Making tool that gardeners digMay 9th, 2013
Dave Kindred, owner of Liberty Lake-based Clearvu Design & Consulting, can trace his gardening roots back to age 10 when a neighbor taught him the difference between a $5 job and a $20 job for doing detailed green thumb work.
Kindred, now 64, earned $20 on that day in 1959. The neighbor taught him how to look for the details and about ways to streamline the outdoor work he did as a child to make extra money.
Some 50 years later, Kindred started tilling up a design to manufacture a single garden tool that does the work of multiple landscaping instruments. In 2010, he built the first prototype of what is now called Dave's Basic Garden Tool, and he launched Clearvu a year later after retiring from a career as a design consultant for outdoor ski wear.
"We premiered the first tools at the (Spokane) Garden Expo in 2011," Kindred says. "I wanted a tool that could hoe and weed and do other jobs, something where I didn't have to go get a different tool for every job."
In its first 22 months, Kindred says the company has sold just over 1,000 units of Dave's Basic Garden Tool, a patent-pending, multipurpose tool sold at $49.90 retail that can be used for weeding, hoeing, trenching, edging, and digging. It also can be handled much like a pitchfork, or used to remove rocks or ice, he adds.
Clearvu sells the product online, at Spokane-area farmers markets, and at home and garden shows in the Inland Northwest and Seattle.
The company also sells the tools on a wholesale basis to Spokane-area stores that stock them, including at Sun People Dry Goods Co., at 32 W. Second in downtown Spokane; Northwest Seed & Pet, which operates stores at 2422 E. Sprague and 7302 N. Division; Peters Hardware Co. at 12118 E. Sprague in Spokane Valley; and Smart Gardens, at 7015 N. Argonne.
Kindred is the company's sole employee, but he says the company pays one part-time contractor, Jim Viers, as a salesperson.
He says he plans to grow production of the tool this year to 1,400, up from 700 made last year. He adds, "My goal is to double every year."
Kindred assembles the product at a Liberty Lake shop, after receiving the product's components that he has made by three different Spokane-area manufacturers.
Spokane Valley-based Inland Northwest Metallurgical Services Inc. tempers the high carbon steel used for making the tool's head. L&M Precision Fabrication Inc., of Airway Heights, manufactures the triangle-shaped heads, and Spokane Valley-based Inland Millworks cuts out and shapes the ergonomically designed handle with a lathing process.
Kindred does the finishing work on the handles that includes sanding them and applying linseed oil. Kindred also has an arrangement with aerospace manufacturer Triumph Composites Inc., where his wife works, to take a heavy cardboard that Triumph would normally recycle and use it to cover the tool's metal heads during storage or shipping.
Kindred says that Clearvu's sales have picked up in the last year, with many customers hearing about him from other people who have bought the product.
"Last year, we sold 730 as of the end of 2012," he says. "Now, we're at 1,130 with no marketing budget. We're going to be featured in the June issue of Sunset Magazine that's on the stands May 15. We always sell out at garden shows."
He adds, "It's growing so fast that all the money made has to go back into the business. I plan to incorporate soon. People who like their yard work and realize this tool does all the chores they need to do, they fall in love with it. People can work faster."
Kindred contends that the metal head, which at its widest width is 7 inches and has saw-tooth beveled edges, easily can cut through plant material such as weeds. He says the sharpened point of the head is strong enough for jobs requiring digging up plants, rocks or weeds, and for trenching dirt.
Clearvu makes the majority of the tools at a length of 60 inches from the handle to the triangle's tip, but the company also makes some that are two inches longer or shorter for a segment of the population that may want those lengths. Kindred says that for someone who is more than six feet tall, the longer handle often is better while the shorter length works well for those who are under 5 1/2 feet tall.
"All the materials used to make the tools are U.S.A. quality material," he says. "The hardest item to find are stainless steel screws, which I want because they don't rust."
He adds that Sun People Dry Goods carries the largest selection of the tools, and Clearvu leases a corner of the Sun People store where Kindred is available part time during the week to sell his product and support sales for the remainder of the store.
He says the businesses that stock Basic Garden Tool buy an agreed-upon number of the product from him on a wholesale basis, and he guarantees after 90 days that he will refund the business for any unsold tools, which they can return.
"I do that to keep the value of the brand; I don't want them on sale," he says. "So far, no one has wanted to do that. They've all sold."
When founding the company, Kindred says he sought business advice from his neighbor, Al Marzetta, who is founder and chairman of the board of Liberty Lake contract manufacturer Altek Inc. After Kindred showed Marzetta the prototype of his tool, Marzetta asked Rick Taylor, Altek vice president, to mentor Kindred about starting the business.
Kindred also says that Spokane-area gardener Pat Munts, who writes columns about gardening for the Spokesman-Review, became an early fan of the product.
In plans to grow the company, Kindred says he recently developed a professional series Basic Garden Tool that has slightly different design features. He says he expects the newer design to appeal to professional landscapers and forestry workers.
For the original Dave's Basic Garden Tool, he recently began offering the product with florescent green and pink metal heads. He says L&M Precision Fabrication powder-coats the heads with the colors before baking them in a large oven.
"We decided to go with bright green and pink after people requested something that wouldn't blend in with grass, so it's easier to find," he says.
Even men buy the pink ones, he adds. "No one's going to steal it."
He says he'll also continue to make the traditional green-colored tool.
Kindred doesn't plan to add employees at this time, but he says the manufacturers here that produce the tool components may increase the number of workers they rely on to make those components. For example, he says one of the manufacturers contracts with Skils'kin, a Spokane nonprofit that provides jobs for people with disabilities, and that nonprofit could hire more people to work on the components if production increases, he says.
"We could put 50 people to work as we grow," Kindred says. "I insist that everyone who works with us is someone who has a physical or mental challenge, or is a veteran."
Meanwhile, Kindred and his wife still find time for their own garden in the backyard of their Liberty Lake home, complete with seven raised beds. The couple grows produce that includes peaches, grapes, golden raspberries, cherries, and a variety of vegetables.
"We have a little lawn," he says. "It's actually a pretty small lot. It's amazing what you can grow in raised beds."