Milwaukee Tool’s annual New Product Symposium offers editors, web bloggers and DIY television personalities a hands-on look at what it has been developing in its R&D labs in Brookfield, Wis.

For tool-minded folks, the event is always like getting a sneak peak at Santa’s workshop, because for the past few years the 89-year-old company has been launching dozens of new products annually. For this year’s event, held June 11-12 in Milwaukee, the company reconfigured a building in the city’s old Pabst brewery into several workshops where visitors could demo new tools to cut, drill, grind and fasten to their hearts’ content.

Steve Richman, president of Milwaukee Tool, says end users are tool experts who know which tools work best on the jobsite.

The company is investing heavily in R&D development for the mechanical trades, and distributors in the electrical market, along with the plumbing and HVAC segments, will have plenty of new products to learn this year. In the electrical market, expect to see the M12 and M18 LED Work Light and Floodlight available this fall. The worklights operate on the same M18 or M12 rechargeable battery platform as the rest of the company’s cordless power tools, offering long life and excellent lighting. Anyone who has ever burned their hand on a halogen worklight’s grill may be an eager customer for one of these LED worklights, which offer a cool yet powerful beam.

Along with these worklights, distributors and their customers will want to check out Milwaukee’s expanded heated clothing line (running on the same battery packs as its tool line), which will now include hooded sweatshirts; the M18 Fuel cordless Sawzall reciprocating saw and M18 Fuel 6.5-inch circular saw; as well as a toolbox full of screwdrivers, utility knives and other hand tools.

Steve Richman, president of Milwaukee Tool, has big plans for the company, and wants it to double in size over the next three to four years. Milwaukee’s M18 Fuel line, which features a broad line of cordless products powered by 18V lithium-ion batteries, may grow even faster than that, he said. Overall, he wants new products to account for at least 25% of sales and in some product areas even more than that. To drive that growth, he has been investing heavily in marketing, R&D, and young talent to travel job-sites to learn how Milwaukee  can make their customers’ professional lives easier, safer or more profitable. Many of these young product managers work out of the company’s Brookfield headquarters in suburban Milwaukee, where employment has grown from 225 employees to 475 employees over the past few years. 

Along with developing some of the new products mentioned above for the electrical market and other mechanical trades, the company is also developing a broad line of test and measurement equipment for electricians and other professional installers.

Richman said another example of the company’s commitment to the electrical market was its announcement earlier this year that it had signed a three-year $2.5 million extension of its support for its Milwaukee Test and Measurement Academy for the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee for the Electrical Industry (NJATC). Milwaukee Tool has also expanded its partnerships with distributors in the electrical, plumbing, HVAC and specialty tool market niches, he added. “Our dream is that from the time that electrical contractor wakes up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night, we want to offer all of the corded and cordless technologies and test and measurement products and other accessories to help them do that job,” he said.

Along with its use of distributors to service professional end users, Richman said Milwaukee Tool has a strong relationship with Home Depot, and that his executive team recently decided Amazon was not the kind of online partner they wanted because they weren’t a solution provider for its end users.

To provide these solutions, Richman said it all starts with talking with end users in the field about what they need to make their lives easier on the job. “In our core verticals, these end users are experts,” he said. “They are extremely well-trained. They understand their trade and they help us understand what we need to design and make for them.”

He said in the tool market, the best marketing strategy is getting a tool in the hands of potential customer. “Once a user touches and feels it, then they get it. And when they do, they are passionate about it.”