|The Complete Story of Alden Corporation|
|By: Robert Rossitto, Dir. Sales & Marketing|
Alden Corporation is a precision manufacturer which utilizes innovative manufacturing methods and customized machinery to produce state-of-the-art power tool accessories for the removal of damaged fasteners. We are a family owned company established in 1990 by its founder Yvon Desaulniers.
In 1967 Yvon Desaulniers founded Alden Corporation's sister company Devon Precision Industries, a leading precision Swiss screw machine manufacturer located in Wolcott, Connecticut. Together, we employ more than 150 people operating more than 500 sophisticated primary and secondary manufacturing machines used in the following operations: gear hobbing, burnishing, knurling, thread rolling, broaching, milling, worming, form and centerless grinding, pinion and gear assemblies.
In 1989 Devon Precision was approached by an inventor who wanted to manufacture a revolutionary tool called Drill-out® for removing broken bolts. The Drill-out would be a power tool accessory, capable of removing a broken bolt in a fraction of the time it currently took tools using the outdated technology. This outdated technology is represented by tools originally created in the early 1900's and are commonly referred to as manual extractors, screw extractors, or an EZ Out.
After analyzing the original patent, Devon engineers realized that the tool could not be efficiently manufactured in its current design. Months and possibly years would be required to re-design the tool so it could deliver superior performance and be manufactured cost effectively. Determining how to cost effectively manufacture a complicated part is one of the key strengths behind Devon's successful 43 years in business.
Yvon Desaulniers decided that he would buy the patent from the original inventor and invest the financial resources to purchase new state-of-the-art engineering software and specialized manufacturing equipment that would be necessary to improve the design and functionality of the Drill-out. Devon Precision is in the business of manufacturing precision parts for other OEM's. For the first time in its history, Devon Precision would have a product that they could manufacture, market and distribute.
In 1990 Alden Corporation was created as a separate corporation to fulfill the unique demands of such an undertaking. The same engineering expertise, innovation and quality control methodology that made Devon Precision a leader in the precision Swiss screw machine industry was applied to the daily operation of Alden Corporation.
Millions of dollars was invested in unique machinery required to put a self centering drill tip on the Drill-out. A self centering drill tip eliminates the tedious process of grinding, center punching and drilling pilot holes. As several versions of the original design were created and tested the Drill-out tool took on more advanced capabilities. These improvements, such as the ability to stay on center while drilling, presented unique challenges from a manufacturing perspective. In order to overcome these challenges custom machinery would be developed and built. After several years of design changes and multiple versions tested and re-tested, a superior tool was created. This was the beginning to a 20 year journey which is Alden Corporation.
Alden Corporation evolved from being the manufacturer and marketer of one product, into a line of quality tools that include Drill-Out® Broken Bolt Extractor, X-Out® Damaged Screw Remover, Grabit® Damaged Screw Remover, Grabit Micro Broken Bolt Extractor, Grabit Pro Broken Bolt and Damaged Screw Remover and the Ease-out® Broken Bulb Remover. Alden's products are the world's only drill and extractor in one tool with patents in over 70 countries.
Drill-Out, our original and most technologically advanced tool is utilized in select markets such as industrial MRO, automotive and small engine repair. As a result of its effectiveness, it has provided stable sales performance over the previous twenty years.
X-out Damaged Screw Remover was created to solve the prevalent problem of removing damaged screws that are so stripped on the inside of the screw head that screw drivers and driver bits can not remove the damaged screw. X-out incorporated some of the basic design principals used to create the drill tip of Drill-out. The geometry of the drill tip allows the X-out to utilize friction as it pushes against what is left on the inside of the damaged screw head to back out the damaged screw. It works very well on the average household screw and can also be used manually (in reverse only) with a ratcheting screw driver or chucked directly into the chuck of a power hand drill. This product solved a very prevalent problem for which there was not a viable solution. Age old manual extractors were actually created to remove broken bolts or what was commonly referred to as machine screws or just simply "screws". Hence the very old term "screw extractor". Screw extractors were designed to remove broken bolts and are not suitable tools for removing damaged wood screws.
In 2001 the hand tool buyers at Sears® recognized the enormous market potential for the X-Out Damaged Screw Remover and offered to feature it in a TV commercial featuring Bob Villa as long as they would be granted exclusivity for sales within the USA. Taking into consideration the considerable financial resources that Sears would bring to the table it was decided to grant Sears the exclusivity. Sears would retain that exclusivity for several years. Sears decided to call it Screw-out® which is a trademark of Sears Holding and is a Craftsman branded product. Over two million dollars in TV advertising was spent in 2001 resulting in over 1 million units sold. Because of the tremendous success of the Screw-out Alden was nominated Partners in Progress 2001 Innovation Vendor of the Year. Every year for the following seven years the Screw-out has benefited from special promotional opportunities through Sears.
Between 2001 and 2003 Alden grew exponentially due to the success of Sears. But the exclusivity with Sears had created a void in the market place. Other retailers took notice of the Screw-out TV campaign and wanted a piece of the action. So in response, a new and improved but very different damaged screw remover was created called the Grabit® Damaged Screw Remover. This allowed us to offer a screw remover to our other major retailers while maintaining the exclusivity with Sears.
The proven technology of the smaller flip style Micro Drill-out was used to create the original Grabit. While X-Out worked by friction, the Grabit would utilize our patented technology allowing it to bite into the damaged screw head and remove the screw with no deeper than a 1/16 inch hole. Any deeper and the head of the screw will pop off leaving the user with another problem to solve. The ability to actually bite into the screw head was crucial to making a superior screw remover capable of taking out screws up to 3 inches in length. The X-Out is only capable of removing smaller screws that do not offer a lot of resistance. This is why the old fashioned manual extractors can not be used to remove screws. They require a drill depth of more than ¼ - ½ an inch.
The Grabit was successfully launched in 2003 with Ace Hardware being one of the first major retailers to sell the Grabit. The functionality and uniqueness of the Grabit provided Alden the opportunity to enter into the world of big box stores. Lowes Companies made the decision at the end of 2003 to bring in the Gabit. This was a major break for Alden because companies offering one item are normally prevented from selling to a major retailer like Lowes. In the spring of 2004 the Grabit was successfully placed nationwide in Lowes. The Grabit Damaged Screw Remover was originally sourced from China in an effort to keep the cost low and make it affordable for the DIY (Do It Yourself) and hobbyist. It was also originally designed to only remove a damaged screw. Grabit still sells extremely well at Lowes, Ace Hardware, Do It Best, True Value and many other fine retailers worldwide.
Even though the original Grabit was far superior to the X-Out Damaged Screw Remover we still needed something even better for the professional tradesmen and to sell to companies wanting a the tool to be made in America.
After many months of research the original Grabit was redesigned and features of the Drill-out were incorporated into the design of the Pro Grabit Broken Bolt & Damaged Screw Extractor. It was introduced in 2006 and immediately accepted by industrial catalog companies, automotive wholesalers, hardware co-ops, big box stores and even mass merchants like Sears and Canadian Tire. In 2007 Alden was fortunate to have The Home Depot make the decision to bring in the Pro Grabit. They liked the idea of selling the professional version that would appeal to their contractor customer base.
The years between 2001 and 2007 were all very exciting years full of new opportunities. We went from a small company selling mainly into the industrial and automotive markets to a company with broad retail distribution throughout North America and a presence in Europe and Asia. Just when things looked like they were stabilizing and growth was harder to obtain, Alden was offered an opportunity to sell the original Grabit Damaged Screw Remover on TV.
In the fall of 2006 Alden received an email from a company in Utah that specialized in producing infomercials. They were walking a trade show and watched the Grabit being demonstrated and instantly new they could make a 60 second DRTV (Direct TV) infomercial and sell it nationwide.
The fact that in 2001 we had a successful TV campaign with Sears helped push this new venture forward and by July of 2007 the final version of the 60 second spot was ready to test. Testing was accomplished by September and a formal DRTV campaign was in full swing by October. The forth quarter is the most important time of the year for DRTV.
The Grabit TV campaign would run from October of 2007 until December 2008. The nation wide exposure opened a new market for Alden that turned out to be very significant. We were now selling the Grabit into the As Seen On TV marketplace. This marketing channel was very different and one which we never considered. Who would think of going to Walgreens for a screw remover? Over 120,000 units would eventually be sold thru Walgreens in one year.
Much was learned about DRTV by both Alden and the company in Utah. During the summer of 2008 executives at Alden began to realize that in order to extend the life span of the DRTV campaign it would need to be changed and eventually reduced to a 30 second commercial tagging our largest retailers. The decision was made to take over the TV campaign.
DRTV consultants were hired to make sure the venture would be successful and Billy Mays was recruited to be the pitchman for the new campaign. A new script was written and production commenced in the fall.
During this same time period the Discovery Channel was creating a new reality TV series featuring Billy Mays called Pitchmen. It follows Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan as they try to bring new products to the market thru DRTV. One day Alden received word that the Discovery Channel would be calling and wanted to film the commercial we were weeks away from shooting with Billy Mays. The call came as promised and within a week a film crew arrived at our new corporate headquarters to film the plant, interview executives and then film the commercial as it was being filmed. This opened another opportunity.
Telebrands is a leading company in the DRTV industry. One could say they pioneered the DRTV industry. When the Grabit DRTV initially aired one of their executives paid us a visit and expressed an interest in taking over the DRTV campaign. But we already had a contractual obligation with the company from Utah and Alden was not actually the owner of that commercial so that was the end of negotiations. That same executive ran into Billy Mays in the summer of 2008 at a DRTV tradeshow and learned that he was going to be pitching the Grabit with Alden. So another call came in to Alden except this time it was from Telebrands. Life at Alden was getting very interesting.
Telebrands was again interested in taking over the Grabit DRTV campaign. When the production team at the Discovery Channel heard that an executive from Telebrands was coming to Alden they excitedly asked if they could film the meeting. This was agreed to and during that meeting Billy Mays participated by telephone from his home in Tampa Florida. Billy Mays thought that considering the vast resources of Telebrands and his long relationship working with Telebrands on many successful products that the campaign should be turned over to Telebrands.
While the executives at Alden were very eager to go this alone, in the end the decision was made to let Telebrands take over the campaign. Unfortunately, the new spot with Billy Mays did not test well and the project was dropped. All this can be seen on the Pitchman - Tool Guys Episode sold by the Discovery Channel.
On a sad note Billy Mays passed away the following spring. The last time we saw him was during the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. Executives from Alden attended his wake and funeral. It was a pleasure to work with him and he will be missed.
As we all know, 2009 was also the beginning of a recession and business began to fall off. Fortunately we make quality tools that will always be in demand during good times and slow times. Who knows what opportunities await the Alden Corporation.