Sometimes people don’t set out to invent things – it just happens.
Joel Beckett, the founder of DryGuy, didn’t set out to develop ice cleats. He started his company after creating a patent for boot-drying technology. But an unfortunate injury led him to start developing traction add-ons for footwear.
Now, Beckett is gearing up for DryGuy’s (www.dryguy.net) seventh year at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, where he will showcase not only boot dryers, but also his ice cleats.
Get a grip
The idea for the cleats came a decade ago after Beckett took a spill on the slopes, breaking a bone in his left knee. The injury hampered his access to the family's lodge room in Crystal Mountain, Wash., at Crystal Mountain Lodging Suites, which is only accessible via a hike.
“I was walking with the aid of canes and crutches and I couldn’t just tell my son, ‘You can’t ski anymore because dad can’t go up to the lodge,’ ” Beckett said. So he bought himself a pair of ice cleats so he could make the hike. On the first ascent, the item broke.
“I got very frustrated at that and I thought, ‘I could do this better,’ because that’s my attitude,” so he designed his first pair of ice cleats. His testing process was rigorous. He had people testing the designs climbing up mountains, doing military formations on ice and doing hockey stops.
Beckett said in the nine years since he introduced them to the market, he’s only made incremental changes to his ice cleats, the latest of which (to be shown at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market) being a more curved mold on the heel and a toe strap up front in order to more securely stay on many different shoe styles. The newer, heavy-duty MonsterGrip (MSRP $29.95) is for more aggressive downhill winter sports athletes, whereas the GripOn (MSRP $19.95, photo, right) is more for urban settings.
DryGuy ice cleats have steel studs on part of the product under the bottom of the shoe, whereas many competitors feature coils or spikes. The studs, Beckett said, allow users to walk more naturally versus walking as though they’re expecting to fall.
But first came boot dryin’
Beckett said he’s no expert in ice cleats – he simply makes what works for him – but when it comes to boot drying, Beckett isn’t afraid to say he knows his stuff. Boot drying is the whole reason he founded his business in 1994.
He was interested in the boot-drying category because for most of his life he’s suffered from Raynaud’s disease, which makes him more sensitive to cold and chills. When people with Raynaud’s Disease sense a chill, their body could shut down circulation to the fingers and toes, causing them to go white as though hypothermia has set in. Click here for more information on the condition from the Mayo Clinic.
“Our market extends way beyond warmth,” Becket said. “It’s a health issue, too.”
Beckett said he tried everything to keep his feet warm during his favorite activity – skiing. He tried electric socks, neoprene socks, but no matter what he wore, his feet would always be cold, yet they would sweat and get his boots wet. He went out in search of boot dryers but found only a few products for hunters, so he set out to develop a solution for skiers.
“I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to do this rather than pulling my liners out every night and putting them up on the heat ducts,’ ” Beckett said. So he created one and named it the DryGuy, which went on to become the company name. Soon he began to show his product at the Snowsports Industries Association trade show and later at Outdoor Retailer Winter Markets.
Beckett claims his boot dryers put out more cubic feet of air (22 cubic feet of air per minute) than other dryers on the market, and explained each cubic foot of air a dries one gram of water. His products, which range MSRP $27-$89, can dry and warm boots, gloves and waders.
Not only do the DryGuy boot dryers dry, they kill harmful and odor-causing bacteria, Beckett said.
“We design most of our products to kill 99 percent of the bacteria, fungus and molds in there, eliminating odor and athlete’s foot,” Beckett said. “To the diabetic market that’s huge because if they get an infection they lose a toe, if they lose toe they lose a foot, and if they lose a foot if they lose a leg.”
Everything for business
As most business owners would find, one of the biggest challenges to starting your own company is the lack of funds, Beckett said.
“You just have to start small and do everything,” Beckett said. When he started the company in 1994, his only business partner was his Boston terrier, Floyd. Now he employs six people. Still Beckett said he's involved in every aspect of the company.
“Rather than paying somebody to do it, you compromise and do the work yourself,” Beckett said, adding that he’s gone through three Chevrolet Suburbans hauling products from his base in Seattle, Wash., to trade shows all over the country. “Sometimes I work 16 hour days. I’ve gone as much as 72 hours without sleep. You have to sacrifice yourself a little to be successful in a business.”
But, Beckett said, despite the lack of sleep and crazy hours, starting his own company does have its perks such as not having a boss.
“If I decide the best way to do something to buy a machine I don’t have to justify buying that piece of equipment to anybody,” Beckett said. “That independence is the really nice part.”
Another perk, Beckett said, is when customers call to compliment him on his products. “Somebody who’s enthusiastic about something you’ve brought to the market is satisfying.”