Richard Kellerman and Paul Nielsen established NK in Richard's basement. Richard was working as a research chemist at Xerox in Webster, NY, when Coach Ted Nash recruited him to devise a product that would simplify the coxswain's many jobs on the river. With the collaboration of Paul Nielsen, an associate from Xerox, the NK founders designed a single unit to combine the tasks of an amplifier, stroke meter, and timer and the CoxBox® Rowing Amplifier System was born. (Born and raised in England, Richard loved a good tongue-in-cheek name!) The CoxBox is now in its fifth generation (shown above) and continues to be standard equipment for any coxed boat in the world.
Now focused on rowing, NK expanded their product line with the original StrokeCoach® stroke meter designed for scullers and straight boats (no coxswain) as well as the Chronostroke® rate and stopwatch for rowing coaches. More importantly, for the growth of the business, the NK founders collaborated with Dick and Peter Dreissigacker, founders of Concept 2, to develop the method for measuring the work done by an athlete on the original Concept 2 rowing machine. The original monitor invented by NK turned the Concept 2 rowing machine into an effective training and evaluation tool, leading to its rapid adoption by rowing teams and gyms all over the world. With the development of these four products, further fueled by the rapid growth in rowing driven by Title IX, NK had grown too large for the basement of Richard's house. NK took up residence in an old rayon-making factory in Marcus Hook, PA. Over the next ten years, the NK founders developed the Pace Coach® and the impeller-based SpeedCoach® Red. During this time, NK also redesigned the CoxBox, CoxVox, and StrokeCoach to be smaller, lighter, and easier to use.
NK expanded into a completely new product line by launching a line of wind and weather instruments under the Kestrel® Weather & Environmental Meters brand name. The initial models – the 1000, 2000, and 3000 – measured wind speed, temperature, and humidity. Wildland firefighters immediately adopted the Kestrel 3000 to replace their analog belt weather kits, and sales grew quickly. Expanding production meant once again it was time to move to a larger facility located in Chester, PA. During the tenure at the Chester facility (1996-2004), NK released a total of 4 models of Kestrel Weather & Environmental Meters, added the SpeedCoach Gold to the rowing line, and introduced the Interval® 2000 Rate Watch for the swimming and track and field markets.
NK took the Kestrel Weather instruments line to an entirely new level in the industry by introducing the Kestrel 4000. The Kestrel 4000 measured all the primary weather parameters to extremely high accuracy and performed on-board calculations of derived weather measurements such as heat index, wind chill, density altitude, wet bulb temperature, and more. It also logged measurements and displayed a history graph. All this in a unit weighing 4 oz. and easily carried in hand. The Kestrel 4000 was quickly adopted by demanding users such as the US Air Force Special Operations Weather Team (“SOWT”, now renamed Special Reconnaissance Team) – and is even in the US Air Force Museum today. The Kestrel 4000 was a highly flexible platform and allowed the innovative NK team to continue to develop new, specialized products in the coming years.
Once again outgrowing its home, NK expanded its business and facilities to the 25,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Boothwyn, PA that it occupies today. Along with NK's ever-growing staff, the rowing product line expanded to include the SpeedCoach XL with boat-to-coach communication. The CoxBox got another facelift, and the Kestrel Weather & Environmental Meters family continued to diversify to meet the needs of various industry professionals with new specialty Kestrel Meters.
After 32 years on the job, it was time for the NK founders to retire. The current leadership team was in place and ready to take over, so a management-led private equity buyout (jointly sponsored by Edgewater Capital and JZ Partners) kept the company moving forward.
2011 marked two very significant product expansions that would take NK in new directions. The Kestrel 4000 had been adopted by military marksmen as their source of environmental data for their PDA-based ballistics calculator. NK collaborated with the leading ballistics software company to embed the calculator into a Kestrel 4000, and the Kestrel 4700 was launched. Now updated to the Kestrel 5700 and 5700 Elite, Kestrel Ballistics Weather Meters are synonymous with long-range shooting success, whether tactical, competitive, or recreational, and comprise a significant portion of NK's business. NK also responded to the requests of rowing coaches worldwide to build a megaphone as rugged as a CoxBox, and the Blue Ocean Megaphone® was launched. This patented, waterproof, floating, rechargeable megaphone has since been adopted by many other tactical and outdoor users for its rugged reliability and crystal-clear voice amplification.
Once again, NK responded directly to customer requests and developed the Kestrel 4400 Heat Stress Tracker. Wet Bulb Globe Temperature is a more accurate measure of the heat stress created by an environment's temperature, humidity, solar radiation, and air movement. The Kestrel 4400 measures current conditions and provides science-based guidance on when conditions have become dangerous and require activity modification. Heat-induced injury and death are far too common, and the Kestrel team is proud to be a very active part of the effort to implement education, guidelines, and tools to prevent heat injury to athletes and workers.
NK redesigned the Kestrel 4000 series to launch the 5000 series – with more memory and more features, including the ability to create the world's most portable weather station by mounting the Kestrel meter into a small, light tripod vane accessory.
As the needs of the world’s firefighters grew ever more complex, NK launched a Kestrel model with features to help them evaluate fire danger even more accurately – the Kestrel 5500 Fire Weather Pro. And, after seven years of steady growth and profitability, NK transitioned to new sponsors, Clearview Capital, specialists in helping small to mid-cap businesses grow through investment and acquisition.
NK made its first significant acquisition – Ambient, LLC. Ambient designs, imports, markets, and connects smart weather stations and home sensors. Ambient's primary distribution and customer support center is in Phoenix, AZ, with a secondary location in Boothwyn, PA. Ambient products are regarded as the premier consumer-grade weather stations in the US. The products are supported by a comprehensive online platform including personal dashboards, weather forecasts, and an interactive social portal. Ambient's customer base shares the same enthusiasm for trusted measurements that has made the Kestrel brand's customers so loyal.
NK acquired RainWise, Inc. of Trenton, ME, a 45-year-old company manufacturing professional grade weather stations and weather monitoring systems for solar power generation. Specializing in agriculture, research, and solar monitoring, Rainwise customers have the same desire for accuracy and reliability as Kestrel and Ambient customers, so the three brands' integration made perfect sense. The RainWise manufacturing and distributions operations have since been entirely consolidated into NK's Pennsylvania facilities which were expanded with the addition of a second 8,500 sq. ft. space in the same business park. The NK team has also expanded the RainWise product line into the Kestrel brand space with the launch of the KestrelMet brand of solar-powered, wire-free cellular weather stations.
NK acquired MagnetoSpeed, Inc. of Austin, TX. MagnetoSpeed’s primary product line comprises two muzzle-mounted chronographs which measure the velocity of the bullet leaving a gun – a critical input into ballistics calculation along with environmental conditions. MagnetoSpeed’s patented measurement technology allows for a highly compact unit that can be easily transported to the range and used anywhere with minimal setup – a considerable improvement over shoot-through chronographs and ideally suited to the competition environment. NK also manufactures target hit indicators and barrel coolers under the MagnetoSpeed brand in its Boothwyn facility.
Having grown far beyond its roots in rowing, NK still epitomizes the sport’s teamwork and drive and continues to innovate, improve and grow to serve its demanding customers.