Cold Construction Site Sparks Investor’s Handy Innovation

Sat January 17, 2004 - Midwest Edition

SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) It was a cold day to be outside.

So cold that Tom O’Dea, who was working at a construction site, was having a hard time handling tools.

And then it hit him.

If gloves had magnets on the back of them, he thought, it would be much easier to keep track of screws, nails and other metal necessities while working.

“I couldn’t get anything out of my pouch or hold anything in my hand,” O’Dea said. “And at lunch time, I opened up with my bologna sandwich and I was sitting there and I go, ’There’s got to be a better way.’ And I took a bite of my sandwich and I thought of magnets.”

That was several years ago.

Today, SilverBack magnetic gloves, which O’Dea developed with longtime friend Tom Jellema, are being sold at hardware stores around the country.

It’s the kind of seemingly simple idea that makes one say, “Now, why didn’t I think of that.”

“It was a no-brainer” Jellema said. “The thing is, nobody did it before.”

The two spent the next few years experimenting, trying out different types of magnets.

The magnets they chose are so strong that during an interview at Jellema’s Sioux Falls home, his pet cat walked over the gloves — and walked away with a glove affixed to the tags on its collar.

O’Dea and Jellema initially called their invention Handy Glove. But the name later was changed to SilverBack for legal reasons.

They began shopping the gloves around to companies, eventually getting the attention of Illinois Glove Co.

Bob Shmikler, president of the Northbrook, IL.-based company, said he was impressed by a video presentation from Jellema and O’Dea. The company made changes to the design, transforming it from a crude, homemade prototype to the spiffy design that’s been on the market since August.

The company found during field tests that the gloves worked almost perfectly, Shmikler said.

The gloves, which cost from $25 to $30, are available at Ace Hardware, Sutherlands, Checker Auto Parts, True Value Hardware and other stores. Shmikler wouldn’t give sales figures but said the company is pleased with how well the gloves have been selling.