Gerald Hannon is a mechanic, a husband and a father. But at the age of 59, he’s also an inventor.
Five years ago his aunt called him with a problem she hoped Hannon could solve.
She described how elderly patients in her care have a difficult time tying their shoes and keeping them tied. Hannon suggested Velcro or curly shoelaces, but his aunt said the Velcro shoe styles are limited and the curly laces aren’t tight enough.
Well then, he thought, I’ll make something.
After tinkering with various designs he came up with Grace Shoestring Ties — a plastic, rectangular device that secures shoelaces.
“I tried to come up with something interesting and hopefully I can make it work,” said Hannon, who lives in Brady.
Originally, Hannon thought he would sell the laces to people who cared for elderly or handicapped individuals, but now he is seeing a use for them in the sports realm. It’s all about the marketing, he said, which is his current hurdle.
“All I have to do is sell a million of them,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s part of what the process is.”
Some of his youngest customers are Amy Harrison’s students at Gothenburg Public Schools.
Harrison heard about Hannon’s invention and thought he’d be a great speaker for her class during their Invention Convention. She challenged the students to develop their own inventions and present their ideas to the class.
“Kids can often see problems in a new light. I was really encouraged by the ideas that the kids had,” Harrison said. “It’s good that they could express their ideas in a different way.”
But like many entrepreneurs, the students struggled to come up with solutions to the problems they had identified. However, talking with a ‘real-life’ innovator was helpful, Harrison said.
“They loved it!” she said. “They thought he was famous and it was great to get to talk to somebody.”
Many of the students bought the Grace Ties for their sport shoes to keep them tight while they play. Harrison bought a set for her daughter’s basketball shoes and another for her mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis.
Talking with the students encouraged Hannon as well, because being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. Now that he’s developed an idea, Hannon said he’s struggling to market his Grace Ties outside of Brady.
He started selling the gadgets last fall, but so far he is only selling them on his website. He’s hoping to get them into stores in his area and beyond to publicize his product.
“I’m actually wanting to build more things and I’d like to see this take off so that I can do more of it,” Hannon said. “Every step of the way has been exciting.”
Hannon is hopeful his idea will help people with one of the simplest everyday tasks, but he’s also hoping his idea will bring some personal benefits as well.
“This is our lottery ticket,” he said. “That’s what I tell everyone.”
Hannon hopes to take his wife on the trip of a lifetime if his Grace Ties are a hit. Until then, he said, he’ll continue to share his story with whomever will listen.