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TKL Products Corp. owner Tom Dougherty in his Goochland conference room Photo by Isaac Harell
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Floyd Smith creates the shape of a case with wood. Photo by Isaac Harell
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Seth Beck places a velvet lining in a guitar case. Photo by Isaac Harrell
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One look around the conference room at TKL Products Corp. in Goochland, and it's obvious that the case and bag manufacturer has some high-profile clients. Photos and mementos of everyone from Dolly Parton to Eric Clapton fill the walls. Not many people know that TKL and its high-end Cedar Creek Custom Case Shop call Goochland home — and that's fine with owner Tom Dougherty, who prefers to fly under the radar. "Our marketing is based on guerilla warfare," he says.
Within the music industry, though, TKL is well known and well respected. It is the sole supplier of cases for guitar manufacturers Martin and Gibson and a major supplier for other guitar companies, including Gretsch and Guild. "They entrust us with their production schedules," says Dougherty. "We produce and ship ‘just in time' all of their requirements."
Casual and unpretentious, Dougherty, an ex-guitar player, forgoes a business suit at work, opting instead for a comfy T-shirt and jeans. He's a staunch supporter of American-made goods and passionate about the music industry that he serves. Each of his cases, he says, has its own story.
How It All Started
Dougherty and his wife, Donna, started the company in 1984 on New York's Long Island. The name TKL comes from the initials of his three children — Tommy, Kevin and Laurie — who all now work at the company in management roles. Dougherty built the company by taking the time to learn all that he could about his customers' businesses. "We became a partner," he says. "Guitar manufacturers became our biggest customers and advocates."
TKL relocated to the Richmond area in 1989 and moved to Goochland in 1992. Dougherty discovered the Oilville Business Park, where the company sits, during a drive through the county. Since his initial move there, he has added a second building and purchased more land. "We have a strong USA manufacturing presence," he says. "Over the years, as many competitors put themselves out of business or moved their manufacturing operations to Asia, we chose to expand more and more here."
Dougherty started Cedar Creek Custom Case Shop in 1992 for customers who wanted a one-of-a-kind case. "You can get anything you want," he says. Cases are built with handpicked wood, fine interiors and TKL's Providence Forge select hardware. "I liked the name of the town," Dougherty says of the hardware's name.
Exterior coverings include everything from black Cajun alligator to an Aztec design. "We have the largest array of special materials on the planet," Dougherty says. "We also have a vintage tweed that was first used in luggage. We buy material from the original mill. It is one of the few mills that still exists."
Cedar Creek cases can range from $400 to $75,000, while the average price of TKL cases ranges from $250 to $500.
TKL manufactures a variety of cases for string, percussion, symphonic and band instruments, as well as for keyboards and accessories. The company also makes weapon cases for the military and law enforcement agencies. "We see tremendous growth in that area," Dougherty says.
Specific product lines include the American Vintage series, which resembles cases from the early 1900s up to the 1950s, andthe Zero Gravity line, featuring a lightweight case with a molded foam interior. "It's strong and highly protective," Dougherty says. "It usually holds collectors' instruments."
In 1999, the company bought what was the oldest case company in the country — Harptone — and added that to its stable of brands.
The bluegrass market in particular has embraced the Cedar Creek brand. "They are passionate about their instruments, and that translates from the instrument to the case," Dougherty says.
Even though Cedar Creek doesn't actively seek celebrity clients, the stars find the company. "Sometimes we talk to their manager or someone who is in their group or even an associate," Dougherty says, adding that one of the band members for Dolly Parton called to say she wanted a case for one of her tours. The finished pink and white case is pictured in Dougherty's conference room.
He often gets to meet celebrity clients, such as Zac Brown. "We met him at a bluegrass festival that we sponsor in North Carolina," Dougherty says. "He's a nice, enjoyable guy to talk to."
Look who's buying custom cases: Clients have included Tim McGraw, Gretchen Wilson, Dierks Bentley, Les Paul, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton, Charlie Daniels, Richie Sambora and others.
Most exotic cases: Eric Clapton's latest case was covered with alligator skins. It has sterling silver-plated hardware and specially dyed velvet. Dougherty has a piece of the tail of an alligator and Clapton's CD cover, showing the singer with the case, in a frame in his office. Equally unusual was a request from guitar manufacturer Martin. "We made a case for the one millionth guitar built by Martin that was covered with real ostrich," Dougherty says.
One of Dougherty's prized possessions: Cedar Creek made 5,000 specialty Elvis memorabilia cases for a company working for the legendary singer's estate, Graceland. The cases were filled with videotapes of all of Elvis' movies. The company sent Dougherty the 5,000th case as a keepsake. "All of the cases sold in one weekend."