If you’re a fan of Easy Wood Tools’s (EWT) four-jaw chucks, carbide-insert turning tools and faceplates, you may have met its founder, Craig Jackson, by phone or in person at woodworking shows. Craig values those one-to-one relationships with customers, and he’s probably been the friendly voice you’ve spoken with if you’ve called EWT’s technical service hotline.
Well, the next time you speak with Craig, he’s got a new business card to share. This past summer, Jackson sold EWT to Pony® Tools, Inc. The formal acquisition took place on July 28. And from that day forward, Craig has become Pony’s vice president of research and development. It’s a new position for Pony, a company that makes a full line of bright orange woodworking and clamping products under the Pony and Jorgensen® labels.
Jackson, a former machinist, started Easy Wood Tools in his garage, hoping to take woodturning to the next level of ease and enjoyment with innovative, carbide-insert turning tools. “I had made some woodturning tools for myself since traditional tools did not make sense to me — all the bevels and sharpening and complicated use — for no good reason. The hobby had basically been left behind by technology,” he says.
But, after seven years of building the family-owned EWT with an exclusive focus on woodturning, Craig and his wife, Donna, realized that some things had to improve in order for the company to continue to grow.
He says that one of the driving forces for considering selling EWT had to do with customer requests. With some 85 SKUs in its product catalog — all developed, manufactured and marketed by Craig and his employees — avid woodturning customers have still wanted even more options.
“The only real customer complaint we’ve ever gotten is, ‘When are you coming out with more tools?’” Craig says. “R&D is the thing I’m best at. With all the growth we’ve had, and in order for me to focus on R&D, something had to change in a big way.”
But, the challenges of remaining an independent business and managing the day-to-day “minutiae” of governmental issues, insurance and employee regulations, among other things, kept Craig saddled to a desk instead of out in the manufacturing shop, prototyping new products.
“I realized that I cannot grow this company without letting others take control of areas of business that are their specialty and let me get busy (doing) what I do best: new products.”
Jackson says that his decision to offer EWT to Pony made sense on a number of levels. Both companies are family-built, with products manufactured in America. “I guess you could say, our values regarding business, customers, employees and most of all our family (are) all aligned down to the hair,” Jackson says. “I felt we would be silly to not join companies.”
Craig adds that his new boss, Pony’s CEO Joe Krueger, and he realized the common interests run even deeper. Easy Wood will benefit from Pony’s manufacturing and distribution prowess, developed over some 112 years in business. Pony will glean Jackson’s ideas for product development, marketing and end-customer relationships.
“It’s always best when both parties bring something to the table that builds and challenges the other to be better,” Jackson adds.
In his new role as Pony’s R&D VP, Craig will be responsible for developing the entire line of products for both companies. He says simplifying processes and products will be key goals on his agenda, and he’s confident there will be a “Craig Jackson” influence on EWT’s new turning tools and Pony’s future clamping products, too.
Going forward, long-time Easy Wood customers might not even realize there’s a difference in ownership. EWT will retain its distinctive logo, website and phone numbers. The Lexington, Kentucky-based company will continue operations there, and no employees have lost their jobs as a result of the acquisition. But, Craig says that the demands of managing two distinct product lines might, on occasion, make him harder to reach by phone these days.
“There just isn’t enough time for me to have a hand in everything like before, (but) we have a really good (EWT) crew that can handle just about anything a customer needs. Kristi, Alan, Mary and Brittany will still be the main people that customers talk with.”
And, Craig is happy to have recently added his 18-year-old son, Noah, as his new R&D shop assistant. “Noah has literally grown up with the company and has contributed to most every product and company decision. Bouncing ideas off of him, his brother Samual and Donna is where this company started, and it is very nice to get back to the basics of growing products.”
While Jackson will not discuss the details, he teases that EWT has about 20 new products under development, and thanks to Pony’s acquisition, EWT’s current inventory of 85 catalog items “is just the start!”
Not all business acquisitions begin with such promise, but Jackson envisions a bright future for both EWT and Pony brands.
“Pony Tools has the experience that we needed. All parties are excited to explore the synergy that can be created by bringing great minds together to develop some truly awesome products for the woodworking and woodturning communities.”