For Rockler, Innovation Still Trumps Imitation

We all know that old adage about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. But it’s a notion that’s always struck me as a hollow compliment at best. In my experience, it’s much, much harder to create than it is to duplicate.

I was reminded of this just two weeks ago while attending IWF — a biannual woodworking trade show and one of the largest in the country. Here’s a textbook example from that trip of how quickly certain companies will jump onto the bandwagon of a good idea.

During the show, I had the opportunity to interview Steve Krohmer, Rockler’s vice president of new product development, and to see some of Rockler’s recent product releases. Rockler consistently has fresh widgets to share at the big trade shows, and this year’s IWF sampling was no exception. One new item that really got my attention is Rockler’s flexible Silicone Tray and Silicone Spreader. It’s an inexpensive kit that expands on Rockler’s clever little silicone glue brush. If you follow a number of woodworking forums and magazines, including ours, you’ve probably read the good press these brushes have been receiving from the wider woodworking community: inexpensive, durable, reusable, versatile — are all fair descriptions of a simple tool that can make glue-ups and cleanups more convenient. Now, the company continues the theme by giving us a non-breakable reservoir to hold a small quantity of glue, plus a trowel-style applicator to smear it over a broad surface more easily. I suspect these additions will catch on quickly, too, as more woodworkers continue to give the glue brush a try.

But several aisles down the trade show floor from Rockler’s booth, in IWF’s new product display, sat a competitor’s silicone glue brush.To be fair, it’s a different color from “Rockler blue” and has a round-profile head instead of a rectangular one, but nevertheless, the concept is essentially the same. While technically “new” to market, the irony of this knockoff struck me: Rockler’s silicone glue brush — the first of its kind for woodworking that I’ve ever seen — came to market just six months or so ago.

I guess I should temper my idealism. Tenth grade economics class taught me that competition is good. It drives prices down, gives consumers purchasing options and often raises the bar of quality. It’s a cornerstone of capitalism, and, of course, our woodworking industry is saturated with it. It’s hard to think of many woodworking products that aren’t available from more than one brand in some derivative form. What sensible manufacturer doesn’t want to grab a piece of the action in the ongoing effort to be profitable? And, given the still tenuous state of our economy, it’s pretty tough to bring a wholly new innovation to a woodworking trade show just now. There was a LOT of empty space in that new product display case, and many booths had very little in the way of bright-shiny new. We are an industry still very much in recovery mode.

But Rockler’s approach to getting out in front and blazing a trail, instead of just following a trend, is inspiring. Products like last year’s shutter-making system (our June print issue cover story), the Bench Cookies® of several years ago, Rockler’s new Mixing Mate™… all are products that try to make woodworking and home improvement more enjoyable for every skill level and budget. They solve problems with fresh solutions in a way that other companies can only emulate. But innovation is a commitment the company takes very seriously. In fact, Krohmer once told me more about how Rockler’s product development process works, and you can read that interview here.

During IWF, Marc “The Wood Whisperer” Spagnuolo posted the following query to his Facebook page: “Anyone find anything cool coming out of IWF this year? Other than the same old incremental tool upgrades and whatever Rockler’s new invention is?”

That about sums it up. If Rockler calls it new, it’s typically a trade show head-turner. Not another imitation.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor


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