they've had terrific leadership and an extremely talented CEO, who is forward-looking, says Cynthia Scherr, a strategic management consultant in Ashland. They hit the market with a unique product at a time when people are spending more time at do-it-yourself activities. But they could've had a great product and fallen flat on their face if they didn't have leadership and a great management team.

Not only did Professional Tool find a niche demand for its produce, it found the quintessential personality to pitch its product ' radio newscaster Paul Harvey.

He only has about 20 people that advertise with him and he has to try out the product, says the 46-year-old Bernard. The big decision at the time was whether to spend the money. It was a &

36;2 million contract for 12 months, once a week. At the time, we were a much smaller company.

There are four Drill Doctor models ranging from the 100 Traveler, listed at &

36;44.95, to the 750 Professional, listed at &

36;189.95. The most popular model, Blodgett says, is the 250 handyman, listed at &

36;99.95, but can be found at discounters for about &

36;80.

The pricing hasn't changed since it went into production, Blodgett says. We're into maintaining our costs and always trying to improve our efficiencies.

O'Dougherty says a DD400 model is due out in October and that 300 and 850 models are scheduled for next year.

But it's like Classic Coke, he says, you never know what people like until you get a shot at them.

Some are for export.

There's a huge European market and a very large Asian market and we want to take advantage of that next year.

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