Farm inventors come up with some great ideas. Often, they work hard to expand what they have done, but sometimes they can collapse under the weight of not only creating and building a new product but also having to market it to farmers. Not so for the Chem-Blade line from Ethan Eck and Eck Fabrication. Chem-Blade became successful building through a dealer network, but as the product line became more diverse and technical the move was made for the Chem-Blade sprayer tendering products to be licensed and marketed by Sure-Fire Ag Systems, Atwood, Kansas.
Eck, based in Kingman, Kan., is an inventor who came up with a product several years ago to empty a crop protection jug in half a second and then provide full rinsing capability a few seconds later. The jug-based system is very popular, but Eck is an inventor, not a marketer.
Soon after he invented that first Chem-Blade system, Eck linked up with entrepreneur Ralph Lagergren, who has his own history of innovation. That partnership gave Eck the “entrepreneurial support” he needed to move to where he is today, but having invented higher tech equipment requiring more support teaming with Sure-Fire Ag Systems was the perfect match.
“When I work with any inventor, one thing I try to impress upon them is that just inventing a product takes you nowhere,” says Lagergren, best known for his role in the creation of the Bi-rotor combine sold to John Deere. “You have to truly be solving a problem that has clear benefits to the user and at a cost that makes sense to them. Then you have to be able to market and support that product”
The Chem-Blade product, has evolved beyond a manual single jug system to including the Chem-Blade Caddy, which handles partial jugs which can be added to the Chem-Blade ES, a fully enclosed semi-automated system for handling crop protection jugs, innovating the use of jugs for spraying by doing cutting, emptying, and cleanout while cutting time significantly all inside a chamber. A sprayer is extremely valuable in the field and if it is sitting still loading, they are losing money and not covering acres.
“We first saw the Eck product several years ago,” says Matt Wolters, co-founder, Sure-Fire Ag Systems. “We had developed the QuickDraw product for automated measurement of bulk chemicals. We were working in the same space providing tendering solutions. We always knew about, and conversed with Ethan to know what he was up to.”
Bulk systems are a big part of chemical handling, but jugs are common as well. “We started buying Chem-Blade Original from them as an accessory to our QuickDraw system. We have been a customer of Ethan’s for the last year.”
Inventor not marketer
Release of the Chem-Blade ES late in 2018 opened a different conversation for the two groups. “They were transitioning from offering just a low-cost solution with a cash and carry price to something that was more substantial and technical. That required more dealer development and an experienced national sales force.”
Early conversations between the two companies led Wolters to note that Eck and Lagergren’s vision and passion was not to build a sales organization. Sure-Fire has a national sales organization and sales staff; they also have the logistical support needed to keep customers running, which is often a challenge for a small manufacturer.
“Ethan is an inventor not a manufacturer, even though he had done well at it” Wolters says. “I heard him say we develop products a number of times, and that’s how the relationship came together.”
The result is that SureFire Ag Systems has acquired the rights to manufacture, via a license agreement, the entire Chem-Blade product line. “We are certainly excited about the fully automated Chem-Blade ES system and integrating it with QuickDraw. However, as a part of this agreement we’ve acquired rights to the entire product line, including the knife insert for inductors, Chem-Blade Original. “
And Sure-Fire has first-right of refusal on future Eck inventions for spraying, because the Kansas innovator and his team are still at work seeking other solutions to spraying problems.
Sticking to inventions
As for Eck, who created Chem-Blade to solve a problem he first encountered when he returned to the family farm being the one loading chemicals, to now moving the product to Sure-Fire is a weight off his shoulders. “Only one of 10 ideas make it to market so as an inventor, we are fighting the odds,” he says. “I feel so fortunate to start and develop an idea, and now to be joining forces with the perfect company enables all of our products to go to market nationally and eventually worldwide. There isn’t a more thrilling experience.”
And for Eck there’s another personal benefit: “I’m getting married in November and I hope to be a husband for my wife instead of working 12- to 16-hours a day that it takes to do this type of work. I will enjoy developing new products, but I will enjoy being able to share more of my time and life while still pursuing my dreams.”
The Chem-Blade product line will be part of the SureFire exhibit starting at the fall farm shows.