The wrinkling of his friends’ noses sparked the idea for Dan Black. After a hockey game about a year ago, he was “hanging out with a few buddies” when they asked him, ‘What’s that smell?’ It was his hands.
“I had just showered and everything. But the smell lingers. It’s tough to get rid of,” said Black, a Business Management and Organizational Studies student at Western.
The smell Black is talking about is known as ‘hockey hands’ in rinks and locker rooms. A whiff of it is akin to smelling dog’s breath, or old pickle juice, he laughed. But it’s a smell that seeps into skin after removing hockey gloves and stays long after the player has showered or washed their hands.
It’s a smell hockey players know all too well, Black explained. Having played competitive hockey for 15 years, he figured he would do something about it.
“I wanted to create some sort of solution you could take with you, leave in your hockey bag or the console of your car when you’re leaving the rink,” he said.
Black went on YouTube, watched a few videos on making lotions and started toying with deodorizing concoctions that would de-stink hockey hands.
“After a few trial runs, and making a mess of my mom’s kitchen, I came up with something. I started bringing it in to the locker room with my teammates. Sure enough, a couple of guys asked me to make them their own,” Black said.
That was the start of Clap Balm, a business Black is running today with his friend, Matt Laberge, a student at Fanshawe College.
A play on hockey’s ‘clap bomb’ – a slap shot – the product is the first and only hockey hand deodorant on the market. The business was born about a year ago, and the product, sold in small round tins, hit local retail shelves in October, flying off faster than expected. In the first week alone, Source for Sports sold out and needed a second order.
“Sometimes, soap and water just doesn’t do the trick – especially if you’re handling the equipment. We have parents buy this stuff because they do up their kids’ equipment and the greasiness and stink left behind is bad, particularly from the gloves. It’s not pleasant. It’s tricky to get rid of,” Black noted.
Black and Laberge teamed up last Christmas. Laberge, who also plays hockey, had previous experience in trying to launch a clothing line geared toward hockey players and knew the market, Black explained. The two knew the local market well, and saw London as a “hockey hotbed” and a good opportunity.
They needed some help, though.
“We’re hockey players, not chemists. We didn’t know how to mass manufacture a hand cream if this was to blow up. We found our name, our logo, our business model and started to manufacture with a local place in Aylmer,” he said, adding, the pair found a partner through the Elgin Business Resource Centre in St. Thomas.
“We brought the recipe; they perfected it. It smells like sweet oranges – men and women can both use it. It’s been doing really well,” said Black, who played two years with the St. Thomas Stars Junior B team.
He and Laberge recently won the Bridges to Better Business Award, presented to them by David Chilton of CBC’s Dragons Den and author of The Wealthy Barber. The pair has also partnered with hockey players from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the National Hockey League (NHL), offering samples and working on promotional materials.
Bo Horvat, who played for the London Knights (OHL) and now plays for the Vancouver Canucks (NHL), has been singing Clap Balm’s praises and even did a promotional video for the product.
As it stands, Black and Laberge are looking to grow the brand and are ready for where the business takes them.
“As the business started to pick up, closer to the hockey season this year in August, I realized there’s a lot more to this than just saying you own a business. You have to put in the time and effort and I realized I have to take a year off,” Black said.
“But all in all, in terms of education, I see this as part of my education – if I’m going to be a business student, developing a product and actually getting it to stores – that’s part of my learning process.”