Brad Pelkofer’s product, Panther Teeth, is the simple invention that can radically change a hockey player's skating experience. It’s a clip that allows you to tighten the laces on your shoes and skates without cutting off circulation to your ankle and foot.
The impact of the device is being felt across both leisure and professional sports so much so that it’s even made its way into the equipment of a current NHL player playing for the Montreal Canadiens, defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic.
The clip itself is really easy to use, and to be fair many alternatives exist. But the ingenuity that Pelkofer exemplifies in coming up with the device is a story all its own.
The first experience a person has with hockey skates is rough.
Real rough. Almost cruel.
You have to “break in the skate”, which if taken literally, means you need to use something (most of the time your foot) to modify the original stiff composition of the hockey boot.
There are many ways, technically, to break in skates by either baking them at 200° plu or walking around in them at home, but it’s never foolproof.
Think about that for a second, where else do athletes need to subjugate themselves to pain just so their experience with a product is optimal?
There are undoubtedly many ways that one can tie their skates to maximise performance.
For most leisure athletes, this means simply tying your shoes or skates tight, maybe double knotting them so that they don’t come undone. It also means considering other aspects of footwear and boots, like what kind of socks you want to put on, the activity you might be engaging in, and what your level of experience with that activity is.
Some athletes tying up skates will use the same loopholes multiple times to shorten the laces and maximise the support they feel higher up towards their ankle. Others will use all kinds of double knots and tricks to try to even out support throughout the entire skate.
Even after finding a method that works, it can oftentimes be a challenge to be consistent and evenly distribute the pressure of a well-tied skate across one’s entire foot.
Differences in the approach can impact an athlete’s performance and foot health. That’s true even without considering features like the gel inside the skate, the blade underneath the boot, or the quality, cost, or wear and tear of the skates themselves.
The biggest unsolved hockey player experience is lace bite. It sounds scary, but it’s simply the action of putting too much pressure on the sides of the foot or the ankle. This can happen for several reasons:
The result however is always the same: pain.
So what can you do?
Well you either take a PhD in lace tying and try to figure out the best possible manner to solve this issue OR you let someone who’s been obsessing over this for years provide you with his patented clip to never think about lace bite again.
Pelkofer started to think about ways to improve the fit and feel of skates and shoes because he wanted to solve his own problems. He recognized that CCM already had a lace locking device on the market, but that device had its own limitations.
The existing solution proposed by CCM only allowed for two locks to be on the laces, and the laces couldn’t be moved or repositioned on the skate. They had to be used as is.
“Our device is more portable and offers more functionality and more customization. With our device, you can lock onto your laces wherever you would like”, Pelkofer says.
According to Ventrify, just going through the initial ideation process that coincides with product development can cost as much as $10,000. Without going through this stage and having a clear idea, the cost of the other stages of the development process can increase exponentially.
Spending some of the product development budgets on the ideation stage is important.
Then there is the cost of industrial design. This process defines how the product will look and how the end user will use the product. This phase is part of understanding how the product will sell on the open market. It can cost anywhere from $5000-$15,000 to go through this step.
Then comes the time to finally develop the prototype. This is kind of like making a minimum viable product in the software world. The inventor develops the skeleton of the product and ensures that it exists in a usable format.
Then there is the mechanical engineering that goes with ensuring you can build a solid product that can be assembled and reproduced over and over again. For an intricate product, this can cost up to $40,000, but even for a small product like Panther Teeth, significant costs can be involved.
Once an inventor goes through the above phases, they still have to spend money on testing, manufacturing, packaging, and shipping.
This can cost another $65.000-$85,000 or more depending on how expensive it is to produce and ship the product and how long the testing phase takes.
Fortunately for Brad Pelkofer, his product is small, doesn’t involve complicated electronics or moulding considerations, and had developed high-quality partnerships with partners in academia so he got the product designed and up on shelves on a relative shoe-string budget.
Although Pelkofer focuses on aftermarket goods and services within the scope of his day job in threat detection and security, it took him quite a while to develop the initial ideas for Panther Teeth. He estimates that he spent a whole year just scribbling down ideas on the back of a napkin. He struggled to get the initial prototype made.
It was until he had an aha moment at the park that things finally clicked for Pelkofer.
“I would go to the park and try to think about what I could do to make this better. After nine or 10 months, I didn’t have a clear idea. One day I’m putting my skates on and was frustrated because I couldn’t come up with an idea. Then one time, I put my finger on my skate and realised this is all I need. Originally, I wanted to put a brace on the islets of the skate, but I finally got away from that idea the moment I put my finger on my skates”.
Finally, Pelkofer had an idea he could run with.
Still, just like other entrepreneurs trying to invent products and bring them to market, he didn’t necessarily have a huge budget to get the idea off the ground.
“I was still working on things on the back of a napkin when I realised I had already spent $15,000 on product development. I decided to knock on doors at the University of Pittsburgh, and an engineer liked the idea and decided to come on board as a partner.
''It became a project for senior students at the University to work on, and now 25 of those students are named on the patent for the product”.
Pelkofer’s Panther Teeth are meant to increase athletes' comfort, allowing them to push their performance to new heights.
The less your foot moves around in skates or shoes, the more drive you can get out of those skates or shoes.
Pelkofer knew that he had something as soon as he came up with the idea for the product. Apart from spending money to create the initial ideas as he worked it out on the back of a napkin, and finding engineering students to join him in creating the product and patenting the idea, Pelkofer wanted to prove to both himself and the end user that Panther Teeth offers real and tangible benefits to everyone.
He decided to work alongside a university professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, to prove that the product's locking mechanism can stay in place when a professional skater uses it. Together, they indeed found out that it does.
Panther Teeth is a fully adjustable product that stays on your skates and can withstand a 100-mile-an-hour slapshot. Athletes can also tighten them around their shoes, including the tongue, midsection, and toe of the boot.
This ensures the tight fit stays equally distributed across a skate or shoe, allowing athletes to lean forward in their stride and squeeze the most out of their forward drive, all while preventing injuries commonly associated with skates that are too tight or don’t fit properly.
The product is also a hit with parents who need to help their children prepare for sports and older individuals who don’t want to spend too much time bent over lacing up skates.
The Panther Teeth clips are also catching the attention of NHL players.
Several are using the product during games.
Panther Teeth units sell in packs of two, four, or six devices and interested athletes can buy them directly through the company website or at select sporting goods retailers. The devices are intended for use on the following types of footwear:
Attaching them is as simple as clipping the device onto the areas of the skate or boot that need the most support. If an athlete is going to use three of them, they could be clipped on the tongue of the skate, above the ankle, and at the toe of the skate for maximum support.
Panther Teeth come in a ready-to-use format in a small retail package that’s easy to open and allows an athlete to get started using the product immediately.
The intended use of Panther Teeth for skating isn’t just limited to ice hockey either. Athletes can use them for in-line skating, speedskating, and figure skating too.
Panther Teeth function using a clip that an athlete can pull open from the top. The bottom part of the clip slides underneath the laces of the skate or boot on the point at which the laces cross each other.
The laces can then be adjusted to the desired level of tension. Once that desired level of tension is reached, the athlete can then lock the top of the clip over the top side of the laces. The tension will then stay in place for as long as the Panther Teeth device is clipped.
Additional devices can be added wherever tension is needed. The image below displays Panther Teeth in action.
It’s recommended that athletes just starting out using the device place it on just one foot at different levels of tension just to test out how they feel.
Skating for just 15 to 20 minutes will give you enough feedback to adjust the clips on both skates.
When asked about the future of his product, Brad Pelkofer couldn’t be more optimistic about it.
He expects to be in major sporting goods stores, secure venture capital funding, and scale the business beyond his wildest dreams if he can.
He’s hoping to transition his career towards making Panther Teeth 100% of his focus within the next 12 months and is currently in discussions with a retail outlet that holds a market capitalization of over $9 billion.
Armed with the right strategy in place and a slew of connections that have helped him take the Panther Teeth brand to where it is today, Pelkofer hopes to be cash flow positive by the end of 2023.
More importantly, he hopes to get as many athletes as possible to see the benefits of tying skates properly using the Panther Teeth mechanism.