SqueezeDriver® - ICQ 96
SqueezeDriver® was the founding product of WorkTools Inc. and the inspiration for Invention City. With an ICQ of 96 SqueezeDriver® scores at high end of "maybe" on the Inventicator™; it was and is a fantastic product, one of our favorites. But it's also a hard lesson in what a "maybe" can be and what happens when you are unable to let something go.
SqueezeDriver® was conceived by Joel Marks as a squeeze-ratchet combination tool while working on his 1967 MGB in the early 1980's (a car he still drives today). While employed full time at TRW as a solar array design engineer, Joel put in 40 hours a week at home developing the new tool. Over 6 years he built four prototypes and engineered the final design. For the final prototype he carved and shaped blocks of aluminum with a hack saw and file, bent his own springs, molded his own handle and hammered and bent and hardened his own levers. After 2000+ hours of work he had a beautiful Buck Rogers looking prototype that he tried to license to Stanley Tools with help from his cousin Jess Rifkind, founder of the Advanced Development Lab at Xerox*. When the effort failed he turned to his brother Mike who in turn called upon his college friend Brad Golstein. Together they raised $100,000 from family and friends to found WorkTools Inc. and launch a line of innovative hand tools, starting with the SqueezeDriver®.
Manufacturing began in the garage of the Marks family home in Los Angeles, with parts sourced from manufacturers in the US and Taiwan. Joel and Mike Marks initially assembled SqueezeDrivers® themselves next to a 21' sailboat that served as a storage shelf for parts. Outgrowing the garage, WorkTools' operations were moved into a warehouse in the San Fernando Valley and came to incorporate a semi-automated assembly line that used machines designed and built by Joel.
In 1988 the manual SqueezeDriver® was introduced into the teeth of the Skil Twist® battery powered screwdriver tsunami. SqueezeDriver® won the Popular Science Award for Tools, received design awards in Japan and USA, was written up in the Wall Street Journal, shown as a cover on the Brookstone Catalog, sold in Brookstone stores, sold in Sears Catalog, sold private label to NAPA auto parts, sold to McMaster-Carr and Grainger, licensed to All-Trade, sold in K-Mart, tested in Home Depot, licensed to Direct to Retail, featured on QVC a dozen times, presented with Joan Rivers, tested in a 30 minute infomercial, run in 2 minute DRTV spots and also sold in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, the Middle East and Australia. SqueezeDriver® was even tested in brain surgery at Johns Hopkins and drawn by Stan Lee in a Spider Man cartoon. It was briefly knocked off by K-Tel (an amicable agreement ended that) and more aggressively knocked off by half a dozen companies in China. The last WorkTools made SqueezeDriver was assembled in 1993 and licensed sales of SqueezeDriver rev-1 ended in 1995. In 2014, Arrow Fastener Company launched an updated version of SqueezeDriver® under license from WorkTools (with a new patent). It has yet to find retail success.
It is estimated that sales of WorkTools' made and licensed SqueezeDrivers® have exceeded over 1,000,000 pieces. With regard to profits, the founders of WorkTools would have made more money flipping burgers at McDonalds. But the WorkTools' guys swallowed the hook on this one and are pondering the launch of a SqueezeDriver Rev-3 in another few years. It's not rational. It's first love.
More significantly, the SqueezeDriver® experience paved the way for WorkTools to develop a successful business designing and licensing new products. That business gave birth to Invention City.
Why didn't SqueezeDriver® succeed? Three reasons:
1) Cost too high, profit margin too low - At $10 retail SqueezeDriver® would have been a great alternative to a $30 cordless tool. But SqueezeDriver® cost $7.50 to make. Retail prices started at $30 but quickly dropped to around $20 and profit margins shrank as retailers demanded lower wholesale costs. Even with $0 profit, SqueezeDriver® would have been unable to retail for $10. Cordless screwdrivers came down to $20 and SqueezeDriver lost all cost advantage. While the benefits of no charging and more control were real, most users preferred cordless tools when costs were equal.
2) Influentials HATED it - The primary influentials for hand tools are carpenters. Carpenters drive a lot of screws into raw wood. They love power tools because they make work easy. SqueezeDriver was fantastic at driving machine screws - more precise than power tools and good for pre-fab furniture assembly - but it was a pain in the hand for carpenters. Without a strong base of influentials, SqueezeDriver® was unable to achieve and maintain retail distribution in critical venues like Home Depot.
3) Hard to target market - The market was broad but thin, comprised of consumers and professionals that could not be grouped by interest, activity, age, region, profession (other than NOT carpenters) etc. It was hard to effectively focus marketing efforts and expenditures.
The invention development process:
*Jess Rifkind also provided immensely helpful advice when WorkTools was negotiating its licensing deal with Black and Decker.
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