The McGuckin Junk Drawer
Sometimes, small boys with junk drawer affinities can make big things happen.
For future inventors and young tinkerers, McGuckin Hardware’s collection of 200,000 items can be a great place to look for inspiration and track down components to make gizmos work.
Daniel Haarburger, a senior at Stanford University and inventor who’s been featured in design publications such as Wired, Fast Company, Design Milk and Uncrate, got his start in the aisles of McGuckin when he was a little boy.
“As he grew up,” his mother Hillary said, “he learned a lot of tips from the Green Vests in the hallways.”
Daniel now sells his designs on the shelves of that very same hardware store, like the popular device that secures smartphones to bicycle handlebars for easy access to music, navigation and other apps.
He launched the project on Kickstarter and later licensed it to Nite Ize, another local company that features unique gadgets to make everyday life easier. Now, the “Handleband” is sold all over the world and featured in publications that showcase new technologies.
Daniel’s story is like that of many other local creative minds that peruse the parts and pieces McGuckin has to offer, and transform them from concept to a marketable reality. It’s a place to get creative juices flowing, with the added bonus of seasoned employee expertise: guys that know where odds and ends are kept and what they can do.
Such was the case with the inventor of “Steelie,” (a magnetic ball that can be mounted on vehicle
dashboards or desks to hold phones and tablets in convenient display positions) who brought his idea to fruition by talking to McGuckin employees, and later—like Daniel—licensed his product with Nite Ize.
But being surrounded by such a myriad of possibilities can sometimes obsess the minds of entrepreneurial customers and employees alike.
Ben Anderson, a 14-year McGuckin employee, invented a pet collar encrusted with LEDs that can be customized with a smart phone app. He said he got the idea about two years ago when he was camping with his dog.
“I was out there, and I remember thinking: you know, it would be kind of nice if I could find my dog,” Ben said.
He and a friend worked out the concept of an illuminated collar that can be easily personalized to whatever color and blinking pattern combination imaginable, and the pair got their components from the very aisles Ben stocks on a daily basis.
“It’s an engineering store for ideas and brainstorming, and I’ve always liked working here for the creative side,” he said. “We invent things for people all the time—we don’t always have every single product, but we can almost always make it with our parts.”
Robert Alispach, a McGuckin salesperson who has been practicing magic for 29 years, said that he talks to magicians all the time that say the Boulder hardware establishment is the best magic store around.
“They can take all the little odds and ends and make magic tricks out of them,” said Robert, “on the surface it may look like regular hardware and house stuff, but it can be used in so many different ways.”
Robert said that’s not only true with the magician subculture, but with many other performer niches as well.
“You name it—I’ve sold PVC pipe to pole walkers, as well as a lot of different painting supplies to folks designing sets at the Boulder Dinner Theater,” he said, explaining that in his 17 years at McGuckin he rarely gets baffled by diverse customer requests, which in recent years increasingly include the emerging guild of tinkerers and Do-It-Yourself-ers dubbed the “Maker Culture.”
Robert has noticed that most new inventions pair a basic idea with technology, a concept that electronic savvy SparkFun members will confirm, as they behold lists of components that often include soldering irons and Arduino accessories.
Daniel, the soon-to-be Stanford graduate and young product engineer that jump-started from the “McGuckin junk drawer,” makes sure to come and visit every time he’s in back in town from college, looking for more ways to market his creativity and improve lives.
And it seems like he’s only just begun.
“I think his story would inspire many a mother and father to bring their children in and remember the value of play, invention, and making with mom and dad,” his mother Hillary said.