Combine post-retirement boredom with an idea and some serendipity and you get Iron Joc, a Wisconsin-based golf and sports apparel company that is quickly carving out a niche in a category dominated by the likes of Nike, adidas and Polo Ralph Lauren.
Well, at least that’s how it worked for Paul Hanson.
As a runner and a sales executive for Miller Coors, Hanson logged a lot of miles on business trips. And like many workout warriors who spend time on the road, his garment bag, filled with sweaty gear, acquired a certain … odor.
Hanson described it a bit more indelicately.
“My garment bag stunk,” he said.
After he retired, he started looking around for something to keep him occupied. He thought about his smelly workout gear and figured there had to be some way to eliminate the bacteria that caused the unpleasant aroma. His search led him to Robert Parker, who had patented a way to infuse fabric with silver ions that trap and eliminate bacteria before they penetrate the fabric.
“I knew a little bit about what nano silver did because it was created for the military in the early ‘90s,” Hanson said. “What was happening when our guys were in Desert Storm, they’re dealing with extreme heat. The Iraqis could figure out where they were with dogs, just from the scent. So, I read about this. I found (Parker), who worked at Penn State and helped develop the patent for nano silver.
“I got a hold of him and I told him what I wanted to do and he said, ‘I’ve been trying to get Nike or adidas to do this for seven or eight years. They won’t do it.’”
Hanson, 62, a native of Horicon, trademarked the name Iron Joc, which resonated with males – and particularly younger males – in market testing. He partnered with Parker’s company, American Venture Accessories, which designs the apparel. After a start-and-stop because of the coronavirus pandemic, Oconomowoc-based Iron Joc launched on Labor Day last year.
“I know two things about marketing,” Hanson said. “One, you’ve got to have quality and two, you’ve got to have a point of difference. I’ve got the quality. My point of difference is the silver.”
Everything Iron Joc sells – golf polos, hats, socks and performance training jackets, pants and shorts – is guaranteed to eliminate 99.9% of odor-causing bacteria for the life of the gear.
“You wear the socks seven days in a row, they will not smell,” Hanson said. “Nobody’s been able to prove me wrong yet. We call it the official gear of the 19th hole for golf because you could play in 90-degree weather and still go to the bar and have a beer and you’ll be fine.
"I have physicians wearing this stuff. I have policemen wearing it under their bullet-proof vests, because it kills bacteria at a high rate, 99.9%. I put it in everything. We even put it in our golf hat.”
Iron Joc gear has an unmistakable look and feel and according to Hanson is less expensive than comparable gear from some of the biggest names in the industry.
“I thought you could do something better in the category and not charge these exorbitant prices that these guys are charging,” he said. “I know what it costs to make this stuff. I just thought there was a spot for a high-quality product at a fair price vs. a high-quality product at lululemon pricing. Lululemon stuff is good stuff, but $90 for a pair of gym shorts?
“I knew Nike was selling their polyester gym shorts for $40. And I know I can make a four-way woven, four-way stretch, water-repellent, antimicrobial pair of shorts and make good money at $38. I’m looking at this going, I think I can come in here and offer people really good quality at a fair price.”
Companies such as Nike and Under Armour also sell apparel with antimicrobial properties, but Hanson said the process they use during manufacturing is inferior to his.
“What they do is they spray it with a silver salt or a chemical and it washes out in five washes, where mine is permanent for the lifetime of the fabric,” he said. “And also, everybody who is a runner or golfer that trains hard or plays in the heat, that bacteria eventually gets into your fabric and you can’t get it out and it destroys your fabric. My fabric is protected from that.
“The feedback I get from consumers – we’ve done well over $200,000 in sales, and nothing comes back. If it comes back, it’s a size problem. We never get quality issues.”
Iron Joc is in a few stores in the Milwaukee area, notably at The Practice Station in New Berlin and at the new Burghardt Sporting Goods store, also in New Berlin.
“I was at Burghardt’s grand opening,” Hanson said. “In three days, we did over $3,000 in sales and we were their No. 1 supplier. And I don’t care if that’s Nike or adidas.”
Hanson said Iron Joc will come out with a line of antimicrobial sports bras and leggings for women before the end of the year. He also is trying to convince golf shop owners and managers to carry his performance training gear because many golfers, he noted, also work out.
“Why wouldn’t you have athletic gear to sell, too?” he said. “These golf shops are missing out on a whole market pool. Golfers work out. Why wouldn’t you sell to them?”
In eight short months, and with just three fulltime employees, Iron Joc has carved a niche in the golf/sports apparel category.
How much growth is in the company’s future?
“I know now that I’m going to grow, because we’re growing so fast,” Hanson said. “I’m confident we’re going to be a player. How big of a player? Are we a micro-beer in the beer industry that does really well, or are we going to be a bigger brand?
“I think I’m going to be very successful. Is that a billion dollars or is that $20 million? I really don’t know that yet. I’ve sold things my whole life. I have a good feeling about this product.”