Business Leader: The Marksman: Diversification through Product Innovation

Diversification is an ongoing theme at this magazine; we think it’s the best survival mechanism for a profession undergoing rapid change in a recovering economy. Gerry Clarke, owner and president of Coordinate Control, Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada, saw the need for a better tool to use in precision surveying applications. The result became The Marksman, a patented portable, levelling prism tripod with a cantilevered laser-marking system. According to its creator, it provides a time-saving alternative to current methods used for targeting and offers unrivalled accuracy. In short—it’s a new approach to accurate measurement. Here are his thoughts on the innovation process and his creation.

Professional Surveyor: How did you come up with the idea for The Marksman?

Gerry Clarke: A variety of reasons lead to the creation and development of The Marksman. [The main factors were] many years of experience working for land surveying firms running a total station, being a licensed millwright [they plan and build mills and/or set up machinery in mills], and a passion for innovation. Early on in my career as a millwright I recognized a need for a company that could supply a surveying service to support millwrighting activities. I started Coordinate Control Inc. with initial projects in car plants and steel mills. 

One thing that became clear right away was a growing need for millimeter accuracy. The seed was planted. The trusted prism pole, even with its sidekick bipod, could no longer be trusted, not with accurate measurement or large-scale layouts. I simply said, there’s got to be a better way. It became a quest (my wife would argue obsession) to create a solution for accurate targeting and a means of marking a point. And I had just enough experience, passion, and stubbornness to pull it off.

PSM: What were your challenges in the process of taking your product from idea to market?

GC: Early challenges:  Inventory—there were quite a few people who suggested I have The Marksman made entirely overseas and drop costs considerably. The only real problem with this is managing inventory; my wife won’t let me stack any more in our bedroom closet, even though there’s clearly enough room.

Ongoing challenges: Patience—30 years later and I’m finally figuring out that things actually do take time to happen. [You have to] balance stubbornness and stupidity to keep going forward even when credible people are advising you otherwise. All of us who perform surveys have likely thought about this idea at one point; the question is are we stubborn enough to follow through on it? I guess I was blessed in that regard.

Customer service: There was a customer who was actually angry at me over The Marksman. I asked him, What was the problem? He said he was angry because he didn’t think of it!

PSM: Do you have examples that highlight The Marksman in action?

GC: The company that bought the very first Marksman did so because they were facing an anchor bolt layout with millimeter tolerance and were getting residuals in the 

order of 8-9 mm. After having the instrument thoroughly checked, they were still unable to determine the problem. So after three days of being on the shelf of its first store—out the door The Marksman went! After using it, the residuals dropped-off and brought them into tolerance. The error was chalked up to targeting even though they had taken great care using a mini-pole.

Another good example is the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada being constructed in Toronto, Ontario. Laying out the inside wall of the 750,000-gallon shark lagoon was a challenging task; what was particularly important for the correct location of this line was that it formed the base for the 315-foot domed pedestrian tunnel in the tank. The acrylic dome pieces were built to very specific dimensions and took as much as a year to deliver. Installation left absolutely no room for error. The Marksman was used to lay out this and many other complex geometrical shapes in this measurement-critical project.

“A Passion For Innovation”

While most of us won’t be taking the path of invention, if you do have an idea for a new surveying product, take heart in Gerry’s example. You may also want to read, “The Next Industrial Revolution: 5 Reasons Why Geospatial Pros Should Care” in the October 16, 2012 issue of Pangaea (available on

For the rest of us non-Edison types, we can still learn from Gerry’s story. As noted earlier, at PSM we have been promoting diversification as an important business tool. Innovation is central to the diversification process. Gerry’s core values of patience, persistence, and plain old stubbornness will be of great value in your quest to diversify.

Will The Marksman hit the target? Two signs point to yes. 1) Initial customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and 2) Seiler Instruments, a nationwide distributor of surveying software and instruments based in St. Louis, Missouri, has added The Marksman to its product line.

Typical Applications
Commercial and industrial construction: Grid lines are the commercial and industrial surveyor’s main reference datum on any project. Several of the building trades may use these lines during construction, so their accuracy is key. The Marksman’s cantilevered laser marking system allows the surveyor to mark key datum points with accuracy as the prism is levelled and locked set. 

An increasing number of companies are asking for third-party verification of anchor bolt locations prior to the installation of steel or equipment. The Marksman can be fitted with a tooling ball for a quick and accurate shot. The New Oakville Hospital is an example of a commercial construction project where Coordinate Control was tasked with the layout of mechanical fixtures and sleeving.  

Bridge and dam deformation studies: Precision surveying is critical to these applications. The picture below shows The Marksman employed in conducting high accuracy deformation measurements on a dam in North Carolina. 

Mining and other applications: There are surveys being performed for mechanical, electrical, and mining projects where the point is required to be marked on the ceiling above. The Marksman can be configured to allow the laser to mark the point straight up for these surveys.

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