Howland grad’s power tool stocks Lowe’s shelves with local pride

VIENNA ­ – Robert Kundel Jr. needed an effective way to remove rust from the surfaces of the metal products his family’s company works with every day.

When he couldn’t find the right tool, he made one with the help of fellow employee Richard Schley, who previously worked as a tool and die employee at Delphi Packard Electric.

Seven years later, Kundel’s invention, The Restorer, can be purchased at Lowe’s stores nationwide and next year is expected to go on sale in Latin America, New Zealand, Australia and Europe.

“I don’t consider myself an inventor. I’m a solutions guy,” Kundel said. “But because I work here and we needed a solution to get something done, I ended up creating a tool for our business. Now it’s available to others who need it.”

A 1989 graduate of Howland High School, Kundel began working for his father’s Vienna company, Kundel Industries Inc., a manufacturer of trench shoring products, 29 years ago when he was 16. Eventually, he moved into the role of chief operating officer at Kundel Cranes, a division of Kundel Industries that makes cranes.

“I’ve always looked for ways to reduce costs, effectively and efficiently,” he said.

One of the company’s biggest expenses involved prepping surfaces before welding or painting them.

Typically, Kundel said, the company used an angle grinder to remove rust and paint, but that left jagged marks. He said the prototype he created, albeit crude, worked so well to restore surfaces that he decided to patent and market it.

Kundel showed his prototype to a tool company, which made him an offer that he declined because, he said, it didn’t “seem right at the time.”

Kundel bounced around among several companies the next few year before signing a deal with Stanley Black & Decker that would launch his invention nationwide and into 1,671 stores.

He enlisted assistance from Matt Gennari of Maryland-based Gennari Consulting to get the product produced. Gennari, who worked for Black & Decker 20 years, is vice general manager of U.S. operations for Jinding, a Chinese manufacturer that produces the power tool for Wellington Corp.

Gennari said Kundel’s invention is a crossover tool that replaces three devices, two of which can actually be dangerous to use.

“It really is a revolutionary invention,” he said. “He’s created a product that replaces 85 percent of the applications in those three tools with a very safe, ergonomically designed tool. The physics of the tool, and how it works are what’s truly revolutionary about it.”

He said the tool, which uses a wheel that is actually an expansive roller, allows the user to remove a lot of material rapidly, without generating the large amount of heat other tools create.

Gennari said a market analysis showed that consumers were not happy with other tools because they were too heavy, too slow, too aggressive and not as effective.

“We felt, based on the market analysis, we had a viable tool we could successfully market,” he said.

Kundel said some 13,384 units have been shipped to Lowe’s and the retailer’s West Coast stores were the first to begin stocking it. Early this month, the tool became available locally under the Porter Cable brand, a subsidiary of Black & Decker.

Kundel started a new company, Wellington Corp. LLC, to contract, manufacture and distribute the hand-held power tool that can be also be used to polish, buff, sand, scrub or clean surfaces by using interchangeable accessories such as a buffing wheel or polishing roller. It can also be connected to a vacuum, and Kundel said he plans to add other features including scrubbing brushes for the multi-purpose device he said “takes the elbow grease” out of the job.

He said the end result of his invention is a sleeker version of his prototype that can be purchased for less than $100.

Kundel entered into a reverse licensing agreement with Stanley Black & Decker, meaning Wellington pays Black & Decker a royalty to use its name.

“The last time there was a new invention in the power tool industry was 20 years,” Kundel said. “This is huge for me to be able to be involved in something like this. I have no doubt God gave me this idea, this opportunity, and He’s taken it where it is now.”

Kundel said he intends to use the profits to establish a pastoral center near Charlotte.

“God gave me a vision to have a place for pastors where they could find rest and be restored,” he said. “I believe God gave me this tool, the idea for it, and got it to this point so it could be used for His good, for His work. It even has His name, The Restorer, because Jesus is the restorer of our souls. He’s able to take the old and make it new again just like this tool. And Jesus was a carpenter and this is a carpenter’s tool. It all fits together. It’s even in the shape of a cross.”

Gennari said from an industry standpoint, launching the product was relatively rapid, taking less than two years.

“I’ve worked with a lot of products over the years, but being involved with something like this is truly inspirational,” he said. “It definitely puts a kick in your step when you get up each morning and realize you’ve been involved with a product that will not only serve the masses, but is also helping a greater good. Knowing how sincere Robert is, and how he is using the money made from this makes it even more worthwhile. It’s great to be part of something like this.”

vshank@tribtoday.com

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