One of the best things about our City Series is getting to meet independent, hard-working business owners like Robert Kundel Jr. Robert is the brains behind The Restorer, a patented handheld and benchtop tool that can be used to buff, sand, grind, polish, scrub or clean any surface. The Restorer has found a home among Make48’s multi-city events this year and has sponsored many of our influencers.
The background story of The Restorer is as faceted as the product itself. Robert grew up working at his father’s business, Kundel Industries Inc. a manufacturer of trench shoring products and eventually moved into the role of COO. In his new role, he looked for ways to reduce cost, with their largest expense being rust removal or surface prep prior to welding or painting.
“I went home and took my wife’s Dirt Devil® vacuum apart. I originally thought I would just put rollers on a Dirt Devil” to create a handheld surface prep tool. That didn’t work.” [WJ article] Robert bought an angle grinder, removed the gearbox and installed it with the help of fellow employee Richard Schley, a former tool and die employee of Delphi Packard Electric.
After the prototype was built, Robert shared the invention with tool companies at a Chicago trade show. A company showed interest, and it was sent to their headquarters in Germany. The company’s offer was declined by Robert, feeling it wasn’t in his best interest. The Restorer generated a lot of interest among tool manufacturers, but for one reason or another Robert’s inventions were either delayed, dismissed or viewed as not having a significant market potential. Robert patented the Restorer and started his own separate company, Wellington Corp LLC, as the business entity responsible for the tool.
After seven years from Robert’s initial prototype, he signed a reverse brand license agreement with John Cunningham and the licensing team with Stanley Black and Decker under the brand names Porter-Cable and Black+Decker and now he owns the rights to use those brand names as he sells his invention. The Restorer was launched under the Craftsman brand in 2019 and went to markets in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece under other global brand names.
There are a lot of steps in inventing and you said you dealt with some frustrations in getting it to the right company. Would you say that was the hardest part in bringing The Restorer to life?
Getting one of the large big box retailers to buy-in. Once you have buy-in, the others come a lot easier… like a contract with brands that are represented in those big box stores and even manufacturing companies are willing to listen or entertain the thought of pursuing it.
When you received your first contract, did things go according to plan?
If you mean Stanley Black and Decker then yes. We launched 13,384 Porter-Cable Restorers into Lowes at one time, but the items were placed in a corner of their store, not on shelves, so customers did not even know it was there OR what it did.
At that point sell-thru became an issue. Lowes let go of the Porter-Cable products in their stores, so I canceled my contract with them. They requested a Craftsman Restorer instead, so I had 10,000 units made and months later they called to cancel the in-store program for the Craftsman Restorer. Unfortunately only 4,000 units of the 10,000 I ordered ended up in stores. I had to cancel my contract with Craftsman as I would be unable to meet their royalty payments to use their brand name. Initially everything was great, but things happened so I went my own road and launched my own brand, which I have wanted to do since the beginning.
Where do you want to go next with The Restorer?
The future of the Restorer will be cordless. And becoming independent from the control of big brands and launching my own brand into stores and online.
Thank you for being a proud supporter of the Make48 City Series. What is it about the program that you enjoy and you think is important?
Supporting the next guy/gal with a great idea, but no resources to make it happen.
There are a ton of lessons I learned over the seven years of No’s and canceled contracts bringing The Restorer to market. This is no small feat and no other person in the industry has been able to do this, let alone being a one person company starting with no bank account, funds, backing or resources to make it happen.
What motivates you to keep innovating?
I don’t consider myself an inventor, but more of a solutions guy. The Restorer all started from a leak in a shower drain causing damage to my kitchen ceiling. If there is a problem, I am usually able to come up with a solution be it a product, process or service. It’s just my nature and what I excel at.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to bring their idea to life or makers who are starting their own business?
Get a non-disclosure agreement with some big box stores and gain interest to validate the market of your idea/invention… or just call me for free advice lol.
There is so much more to share, I couldn't write in a short period of time. I do know this… most inventors give up. They are not tenacious and persistent enough to make it happen. If you want to go where few go, you have to be willing to do what most don’t.
To learn more about The Restorer visit https://www.restorertools.com