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Alan Gillet: The man behind the tool giving an XtraHand to installers

Alan Gillett: The man behind the tool giving an XtraHand to installers

Alan Gillett is the man behind XtraHand – an innovative hands-free dust extraction tool for drilling, cutting and grinding. The device fits onto hose-mounted vacuums and sticks to almost any flat surface, ideal for tradespeople, furniture manufacturers and DIYers to minimise airborne particles and reduce mess.

Here, he explains more about his background, the development of XtraHand, and where his inventive nature is taking him next.

 

Tell us about your professional background, before you came to design XtraHand?

“I’m a carpenter and joiner by trade and had been working as a cabinet and radiator cover maker for many years. When out and about fitting different pieces of furniture, it was difficult for me to drill and hold a vacuum to capture the mess underneath at the same time. In customers’ properties, particularly those who had light-coloured carpets, I always worried that I didn’t know exactly what I was drilling into and therefore how much mess I might make. I’ve been on building sites since I was four years old, having often gone to work with my dad who was also a joiner, so I knew this wasn’t a new problem. I decided to put my thinking cap on and do something about it.”

 

How did you design and create XtraHand?

“Inventing is in my DNA – my great grandfather invented the first folding caravan. I made my very first prototype of XtraHand in 2006, using bits and bobs I had lying around the house. I created something that worked, and I used it every day, but I didn’t think about taking it to market for years. At that point, we didn’t have 3D printers around, and making official prototypes was expensive, but I later found out I could use crowdfunding to take the business forward. It wasn’t until 2020, when Covid-19 hit, that things really progressed. I had nine alterations to my own prototype 3D printed, and finally settled on one that worked flawlessly for various trades simultaneously.

“Once I was happy with the design, I conducted rigorous testing and soft-launched XtraHand on social media, using demo videos to see if it would be accepted by the industry. I didn’t want to continue moving forwards unless I knew people would be receptive to it. Thankfully, the response on social media was incredible and I knew I’d found a gap in the market.

“I’ve always kept the internal workings of the product a closely kept secret – because they’re the reason XtraHand works so well, compared to alternatives you might find on the market which don’t come close.”

 

What was the reaction to the product after you officially launched it?

 “Because of the reach of social media, XtraHand went global overnight. I was selling more than 100 units a day to countries as far reaching as Australia and New Zealand, America, and across Europe. The customer feedback couldn’t have been better – customers just kept telling me it was unlike anything they’d ever seen or used before.

“That’s because it ticks a lot of boxes. From a health and safety perspective, it’s a useful tool as it reduces the amount of dust and tiny particles entering the air and your lungs. It’s also safe to use, as it securely attaches to any surface, including ceilings which is a real USP, and is versatile – suitable for multi tools, drills, angle grinders and much more. Plus, it helps the installer ensure their customer is always happy because it minimises the risk of flooring or wall coverings being damaged by dust like that you get from drilling into red bricks, for example.”

 

How did you come to work with Häfele?

 “In May 2022, I was at UK Construction Week in London and came across a Häfele team member, and we got chatting about XtraHand and the potential for Häfele to distribute it to market. I was lined up to film for Dragon’s Den just a few days later and will always be proud to say I got an offer from Peter Jones and Touker Suleyman!

“However, I’d been using Häfele products since 1996 and was really interested in their proposition. I knew the company’s reputation and quality of its products aligned with my own, and that working together would be a good fit. Sometime later I was at Häfele’s office in Rugby discussing how to take XtraHand to the next level.”

 

You’re on stand with Häfele (stand 4C16) at this year’s InstallerSHOW – what excites you about exhibitions?

“I love doing exhibitions because it gives you the chance to talk to people face to face about what they’re doing every day and how XtraHand could support them. I’m particularly looking forward to being at the InstallerSHOW with Häfele, to be able to tell those attending the show how we work together. XtraHand is one of those products that you don’t realise you need until you see it, and I predict a lot of responses like that from guests visiting the stand and seeing it for the first time.”

 

Find out more about Häfele UK and XtraHand on stand 4C16 at the InstallerSHOW.

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