Necessity may be the mother of invention, but a discerning spouse can be just as inspirational. No one knows that better than Craig Sommerfield, resident and founder of Kreg Tool Co. His company, now a manufacturing concern with 35 employees and a corner on the pocket hole jig market, began back in 1982 when the projects he was completing weren’t quite meeting his wife’s expectations. Peg covered screw holes and puttied nail holes were simply not meeting her standards.
So he started looking for alternatives to putting face frames and cabinets together. He hit upon the pocket hole, which he saw in the undersides of furniture, and promptly created a jig to make perfect pocket holes. Fortunately his background as a tool and die maker stood him in good stead to create his first jig. The jig did just what he wanted it to, and his spouse was much happier with his work.
He tried to get his brother Mark, a part time cabinet maker, interested in his new idea, but it took a while. So instead of showing him the results of his experiments, he made him a duplicate pocket hole jig and gave it to him. Mark tested it out for awhile and suggested some improvements. Along the way, some of the contractors Mark worked with noticed his new gadget and expressed interest.
Craig’s brother thought that they might just be able to sell these jigs as a side business, but that became even more imperative when the global economy hit Iowa and the company Craig worked for packed up and moved to Taiwan. So he was thrust into the entrepreneurial world and started his own business. He and his brother took some jigs to an industrial arts fair, and while all the shop teachers loved the design, none of them bought any. They took another stab at it, taking a bunch of jigs to a woodworking show in Minneapolis in 1989. When they sold out their inventory early on Saturday, they knew they had something.
The New Biscuit Joint?
Eleven years later, Craig is still busy making his jigs. He oversees the shop where the jigs are manufactured and, ironically, his wife oversees the the business end of the corporation. “I couldn’t read a financial statement to save my soul,” Craig admits, so he had to talk her out of her job at a local hospital so she could be the chief financial officer. The company produces a wide range of jigs, from a small $9 pocket holer all the way up to a $3,300 industrial number, and Craig is very serious about the quality of the workmanship. With these jigs, he doesn’t want to cut any corners (no pun intended).
The business has been on steady climb since it started in 1989, and Craig says that he anticipates even more interest in pocket hole joinery. “I really think that the pocket hole is where the biscuit joint was ten years ago,” he says. And his best salespeople have been woodworkers who already own his jigs. “Woodworkers network very well,” he says, and that has helped him get the word out about pocket holes and his jigs in particular.
In retrospect, Craig is amazed that it all came together the way it did. “Surprisingly enough, we built our whole business on drilling a hole at an angle in a piece of wood. Sometimes when I sit back and think about this, it’s scary,” he admits.
– Bob Filipczak