How a pair of flip-flops gave Navy veteran Rick Beard the idea for his golf accessory business.
It was 1985. Rick Beard, founder of Hat Trick Openers (UPIC: hatt), had just graduated from high school in rural Portland, Michigan, and like many of the men in the town, he had gone to work in a local steel factory.
“I was working the midnight shift,” Beard says. “There was bellowing, black smoke and rodents running around. One day I looked around at all these guys who had been there for years and thought, I gotta get out of here. I joined the Navy and two weeks later I was in boot camp.”
Beard, whose grandfather had been in the Navy during World War II and then in the Merchant Marines, grew up with a fascination for sailing and lobstermen and lobster boats, so when the time came to choose where he would be stationed, he chose a ship that was in Portland, Maine being worked on. “It was the first ship to be outfitted with the Tomahawk missile,” he says.
From 1985 to 1989, Beard circled the world. “Because of the missile system we were never in port. We were sent to defend places all over the world where there was something going on. I was an operations specialist, and then I was asked to be an intelligence specialist and I was sent to school for that. I did intelligence reporting on other ships in the area. We were over in the Red Sea and also the Strait of Hormuz close to the area where Iraq and Iran meet. It was during the reflagged Kuwaiti tanker deal [the reflagged Kuwaiti tanker, the MV Bridgeton, struck an Iranian naval mine near Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf in July 1987] during the Iran-Iraq War, so we were protecting all the ships coming out of the Persian Gulf with oil from Kuwait,” he says.
Beard received the Navy Achievement Medal for his success in consolidating the existing reporting system so intelligence specialists could get information more quickly into the Naval Tactical Data System. “It was not combat and it’s nothing dangerous like so many veterans have gone through and are still going through today. By no means am I [a] hero. I just did my part and that’s all.”
The Navy wanted Beard to stay, but when his commitment was up in 1989, Beard—who was married to his wife, Joan, and had a young son, Rory—decided he wanted the opportunity to be a hands-on dad, so the family settled in Portland (Maine). “I wanted to be the Little League coach and all that kind of stuff,” he says. Their daughter Chelsey was born shortly after he left the Navy. The kids grew up playing multiple sports, especially hockey, and Beard became a hockey dad. “I used to build the hockey rink in the back yard and all the neighborhood kids would come over.”
One day his teenage son came home from traveling with his junior hockey team with a pair of flip-flops that had a bottle opener built into the bottom of them. “He was like, ‘Dad, check these out, they are so cool but don’t tell mom because they cost $45!’” Beard was skeptical of the bottle opener being on the sole of the flip-flop given the potential for stepping in something unpleasant and then transferring it to the top of your bottle. It got him thinking about another, more hygienic way to have a bottle opener as part of a product.
“I came up with the original Hat Trick bottle opener, which attaches to the strap on the back of a baseball cap. It has a magnet that automatically sticks to the bottle cap when in use. It keeps the bottle cap from falling to the ground and makes people think twice about littering. It also had a can tab opener on the back,” says Beard. At the time Beard was a manager at the post office, so inventions were just a part-time gig.
“Then I just started to add products: I took that opener and said, why not add it to a can and bottle cooler? And why not add it to a sunglass strap?” At the time he was having the products made in China. “It got to be a real hassle for me, getting up in the middle of the night to talk to someone in China who didn’t understand or speak English, and I didn’t understand or speak Chinese. And then I’d get a shipment in and I just never knew what I was going to find. It was just a brutal experience.”
Ideas kept coming to him, especially when he took up playing golf. That’s when he saw a need and created his 6 in 1 Divot Tool, which features a bottle opener, can opener, cigar holder, divot tool, club rest and ball marker. He looked for two and a half years all over New England for a manufacturer, but the tooling costs and minimums were prohibitive. He started manufacturing it in China but wasn’t happy with the quality and he really wanted to make his product in the U.S. “It’s not like I’m this big company and I have people over on the ground in China,” he says.
Beard persisted in looking for a U.S. manufacturer and finally he found the right facility to produce the product at a reasonable cost. “All of my golf accessories, which is what I’m focusing on now, are made in the USA,” he says. The manufacturing facilities he works with are in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. “I can control inventory so much better. I know what I’m getting because I visit these places every few weeks. They know my expectations. It’s worked out extremely well,” he says.
“I get so many positive responses and feedback about the fact that my product is made in the U.S.,” he adds. “Between Canada and the U.S., there are about 425,000 golf tournaments per year. Almost every company, it seems, has a golf outing. They give out goodie bags at every golf tournament. I get a lot of repeat orders from distributors. They initially start out wanting them for a golf tournament and they end up loving them so much that they get them for another outing or for a trade show or to hand out at the office to their customers and employees.” His products are also in several large corporations’ company stores. “It’s great for me because it’s repeat business,” he adds.
As Beard reflects on his many careers, he says, “It’s all been great. One thing leads to another. That’s life.”
Hat Trick Openers is a corporate sponsor of Folds of Honor, an organization that raises money to provide educational scholarships to children and spouses of those killed or disabled while serving the nation. The organization’s Patriot Golf Day is a nationwide fundraising effort held at golf courses every year during Labor Day week. For more information, go to foldsofhonor.org.
Julie Richie is associate editor for PPB.