As Arbortech turns 30 this month we are reminded of the humble beginnings, innovation and perseverance of founders Kevin & Kristine Inkster.
A lot has happened in the last 30 years. For a start, the company has grown from a 2 person operation to requiring 30+ staff spread across 3 different countries. One product has multiplied to 10, and distribution retailers are now in the hundreds. There have been struggles, near bankruptcies and of course the challenges that came with weathering the GFC back in 2007. But Arbortech still stands strong today and continues to grow and dominate the categories it has redefined. The company is set to continue challenging the norm with clever engineering, but for now let’s take a walk down memory lane…
From a very young age, it was evident that Kevin had an intuitive, inventive flair. At the age of 18, he came up with the design concept of self-lighting cigarettes which was pursued by unscrupulous investors who told him the idea was unpatentable. However, this didn’t stop the ideas flowing as inventing has always been a love of Kevin’s and he spends much of his spare time experimenting with all sorts of design and concepts.
He is a mad keen follower of all things science and technology related. He strives to stay on top of all the latest news in medical and space research, but enjoys getting the latest Apple product and is truly in love with his Tesla which he has had for 2 years. Since Kevin bought his Tesla, more than 16% of Arbortech staff has bought Electric vehicles which they can charge while at work.
He is also an avid musician who currently plays the ukulele for fun and takes it with him while traveling as it fits easily into his carry-on bag. He has managed to start up an Arbortech band with the General Manager, an R & D technician and some factory supervisors who play regularly at company functions. All of Arbortech’s products are a result of his ideas and his passion for following through until his vision works. “Inventing has always been a love of mine and most of our tools are a result of experimentation. When we formed Arbortech in 1988 to commercialize our first successful product the “Woodcarver Blade” we promised ourselves that we would continue with this philosophy and make sure that the people who work at Arbortech also enjoy their work.” – Kevin Inkster.
Enter the Original Woodcarver Blade
In 1984 Kevin and Kristine were joint cafe owners with another business couple. The building required complete renovation and it was decided the cafe would go through a fit-out. With limited funds to hire a professional to do the work, Kevin became hands on with the entire fit-out. This project fueled Kevin’s interest for invention and woodworking as he felt there was a distinct lack of tools on the market for woodworking.
Kevin continued with his passion for woodworking and making a bit of extra income from making wooden chairs, in partnership with another craftsperson, Peter Godden who was making tables with wood sourced from the forest floor.
Kevin became frustrated by the lack of woodworking tools to freehand shape the seat bases he was working on. That was when he decided to try his hand at making a tool to suit his needs. A new contraption made from wrapping a piece of chainsaw chain around part of an old Volkswagen cover he found in his workshop. The idea was to mount this attachment to a grinder to provide an efficient carving option for his wooden seat bases. This was the very first prototype of the Woodcarver Blade and the start of a completely new woodworking category termed “Power Carving”, a revolution was brewing.
Between the years 1984-1987, Kevin experimented with many prototypes and eventually the design evolved through a series of improvements and testing.
In 1988 Kevin decided to enter his creation of a Sculpted Reclining Chair (made using a Woodcarver prototype) into a woodworking competition which won the South West Arts Festival’s woodworking prize of $3,000. From here on the decision arose as to whether Kevin would continue with his love for woodworking or venture into manufacturing of woodworking tools. The choice was to commercialize the Woodcarver Blade after receiving a $5,000 government grant in June of that year, with an office being set up out of Kevin and Kristine’s home to run their business.
As such, Arbortech was officially incorporated. In October 1988, Arbortech attended its first “Timber & Working with Wood Show” in Melbourne. The Woodcarver made its debut appearance; the live demonstration intrigued the masses and generated much interest from the woodworking enthusiasts who attended and had never seen anything like it before. The Woodcarver was sold for $50.00 a piece and completely sold out by the end of the show weekend. Having netted sales of $14,000 from the Woodcarver sales, it was a big achievement for Kevin and Kristine, and it was clear the teamwork between the humble couple paid off.
The following year, an office was set up in the main street of Nannup. Further success followed when the Woodcarver Blade was awarded the BHP Steel Award.
In 1990, Kevin and Kristine were able to move from their home office to a building in a popular industrial zone at number 50 Westchester Road in Malaga, Western Australia. That same year, the demand for the Woodcarver grew and Arbortech received an order of 50,000 Woodcarver Blade’s from Ryobi in the United States.
This drastic increase in demand meant there was now a need for a larger office to facilitate the business operations and activities. In 1993, a purpose built corporate office and manufacturing facility at 67 Westchester Road, Malaga was built. Business activity went from strength to strength from here, as Kevin continued his passion for woodworking and developing woodworking tools out of his love for design and experimentation. In 1996 the woodworking range expanded to include more Power Carving tools which have translated to the preferred tools for many woodworkers today.
Venturing into International Markets
Whilst Arbortech had always included the rest of the world in its sales territories and established distributors throughout North America and the UK, the appreciation for Arbortech products was growing. The increased demand for woodworking tools beyond the Australian market together with new demand for the AS170 Restoration Mortar Saw, saw Arbortech expand business operations and open a USA office in 2007 and European office in 2011.
Whilst woodworking tools are a big part of Arbortech’s product portfolio, Arbortech’s name has been associated with engineering excellence and innovation for the award winning Brick and Mortar Saw, which today is known as the AS170.
A renewed focus on woodworking products saw the release of the TURBO Plane in 2012 and following its success, the release of the Mini TURBO to the Australian market in May 2013 at the Maleny Wood Show. The Mini TURBO was released to the international market in September 2013.
Arbortech Today and into the Future
Today, Arbortech is an internationally recognized brand that is renowned for pushing the status quo. At our core, we are makers and innovators with a drive for creating unrivalled products that allow better, easier and more enjoyable work and leisure in both the woodworking and masonry restoration markets.
We all strive for a common purpose which is to make tools that are a joy to use with marked improvements in performance and safety over existing tools. Our company culture and brand is very much based on innovation. We are open to new ideas at all times, because it is only with new ideas and new ways of thinking, that change can start to come about. We believe that everyone has a creative spirit and we continually get enjoyment and inspiration for new product development from seeing our customers creativity come to life from using our tools.
When asked about his vision for the future of Arbortech Kevin says, “We still have a long way to go but we believe we can completely transform all that is “known” or thought to be of “cutting” as a dangerous activity. We plan to continue challenging this with our woodworking cutting tools, masonry cutting tools and even concrete cutting tools to bring about a new generation of safer, efficient cutting tools and methods.”
Of course we would not be here today without our loyal customers who we must celebrate as well. Some of customer still send us photo’s of their original Woodcarver Blades that they purchased 25 years ago and everyday we still receive photo’s and stories from Arbortech customers that we try share on our social media pages to help share and celebrate their creativity. We are often in awe of our customers creations and we are proud of what they are able to achieve. So we invite you, our customers, to please leave a comment about what creativity you have achieved in the last 30 years and what you hope to achieve in the years to come!