For inventor Sam Koffski, it took over three decades and a handful of false starts for his entrepreneurial dream to come true. At eighty-four years of age, he is living testament to the power of persistence and family support.
It started in the 1970s. Koffski was the owner-operator of a construction business, mainly doing stucco work on homes. Working at sites with a small crew, Koffski found himself needing a work bench that could handle uneven ground and be used at various heights.
"All of a sudden a light came on," Koffski says from his home in Duncan B.C. In 1980, Koffski designed the original Workhorse, a pair of metal brackets that tighten onto pieces of lumber to create a sawhorse that can be adjusted to various heights and widths. He then manufactured a few prototypes with a partner, who brought one of them to the offices of Black and Decker. The hardware giant immediately purchased Koffski's patented design.
Koffski's advice to inventors is simple but hard-earned: "Don't give up."
Within three years, Black & Decker sold about 130,000 units of the original Workhorse in North America. Unfortunately, Koffski's invention didn't make enough money to make up for the costs of materials and production. Liability insurance was another issue. "There were ladder companies going broke because of the liabilities," notes Koffski. Because of those costs, Black & Decker discontinued the bracket device.
From that disappointment, Koffski, who retired from the stucco business fifteen years ago, saw room for improvement. "I didn't like the Black & Decker design," he said. "I put my effort into redesigning the product the way I knew it should have been." Koffski returned from the drawing board with the Workhorse II.
In 1993, the Workhorse II received a "very large order" from Home Hardware in Canada, but again what could go wrong did. Faulty manufacturing led to a defective product. The company that Koffski partnered with went bankrupt. In the process, he lost his patent.
It seemed as though Koffski's dream had taken its last, agonizing breath. "I hadn't given up, but I certainly hadn't done anything to promote it," he said. That's when he received inspiration from his son, Sid. "My son, who grew up with the Workhorse, was renovating his house. And he used it in so many different ways. He came to me and said, ‘Look, you've got to do something with this.'"
Sid's idea was to take his father's invention to The Dragon's Den. "I thought it was just a dumb idea. But he persisted. And that's how we got on."
Appearing on the CBC show in the spring of 2012, Sam and Sid Koffski successfully sold the rights to the Workhorse II to Arlene Dickinson (owner of YouInc) for $75,000 and a 5% royalty. "Arlene Dickinson is wonderful," said Koffski.
Dickinson helped the inventor file a new patent for his design. Then, with the help of his children, Koffski created a DVD demonstrating his brackets. Dickinson took the DVD to the president of Home Depot, who promptly placed an order. Koffski's advice to inventors is simple but hard-earned: "Don't give up."
With the renamed 3D Multihorse appearing in Home Depot shelves this month, Koffski can now enjoy an active social life with his wife Lorraine and tight knit family that includes four children, nine grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild. For this late bloomer, the Workhouse's long, winding road to success is more about realizing a dream than money. Although, the octogenarian admits, "the money will make the dream a little better."
Click here to see video of the 3D Multihorse in action
Arlene Dickinson Enterprises is proud to include 3D Multihorse in our investment portfolio
Photographs: Andrew Leong