In this episode, I have the pleasure of speaking with the Chief Style Officer for Diamondback Toolbelts, Damani Harrison.
Headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, Diamondback is taking building trades toolbelts and gear to the next level with their innovative design, ergonomic fit and manufacturing processes.
We’ll start our conversation by discovering what makes Diamondback products standout in a marketplace that is jammed full of competition. And learn how Diamondback is pushing the envelop to meet trade specific challenges head-on.
Next, we’ll understand how input from building trades professionals is combined with cutting edge engineering, and technologically advanced fabrics and alloys to produce products that are designed to meet the demands of today’s modern workforce.
Later, Damani will share his thoughts on the unique relationship Diamondback Toolbelts have with their customers and why social media is so important to their mission of providing innovative solutions to industry challenges.
And we’ll end our conversation by discussing the importance of promoting careers in the trades as a pathway to professional pride and economic security and learn how Diamondback Toolbelts is stepping up to support building trades apprenticeship programs.
The Show Notes
Welcome to Grit Nation. I'm Joe Cadwell, the host of the show, and in this episode, I have the pleasure of speaking with Chief style officer for Diamondback Toolbelts. Damani Harrison. Headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, Diamondback is taking building trades tool belts and gear to the next level with their innovative design, ergonomic fit and manufacturing processes. We'll start a conversation by discovering what makes diamond back product stand out in a marketplace that is jam full of competition, and learn how Diamondback is pushing the envelope to meet trade specific challenges head on. Later, Damani will share his thoughts on the unique relationship Diamondback Toolbelts have with their customers, and why social media is so important in their mission of providing innovative solutions to industry challenges, After this episode, be sure to visit the show notes where you can find more information about Diamondback Tools. Damani Harrison, welcome to Grit Nation.Damani Harrison:
Thanks for having me. Hey, thanks for taking your time Damani to be on the show to talk to us today about diamond back tools. Before I hit record, we were actually talking a little bit about, you know your role as the chief style officer for for diamond back tools and how you got that that position and some of the history so why don't we just continue on with that conversation, please? Yeah, for sure. So Connor Kruk is the CEO of the company. He is the one that purchased it as it sat defunct. It was originally started by John Skelton out in California in 1993. Then was purchased by a woman in Alaska. Shortly after John died, and the company was run out of Alaska, tulips were being sewn in a garage, and shipped through paper catalog, you know, paper catalog orders all over the place. And they ran the company for about four or five years and then shut it down. It was sitting, doing nothing for about a year, Connor found the company and purchased the company. And a few months later, I ended up linking with Connor Connor and I have known each other for years through competitive soccer and just playing into each other. And as a matter of fact, we got to know each other really well when he gave me probably the worst head injury I ever had on the soccer field. So he also had a pretty bad hit head injury himself as a result. So that was sort of the first time the universe put our collective minds together. It didn't. We didn't realize until many years later that we come together to do the diamond back thing. But he had the company for a few months. And then he was just looking for some help shipping some packages over the holiday. And at the time I was working in a school system. So I wasn't doing anything over the holiday. I said Amen. I'll come through and we started talking, the more we talked, the more we realized that we could really do something together. And over time, he and I just started building the company up. And so when you have two people in a company, you're kind of doing everything. And so I was doing everything from packing orders Customer Service website back in branding, graphics. And one day, he just kind of looked over at me, he's like, we need a title for you. And it seems like you just control the style of the company. You should be the chief style officer and boom, it's sort of stuck with me.Joe Cadwell:
Alright, so So it sounds like some pretty, pretty humble beginnings, just the two of you working together. And you've taken that, you know, humble beginnings and built it into a pretty well known brand. And how big is diamond back now?Damani Harrison:
Wow. Yeah, it's almost surreal. It's hard to really Fathom what's happened in the last four and a half years because our heads have been down just working and working and working. And every once in a while we look up and go wow, and then head back down again. But yes, humble beginnings. Just to give you a bit of how much the company has grown. We probably sell more tool belts in half a day now than We sold in a month when I first started. So the company has grown. It's doubled in size every year that I've been with the company. So that sort of exponential growth is been crazy to keep up with. When I started at the company, Connor had just stopped schlepping the tool about belts out of the closet of his lawyering office. And he had just rented a small 750 square foot space in a industrial complex. And that's when I started. And as of today, we are moving into a 10,000 square foot facility in town, soJoe Cadwell:
pretty substantial growth there. So congratulations on that big, big move up.Damani Harrison:
Oh, and the other piece, too, if you don't mind, one of the things that I really focused on when I can't go on board with the company was expanding our growth domestically and internationally, because one of the things that I noticed immediately when I started working in this industry is that it's really competitive game domestically, there's a lot of players in the field doing tool belts and tool accessories, and that sort of thing. And what I realized is, it's probably going to be a lot more beneficial for us as a company to really look to get a foothold in the international market. And so I reached out to people in Canada, Norway, and Germany and the Netherlands and Korea and Japan and New Zealand. And now it's gotten to the point where 40% of the company is actually international business, and we have over 14 or 15, International dealers.Joe Cadwell:
Wow, I saw on your website that you do ship worldwide. So knowing that it is such a competitive business, why would people choose diamond back over your competitors? So maybe some of the better known competitors at this point? What What sets diamond back apart from the from the rest of the crowd?Damani Harrison:
How much time do you have?Joe Cadwell:
We got time we got let's, let's start with that with design. And maybe we'll talk about the materials and and the overall, you know why you're in this business and what you hope to bring to the to the building trades?Damani Harrison:
Yeah, so first and foremost, I think what we bring to the table is just a new energy. And this is no disrespect to the players that have been in the game for a very, very long time, we have a lot of respect for those that paved the way especially in the premium tool market in the premium tool accessories market. We'd look to them for inspiration. But times are changing the generation gap. The the, the gulf between my parents and me is, is a lot smaller than the gulf between myself and my children, right, because technology and everything. So there's there's massive cultural jumps and philosophical jumps and how people think about these things, technological jumps that are happening. And what we really bring to the table is distortive energy, passionate enthusiasm to keep up with all of those things. We have a really youthful energy about us, we are interested in researching all the newest technologies that are out there in terms of textiles, we're interested in engaging from a cultural standpoint, you know, regarding social media, we want to engage with our consumer base, we we believe that our consumers know what they need more than we do. And so one of the first things that we wanted to do was create an open online, open line of communication between our between ourselves and our customer base. Almost all almost every product that we've put out since I've been at the company has been a completely crowd sourced product is developed openly online through social media and with feedback from diamond back users and followers.Joe Cadwell:
And how do you solicit that input from the people using your tools?Damani Harrison:
Absolutely. So you know, we've had people who have been longtime fans, and they're always happy to chip in and then people that are just getting on board now who have been looking to be valued in their position in the trades for a really long time. They've felt that the way they feel about how they do their job and what they do on their job matters. And the truth be told is that the conventional wisdom out there is that no one's really looking to them to get the input and so we value our customer base so much we believe that they have so much to offer to this industry. And so we go out there and we asked them questions on Instagram stories and and we bring in all that information and triage it into a system and take all the feedback No, not ever everybody's idea is not a good idea. Sure. Okay. So we do have to weed through some things. And then there's also a component of sometimes what you think you want is not maybe what exactly you need. So one of the things that we're really good at doing is listening to what the wants are, and figuring out what the underlying need is or what's missing, and then providing that particular solution.Joe Cadwell:
Yeah. And I noticed by looking again, at your, your website solutions by the trade, you know, you break it down into commercial electricians, framers remodeling, interior trim, and finished carpentry. So it's not a one size fit all sort of belt or vest system, you've you've broken it down into by the trade.Damani Harrison:
Yeah, and even broken it down further than that. Because there can be two people on the jobsite doing the same trade and not carrying exactly the same things. Right. So we want to be able to provide solutions by trade. But we also want to provide solutions by individual and, and that's one of the biggest things here is because oftentimes, people are either consciously or subconsciously placed into a box, they might even put themselves in that box because they think that's where they're supposed to be. But then when someone says, Hey, man, you're just, you're not quite like everybody in that box, you put yourself in, they go, you know, you're you're right, I'm not. And thank you for noticing. I got a tool belt for you. VeryJoe Cadwell:
cool. And then you had mentioned, you know, the design of the different belts, and I'm sure we'll get into some of the particulars, but the materials that you choose, as well. And we originally got connected to Mani because someone was in Portland going to a textile convention to research the latest and greatest and materials to build your products with. And they just happen to see someone that was wearing a diamond back toolbelt said nice, nice bags. And that led into a conversation that long story short, put us in touch through the Job Corps down in Central Oregon. So it's an interesting, you know, way we got connected, but what the technology and textiles what is going on, because I know a lot of tool belts are just made out of leather. And I don't know if any of yours are, what are some of the inherent downsides of using leather and go ahead and upsell us on the on the not using leather in a tool belt design.Damani Harrison:
First and foremost, it's an animal product. And despite what you might believe, whether you're an animal activist, or you're not an animal activist, there is lots of drawbacks to using mass produced animal products that are not just in regards to animal cruelty or whatever, but in the environmental impact of housing, animals in that particular way that it gets deep in that regard. And leather has been great for us. You know, United States probably consumes more hamburger meat than anywhere else in the world, you know, and I love a good steak. I think I had one last night. So I'm not over here to preach to anybody or stand on some sort of pedestal. But what we realize is that one of the reasons why leather was so abundantly you abundantly utilize is because it was abundant, you know, you know, we're slaughtering animals, we have all the animals skin, we got to do things with it. And it doesn't necessarily mean it was the best product for all of the jobs. And as technology has grown, we've gotten, we have products out there, there are materials out there that perform as well as leather, or even better, that don't require the animal sacrifice, the environmental sacrifice, and also have much more flexibility in different climates and areas. So for instance, let me get specific. The last thing you want to do is wear a heavy leather tool, but on rainy environment, or a very moist environment. I mean, anyone who's got a leather toolbelt and got it soaking wet and and threw it in the back of their truck, and then it got warm the next day, and they opened their truck door and smelled it. They know why they don't want to do that, you know, leather also is it's harder to clean, you know our toolbox, you can actually toss them in a wash bag and put them in a washing machine with cold water and detergent and they come out looking like new. So anything that's soluble is going to come off of it right. So it keeps the product looking new at the end of the day. There's been a lot of development in nylon nylon products and some additional other products where the test are they're just as durable. The abrasion resistance is just as high as leather. And there's a lot and because they're easier to work with, you can do a lot of different things with it.Joe Cadwell:
So aside from the crowd source designs, the advanced in the the materials that you're making your belts out of, you've incorporated different systems for tool belt systems, vest systems, and storage systems and who comes up with the actual I know we have a crowdsource This is an inspiration but who's actually doing the designing of your your products. Good nation is brought to you in part by our friends over at Union Home Plus, union Home Plus has been in the business since 2002. Helping union families just like yours save money when they buy, sell or finance their home. The Union Home Plus team of finance or real estate professionals are dedicated to helping you make the right decision with what many consider to be the cornerstone of the American Dream Homeownership. For more information about how union Homeplus can help you be sure to visit their website at Union Home Plus dot O R G. Union Home Plus helping union families find their way home for over 20 years grid nation the building trades podcast is also brought to you by the Martinez Tool Company. Our team has tools set the standard for quality, durability and design with their introduction of the M one framing hammer. From a chalk reducing titanium handle and milled steel 15 ounce head to its replaceable on interchangeable curved grip. The M one is a real game changer for the professional carpenter who demands the most out of their tools. To learn more about the M one and other gear built to last a lifetime. Visit Martinez tools.com. That's Martinez tools.com. And now back to the show.Damani Harrison:
Right. So it's a very collaborative effort. Originally, Connor, the CEO was designing everything in conjunction with one of our manufacturers down in North Carolina. I've actually been involved in design to the design process early on. Now we have an entire design team, we have a soft goods designer by the name of Nick, he's amazing. He came from a really reputable company. I'm not going to throw their name out there. But he's done a lot of stuff that you know about. And so he's in with us. Now we have a apparel designer by the name of Carlene and she came from a very reputable company who you probably you probably have clothing that she's designed in your house. We have a hard goods designer. Why? Who's I mean, the man is a genius when it comes to metal alloys and manufacturing and the production on the hard good side of things. So we have an entire team and within our shop, it is a collaborative effort. I'm providing feedback because I'm interacting with the customers and in the dealers, Connors providing feedback because he has a vision for the entire company. They're all bringing their ideas to the table and then we have this massive audience of people through social media that are giving giving us their ideas. It is the richest most beautiful collaborative environment to come up with this stuff. And speaking of materials, the material research goes beyond nylon, I mean we are utilizing Dyneema right now in our work wear apparel. And if you don't know about Dyneema dynamic is like the strongest fabric there is. In fact Dyneema threads are so strong that they're using them now to replace steel cabling on oil rigs. Because if a cable snaps on an oil rig then the steel is so heavy it floats to the bottom of the ocean. They can't retrieve it on now we have these Dyneema fibers that you can weave into cables and are as strong as steel but if they snap they float because they're so lightweight. This is the type of things that we're working into our fabric designs so you could wear a work jacket that is as light as a as a sheet on your bed. But if you you know fell off your motorcycle going 65 miles per hour wouldn't tear.Joe Cadwell:
Wow, that's that's incredible. So getting away or utilizing the nylons, the nylon technology dipping into dye nema. I noticed that some of your buckles are made the same quality that are made for the US military the the Cobra quick release buckles.Damani Harrison:
Absolutely. So we sourced those from Austria Alban it Yeah, we wanted those for the for the quality, it's a one of a kind buckle. In fact, we tried. Jokingly, we tried to get around the patent to design our own, but that wasn't gonna happen. We're using the Austra app. And we've had a lot of conversations with them. We're great. They're great. It's a super high quality buckles. As matter of fact, we were the first toolbelt company out there to use it. And we've seen people come behind us and do a very similar style thing.Joe Cadwell:
All right, what can you tell us about go panels,Damani Harrison:
the Go panel system was designed, because the customers were clamoring for it. We had a lot of people saying we just really want a super durable storage system. And there's a lot of storage systems out there that you can use to. Obviously, there's the Milwaukee packout and there's the Festool sustainers. And those are all stackable floor systems or rollable systems, but what people were really wanting was a way to organize things in their workshop on the walls, on their trucks, or maybe even on the outside of their pack outs, or T stacks, or whatever. So we went to the lab and we started designing, and we came up with a go panel system. And really, it's just a panel grid. It's made of 5052, aluminum out marine grade aluminum alloy, which means that it's superduper, lightweight, it's a strongest deal, and it doesn't corrode. And we've created this Grid Panel System and all these pieces that attached to it. So the beautiful thing about it is, all the elements of diamond back are modular. So if you have the panel system, and you have the attachments on the panel system, you can take things off of the panel system, and then put them on our bag system. And you could take them out of a bag system and put them on your belt system or your vest system. And it just streamlines the entire operation. So now we have your complete tool storage solutions, from workshop to truck, to transportation to a job site to your body. And that is the great big vision.Joe Cadwell:
Fully integrated. That's it's pretty impressive. Now I also know that diamond back is in support of the apprenticeships and seeing you know, the next generation of builders, regardless of trade, whether the carpenters, electricians, iron workers, plumbers, stepping up, so where did that support for the trades come from? I mean, obviously, it's a it's a business decision to get, you know, to get people to buy your product. But also there's got to be some, something deeper than that, that truly, you know, wants to invest in the future of our young people and discovering the trades is a viable pathway to financial and socio economic success that even a maybe a two or four year college degree cannot provide now. So where did that come from?Damani Harrison:
Absolutely. And yes, you're right. So selling tool belts is, or in tool storage is a byproduct of what the primary goal is. And the primary goal is really to support the trades. You heard me say earlier, that we want to value the trades person and we want the trades person who doesn't feel valued to feel valued, right. And I can't say that without backing that up, you know, words without actions are just empty. And so what we really want to do in value in the trades person is start where the trades person starts. And that's really in the educational institutions to trade schools, that nonprofit, trade based programs, and really show people there that look, we have your back, we want to support your efforts to get more people in the trays because it is a viable employment solution. And also, aside from it being a viable employment solution, it's an honorable employment solution. You know, I don't know if in the last 1015 years, the general public has looked at the trades with the same sort of lens, as they might have computer technologies, or what they call STEM Science Technology, like, you know, what's being pushed now in the schools. Right. And that's not to say that those things aren't important. But people just as motivated, just as intelligent, just as hard working are working in the trades. And in fact, they are truly the backbone of our physical society. And if we can really go out there and support that industry and get more people seeing the value of that those employment opportunities and how they can benefit themselves and their families. And we're doing a benefit not only to them, but we're doing a benefit to ourselves, we're doing a benefit to this country, and all the countries out there, and for a better future for all of us. So that is the foundation of it. And then if we saw some tool belts along the way, then more power to us. Yeah, that's, that'sJoe Cadwell:
great. That is so true. I mean, you know, it's often overlooked, that it's a folks that couldn't get into a college or that are going to be the ones doing these, these types of blue collar careers. And that's just not so it's college, as we know, isn't cut out for everybody or not everyone's cut out for college, they, they'd rather do things that get them out in the environment, working with their hands, maybe they don't necessarily have a degree, but they like you say they work just as hard. They put just as much into their work using their, their head in their hands. And at some point, they're hard to become truly artisanal crafts people. And they are building the generational wealth, the infrastructure of our nation, they build the bridges, they build the courthouses, they built the learning institutions, the stadiums, and these are livable wage jobs that provide a viable economic pathway to success. I applaud them for that and diamond back for recognizing that.Damani Harrison:
Well, you brought up a good point about the artistic side of things too. I mean, the level of creativity is amazing and the problem solving the amount of intelligence intelligence it takes to go into a situation and, and be presented a problem and it's only up to you to be able to find the solution. These kinds of traits are invaluable in society in life and some of the most fascinating most intelligent, most creative people I've met I've met working at Diamond back through the trades, you know what I mean? I've made friends, true friends through my social media connections that I've made and, and going to trade shows and then keeping up with people, then relationships, and I'm going to value for a lifetime. And I'm getting so much information from these people that I can't thank them enough. So yeah,Joe Cadwell:
so what what does the future hold for Diamondback? What's next in the pipeline, if you if you're at liberty to say,Damani Harrison:
first things, first, we're going to continue to expand the hardgoods line in the Go panel system. There's a lot there, we want way more Argos accessories, later this year, early next year, we're launching our full technical apparel line. So that's going to be technical pants tops. On top of that, we're working on a reimagined virgin version of the hardhat. Using some new and cutting edge technologies, we have hired a guy who has worked. I mean, this guy's resume is one of the most eclectic and amazing things ever. He started off doing design for Lucas Films in the second trilogy of Star Wars. So he built a lot of the spaceship models and everything that you saw in the movies and stuff. And he's gone on and worked with NFL helmets and gloves and stuff like that. So he's coming in with this incredible, incredibly creative, incredibly technical mind to help us look at the hardhat, something that basically has been the same thing for the better part of 75 years and say, How can we make this better? On top of that, we'll be working on gloves. And then we've got Nick in the soft goods department. So we're constantly looking at our own product, how to improve it, and also what new products we can do with the soft goods to put out in the market. So we've got a lot plan there in anJoe Cadwell:
expansion into retail. Are you available only online? Or do you have stores throughout the US,Damani Harrison:
we have about 25 locations domestically. You can find those places on our website and a number of international locations and those can be stores or online. But one of the big focuses in 2022 is to continue to increase our retail channels get into more stores make ourselves more available to the public. Because primarily it's an E commerce space through our website, which is www.toolbelt.comJoe Cadwell:
Damani. This has been a great conversation I really do appreciate your time and I look forward to having you back on the show in the future to talk about some new innovations that I'm sure are going to be coming down the pipe for diamond back toUnknown:
oh man, you know me I got a lot to talk about in his mouth can run so it's in a sprint.Joe Cadwell:
Right. Well, thanks again. You have a great weekend. Yeah, take care. It's been great. I guess day has been Damani Harrison from diamond back tool belts. Be sure to visit the show notes for this episode to find out more about Diamondback tool belts or visit their email@example.com Until next time, this is Joe Cadwell reminding you to work safe, work smart and stay union strong. You know having having perused websites for 20 years you know they just seem like yours just so easy to navigate and then when it actually comes time to construct it make it make it interesting and relevant and you know somewhat exciting. Yeah, it's a little different game so I'm it's how I spend my weekends and evenings now trying to fine tune the grid nation podcast website, so be glad Be glad you don't have toDamani Harrison:
sit in the meeting with three other people trying to determine what color a shot button should be.Joe Cadwell:
That's a one man show on my shop. I reign supreme and those decision making so yeah, that's interesting.