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Randy Flowers and the Squarz-It.

Randy Flowers can't begin to add up the time he's spent during the past 20 years rummaging around a construction site looking for a metal square. Although he's worked on Anchorage building sites since he was 13, Flowers still has trouble cutting a straight line without first measuring the length of the cut and then drawing a guideline on the board. Though necessary, squaring up a cut can be time-consuming, especially if you can't remember where you laid your square.

And then the idea came to him. While working on a construction site 10 years ago -- and hunting for his metal square -- Flowers began mentally designing a device that could screw onto the bottom of most circular saws, allowing a perfect cut every time, without having to draw a guideline.

After laying down his saw for the day, Flowers picked up a pencil and began sketching out his idea. When he was finished a couple of days later, he had the initial design for "Squarz-It," a flat, 18-ounce die-cast piece of aluminum with stainless steel springs that, in a matter of minutes, can be screwed to the base of most circular saws.

Once in place, the Squarz-It allows the user to make accurate, 90-degree cuts, without a guideline, on materials ranging in size from 1 inch x 2 inches to 2 inches x 6 inches. When the device isn't needed, its metal fence folds into place, eliminating the need to remove the Squarz-It when using the saw for other types of cuts.

"You make a perfect cut every time," says Flowers. "It's a time savings that's almost incalculable."

Flowers, a born tinkerer with a notebook full of would-be inventions, made a few minor revisions to his original drawing, had an $800 prototype made, and in 1989, 18 months after submitting his idea for consideration, received U.S. patent No. 4,777,726. "This thing went through without one red mark," says Flowers. "It just came back with a patent."

Since then, Flowers has scrambled to teach himself everything he can about manufacturing and marketing. One of the first lessons he learned was that producing the device in Alaska would be impossible. "We don't have the machinery up here to turn out the type of mill work we need," he says.

Tom Burgess, a program manager with the University of Alaska Small Business Development Center, agrees. Burgess is familiar with the Squarz-It and has been helping Flowers market it to the military and other federal agencies.

As a result, Flowers and financial partner and fellow builder Ted Jackson arranged for an initial run of 1,000 devices to be manufactured by Hughes Tools in Mexico. The arrangement is only temporary, however, and as soon as molds for the Squarz-It are complete, the device will be produced in Los Angeles. By the time the molds are finished, Flowers estimates he and Jackson will have invested between $40,000 and $50,000 each to develop the Squarz-It.

As a one-man marketing department, Flowers has spent the last several months talking one-on-one with store managers who he hopes will stock his time-saving device, which retails for $24.95. He talked with a distributor in Dallas and made inquiries about getting the Squarz-It on display racks at national chains, including Builder's Square, Home Depot and Fred Meyer.

Also on his list are retail giants Kmart and Wal-Mart, both of which have announced plans to open stores in Anchorage. So far, Flowers, 39, has succeeded in placing the Squarz-It in Eagle Garden & Hardware, Spenard Builders Supply and Alaska Industrial Hardware.

"I've kind of been jumping around," says Flowers of his tireless, scatter-shot attempts at marketing. "I'm not a marketer. I'm a contractor. It's difficult being an individual vendor trying to get into the big chain stores."

Store officials who stock the Squarz-It report steady sales. "They're a steady mover," says Rick Weaver, assistant manager at Anchorage's Eagle Garden & Hardware. "We haven't had any come back, so customers must be happy with it."

"I think it's a pretty neat little invention," adds John Rabung, purchasing agent for Spenard Builders Supply. "I'm going to build a deck this summer, and I plan to use one."

The device, says Rabung, is simple to use, saves time by eliminating a step and can save on materials lost to poor cuts. Rabung sees it as particularly handy for the do-it-yourself who picks up a circular saw every couple of years and struggles with making a straight cut. Rabung says he expects SBS stores in Fairbanks and along the Kenai Peninsula to begin stocking the device and for sales to pick up as warmer weather prompts home remodelers to start building decks and patios.

"I thought it had merit right at the first," says Rabung of the Squarz-It. "He came in with a finished product, good packaging and some marketing ideas. He had done his homework, and he didn't expect us to carry the ball."

With help from Burgess and the Small Business Development Center, Flowers hopes to sell the military on his invention as well.

"We see an opportunity to go worldwide in all the military bases," says Burgess. "We've had two technicians in here from the Air Force, and they thought it was the slickest thing. They were fighting over who would test it ... This could be a very, very handy tool for them."

With correct marketing, Flowers conservatively figures that he can sell 10,000 Squarz-Its a month, and that's just in the United States. After all, he reasons, Skil sells more than a million circular saws a year and has been an industry leader for 25 years. The device also fits several other saw models, including Black & Decker, Mikita, Craftsman and Master Mechanic. It does not fit models known as worm drive circular saws, which are popular here and on the West Coast. Flowers isn't troubled by the mismatch because worm drive saws make up only 7 percent of Skil's sales nationwide.

"I have a product, and it's obviously going to sell," says Flowers. "Now it's just a matter of marketing."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Entrepreneurs
Author:Hill, Robin Mackey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:1013
Previous Article:Alaska construction - retail leads the way.
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