See how Keith Kimura turned a hand-made Christmas gift for his wife into a patented product and a post-furlough business
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - A few years ago, when Keith Kimura set out to craft his wife the perfect Christmas gift “from his hands, and from his heart,” he had no idea that three years later that special gift would come full circle and blossom into a lucrative, post-furlough, family business.
Keith and his wife Carol have been married for 15 years. Occasionally Keith prefers to go the more meaningful route and create a Christmas gift for Carol instead of purchasing it. So three years ago he set out to do just that and began looking all around him for inspiration.
“I had no idea what to make at first,” Keith recalls. “Then, one day I saw her practicing her ukulele and noticed that when she stopped she simply laid it down and I came up with the idea to make a stand for her ukulele. A stand that could fit in her instrument case and set up easily.”
With a background as a machinist, engineer, and analyst Keith put his skills to work and started prototyping his idea.
“After testing the idea with folding paper models I began building. For the next month I worked in my garage crafting this idea - a flat wooden instrument stand shaped like the instrument that could slip easily into her case then fold and lock to stand up and hold her ukulele,” Keith said.
The ukulele stand was a huge hit on Christmas morning.
Keith had a feeling he had stumbled upon something really special and decided to research instrument stands. To his surprise, nothing, not even close, existed in the market.
“When I began the project I thought it was a pretty creative idea and started doing some investigating (Google searches) to see if anything like this existed,” Keith shared. “I didn’t believe something so simple couldn’t have been made before so I continued doing searches several times a day every day while I was building this gift. After weeks of looking and finding nothing I decided that this new idea was our opportunity to make CKdream a reality.”
CKdream, LLC, is the business name Keith and Carol came up with 15 years ago with the hope that one day they could start their own company. CKdream, seemed only fitting as it not only contained their initials but upon closer examination of the pronunciation one can hear the phrase “seek a dream,” something the couple did often.
So when Christmas of 2017 was over Keith started re-designing the stand to come up with a design that he felt was more aesthetically marketable and could be produced on a consistent basis.
“Taking influence from Japanese woodworking masters and a desire to make something artistic as well as functional I designed the K-Stand (named for case stand) and applied for a patent on July 4, 2018, our new Independence Day,” he said.
K-Stand is unique in its design and workmanship. According to Keith, it is the only instrument stand that is shaped like the body of the instrument it is holding and no other instrument stand looks or works like a K-Stand. All of the individual pieces on a K-stand fit together like a wooden puzzle making each K-Stand a piece of functional art.
Once they received their patent, Keith and Carol decided to make and sell the K-Stand at festivals and small music events. They did this together as a hobby, on the weekends and on Keith’s days off from work.
For the past six years, Keith worked as a full-time Golf Professional at a resort golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. He was passionate about his job and was known for providing great customer service to all who walked in the door. He attempted to memorize each golfer's name with the intent of leaving a lasting impression on everyone he encountered.
If not for the pandemic, Keith would more than likely still be working at the golf course, however, he was unfortunately furloughed due to Covid-19. Following his furlough, Keith and his wife decided to put all of their efforts into making K-Stand their full-time business.
“Our two-car garage is now our workshop, and our living room is now our office. We have attended small business workshops, consulted with other small business professionals, and have basically gone through a ‘crash course’ in learning how to get a small business up and running and growing,” Keith said. “When we started making them two years ago we had three sizes of K-Stands. We now have designed four more sizes and have close to 100 designs.”
Keith is now focused on taking all of his transferable skills from previous careers and pouring them into his new business.
“As a machinist, engineer, and analyst I have invented and patented our new product, the K-Stand instrument stand, and developed the production process and toolings required to manufacture that product. As an artist and designer, I pursue an artistic, perfectionist goal in the finished product as well as producing marketing media for our sales efforts. And as a service professional, I am intent on caring about our customers from the moment I begin working on their orders.”
Keith has some big plans for the future of K-Stand and CKdream, LLC. He hopes to take his instrument stands into the mass market and is looking into a material that will complement their wood products. By engineering their design for plastic production as well as sheet metal, will allow K-Stands to be produced at a higher rate with molding and machinery.
With a lot of work and success ahead, however, Keith hasn’t lost sight of how his journey of discovery began.
“A special thanks to my wife and business partner, Carol Kimura. She has been supportive throughout and plays such a valuable role in our direction,” Keith said. She is tireless in her talents as a seamstress sewing the protective covers that go with each K-Stand we make. Her experience in inventory control keeps the business running by tracking our orders. And she makes sure I get to work every day. None of this could happen without her. We are confident that this business will grow because of our faith and love.”
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