Jacobson aims to turn athletes into Yanky fans

by Bill Hunt


Ryan Jacobson is in the early stages of a rags to riches story.

The 44-year-old Fredericton civil servant has taken a seemingly simple idea and run with it – literally. In a bastion of Red Sox and Blue Jays fans, he has come up with the ‘Yanky’. It’s a nine-inch-by-seven-inch piece of cloth, a bamboo/organic cotton blend – 67 per cent bamboo – which is eco-friendly, absorbent and dries quickly.

“That’s what I was looking for, something that would wipe up the moisture, dry quickly, be soft and durable,” he said.

The Yanky is attached to a badge reel via a plastic clip. The badge reel clips easily to a jacket, belt or workout attire, even a fishing vest. The badge reel contains a 30-inch retractable cord, which allows the athlete – angler, runner, tennis player, golfer, etc. – to quickly wipe blood, sweat, tears or other byproducts of athletic endeavours and carry on. It unclips and can be tossed in the wash until the next workout.

“It’s very simple,” said Jacobson. “I tell people it’s an uncommon solution to a common problem. Solutions don’t have to be complicated.”

It sells – mostly by word-of-mouth, or on social media for now – for $19.99, although that cost may be adjusted by the time packaging costs are factored in. He’s sold “just shy of 100,” units since incorporating as a company in November and launching the product in January.

Early reviews on the Yanky Sports Facebook page are positive, with more than 300 “likes” for the product, which the entrepreneur is in the process of trademarking now. Response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“I’ve had a half-dozen people say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’” he said.

It comes in five colours, but Jacobson dreams in technicolour … retail outlets. Licensing deals with professional teams and leagues.

He’s exploring a process where a logo could be superimposed on the product without changing the composition of the cloth. The product is actually hand sewn and shipped from Moncton, by Cheryl Ryan, a graduate of the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. The material is shipped directly to Ryan, who hand sews the clip and clothing tag to the material and sends it back to Jacobson for distribution.

When packaging is done, he hopes to be able to put it in stores, locally first and – the dream – nationally.

Jacobson first had the idea for the product in 2011 as he trained to run the Chicago Marathon. The initial prototype was a baby facecloth, one of the remnants from his three children – son Brier, now 15, daughter Carys, 12, and son Koen, nine years old. He put a hole in the corner of the cloth, found a badge reel in the family’s junk drawer. One of his running mates noticed and told him,“I’d buy one of those.”

The seed, and the need, was planted. He’s run six full marathons since taking up running as a hobby in 2009 – seven, if you count the five-year journey of the Yanky from concept to fruition. Jacobson let the idea fester for a while before he finally moved to action. He estimates he’s invested “between six and seven thousand dollars” of his own money in Yanky Sports International Incorporated, as the company is known.

“I haven’t had to remortgage the house over it or anything. I have a small business line of credit through the bank and a business account.”

Nichole, his wife of 21 years, is “very supportive,” said Jacobson.“She’s glad that I’m finally doing something with all this. We’d go to church and I’d be thinking, ‘What about tennis players!’ And she would say, ‘Oh my God! Stop talking about it!’ It was, ‘Either stop talking about it and forget about it, or do something about it.’”

He got similar messages from other local entrepreneurs. He ran the concept by Jeff Alpaugh, the founder of Jeff Alpaugh custom shirts, who endorsed the idea, but told him essentially, to get on with it.

“That was the swift kick I needed,” said Jacobson.“It’s scary to throw your name out there. What are people going to think?’ On the flip side, he was frightened somewhat by the prospect of success.

That may be something he has to confront. While he sees it as a perfect product for long distance runners, he sees potential for golfers to wipe the dew off their golf ball; tennis players to wipe their grips. He dreams big. He plans to exhibit the product at Race Expos which are often held around marathons. He ran the New York City marathon in November and met the qualifying standard to run the Boston Marathon in 2018, mecca for a marathoner.

He hopes to take the Yanky right into Red Sox country.

“I want it to take off,” he said.“I see it on Facebook and I think ‘They like my idea!’ Money is nice, it pays the bills. But I get a kick out of seeing people use it.”

He’s proud of his, and his product’s, New Brunswick roots.

“I want it to be a New Brunswick story. I have a plan to get one of these to the premier. If I have to send it to him in interoffice mail with a handwritten note and my business card, I’ll do it.”


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