An Interview with PREDATOR INNOVATIONS – Maker of the innovative Hang-On Buddy Universal Treestand Mounting System.
BHN: First, who is Predator Innovations and what are your backgrounds?
Jason K. Werkheiser – M.S.E.E. Lehigh University – B.S.E.E.T. Penn State University (Electrical Engineer by trade)
Robert L. Ehrig
– B.A. Marketing and management – Penn State University (Chevy sales by trade)
Yes, an engineer and a salesman/marketing guy are starting a company…almost like we planned it that way. The Lord works in mysterious ways!
BHN: Can you give us a little history on the two of you?
JW: We were taught the fellowship of hunting from birth by our fathers Gary “Buck” Werkheiser and Phil Ehrig who were also long time friends. There isn’t a time when we’ve hunted or harvested game without being together or at a minimum a victorious phone call. We both cut our teeth early on small game (when there were wild pheasants in PA) and big game (deer and bear). I began hunting archery when I earned enough money by working on a potato farm for a bow at 15 years old.
Rob’s father Phil left and J’s father Buck on the right. Both fathers were major influences on their lives – including and beyond hunting.
RE: I began archery hunting when I was twelve. Jay and I both shared success with the rifle, but our real passion is bow hunting. Our hunting careers are storied with a bear for Jay at 15 years old (380 pound PA sow) and me with a trip to Anticosti Island – along with countless other adventures in whitetail hunting.
J and Rob cut their teeth hunting pheasants in PA during their youths. They are still keeping the tradition alive today.
BHN: What was the reason for coming up with the HOB?
JW: Rob and I faced the normal challenges of hunting in Pennsylvania. Something most hunters who hunt from treestands have gone through.
1. We both had treestands stolen. Not many, but a few. The final straw was when Rob had a large ladder stand stolen on private land.
2. We both struggled to attach hang-on style treestands. It’s sweaty work, unwieldy and dangerous!
3. We both had a shed full of treestands and it was beginning to get expensive.
4. We did a lot of scouting, finding the right stand location but there were countless times we would sit a stand and watch all the action happen too far way for us to do anything about it. That was frustrating.
BHN: How did you start the company?
JW: Rob and I were both facing an unstable work environment. We were already looking for a side business to run as a back-up plan should one or both of our jobs be terminated. While we are both very successful in our respective fields, if the companies close shop, we needed backup income.
J (l) and Rob working on the CAD drawings for the Hang-On Buddy.
RE: Since we both loved hunting it was a natural tendency to gravitate to that field. We started by really looking for a problem and then moving forward to finding the fix. We didn’t want to just start making a product that others had already but logically look at the field and find a problem that no one was addressing. We found it with our experiences I’ve listed above. There were problems with treestands and we came up with the solution with the Hang-On Buddy.
BHN: The Hang-On Buddy sounds like an interesting product. Describe it in detail and importantly, what the product does to solve the problems you outlined above.
JW: The “Hang-On Buddy” treestand mounting system is designed to make it safer, easier, more versatile and less expensive for hunters to attach their existing hang/lock-on style treestands. The system is comprised of two main elements; hooks that attach to the backbone(s) (vertical supports) of almost any hang/lock-on style treestand, and a mounting base that attaches securely to a tree with a ratchet strap. The hooks are compatible with both single and dual backbone style treestands and clamp on near the seat with supplied hardware. Both sections are made of powder coated steel. In advance of the hunting season, multiple lightweight mounting bases can be positioned in hunting areas so the hunter can be positioned where the action is, regardless of what the game or the wind is doing on any given day. On the day of the hunt, the hunter hoists the treestand up from the ground with a rope and lowers the hooks clamped on the treestand over the mounting base on the tree to seat the two together. Lastly, the mounting base and hooks are pinned together; a feature unavailable in any other design.
Rob secures the rock solid, Hang-On Buddy mounting base.
RE: With the Hang-On Buddy system, hunters can more safely and comfortably install and remove their treestands, eliminate treestand theft by simply removing the stand each night. In addition the Hang-On Buddy eliminates the need for multiple stands and allows the hunter to go where the action is because it is simple to take the stand and move it to the better location. The Hang-On Buddy also allows you to buy one really nice treestand with upgraded features and then spread out relatively inexpensive mounting bases as opposed to having multiple treestands throughout your area, inviting theft. You don’t need multiple treestand, just more Hang-On Buddy Mounting Bases, and save money.
A simple drop-down installation of your hang on stand, secure with a Locking Pin and you are ready to hunt.
BHN: This product didn’t just come together naturally. No really good product ever does so describe the testing process you went through for the HOB.
JW: From our earliest models, the HOB has been tested by Scientific Testing Laboratories who tests over 60 percent of the treestands on the market. The tests consisted of meeting normal static weight limits of treestands, but also destruction testing. Not only did the final version of the HOB meet the weight standards on a dual and a single backbone treestand, it performed at 2.87X the required weight for the standard in its weakest possible configuration. The treestand to which the HOB was connected was destroyed, but the HOB survived with little damage.
BHN: You decided to manufacture the Hang-On Buddy in the US. When many companies are going off shore why did you keep the production here?
JW: Predator Innovations is doing everything possible to keep the HOB made in the USA for a few reasons. Rob and I are patriotic citizens and are concerned about the future economic well being of the USA. While our one little product isn’t going to make a huge difference, when you look at it in context of what is best for our country, it is impossible to sustain a viable country with opportunity for average Joe’s like Rob and I when you import more than you export. It’s like running up a credit card or massive bank loans.
J and his wife Isabelle at J and Rob’s alma-mater Penn State University.
RE: That’s right. The way companies operate now producing products overseas there’s more money going out than coming in. It’s basic economics. The “Service based” economy is a myth. The sad part (and I’m equally to blame) is that many people aren’t willing to pay a couple extra bucks at the register for Made in USA – they say they are, but it doesn’t bear out…That’s got to change.
Rob’s wife Jennifer with son Tait and twin girls McKenna and Kelly.
JW: We just decided to do our part. Besides, quality is extremely important to us and by making the HOB locally we have better control of production, material and quality.
Strong, sturdy and easy to install – The Hang-On Buddy makes treestand hunting safer.
BHN; Describe the start up operations including machining, packaging, marketing, etc.
JW: The HOB is made from 1/8″ cold rolled steel that is laser cut, bent, welded and powder coated at Penn Sheet Metal (PA) for small runs, and Shelby Industries (KY) for larger runs. The other parts (hardware, retention pin, packaging, and ratchet strap) are acquired through various domestic manufacturers. All of the combinations of parts are tested by STL. The packaging is a blister pack that will contain either a complete HOB with hooks, or just a mounting base kit. Other on-line arrangements are with one complete HOB and two MBK’s – called an “Outfitter Pack.” The Universal Mounting System on-line consists of only the hooks, hardware, and a retention pin for setting up new treestands when additional MBK’s are not required.
Marketing, PR, and advertising are being handled by Rich Walton of Hawk Associates. Rich has laid out a multi-pronged campaign to get the word out. Once hunters see and understand the many positive features of the HOB, I think the future looks bright.
RE: We are, naturally, a small company with limited resources but we will be advertising for the product on-line through Bowhunting.net, ArcheryTalk.com, and Bowsite.com. In addition, press releases and sample units are in the hands of several of the major magazines/writers where we hope to gain exposure. Lastly, we have targeted trade magazines to reach the dealer and local publications like United Bowhunters of PA & NJ. The focus is on the hard-core bowhunter who hunts from treestands and is familiar with the draw backs and limitations. These savvy hunters will understand what the HOB provides and we feel confident they will want to add it to their hunting equipment.
JW: Also, we owe a debt of gratitude to Don and Keith Dvoroznak of Ripcord Arrow Rests who have been great in mentoring Rob and I through the business of the outdoor business. We met Don Dvoroznak through a customer turned friend of Rob’s named Mike Washychyn. Don and Mike are friends from way back, and still keep in touch. It’s been a great help to have people like these helping us get off the ground.
Hunting friend Pete Nicholas left, Rob in the middle, and J on the right. A good opening two days in the 1992 PA buck season fueling their fire for deer hunting.
BHN: The HOB has been well received by the treestand hunter. What have been the general comments from them?
JW: The HOB has been extremely well received by the general public. Hunters see the intrinsic value of making it easier and safer to hang their treestand and save a couple bucks in the long run by not having to buying multiple treestands to hunt more locations, or to replacing stolen ones. The most asked question is “Will it fit my treestand?” The answer is most likely yes. There are few treestands that we have tested that it just doesn’t work on. If the throat of a dual backbone treestand is wider than 5″, then the HOB will not work on the stand, but the vast majority will accept the HOB just fine.
RE: The comment we hear the most often though is, “Wow, great idea. Wish I had thought of it”. Going back to why, we are avid hunters and we saw a few problems unique to the treestand hunter/photographer. We simply designed a product that would solve those problems. We are going to help make our fellow hunter’s lives safer and easier every time they go to hang or hunt their stand.
BHN: How is the HOB being received by Dealer/Distributors?
JW: Distributors/Buying Groups and dealers are two different animals really. The distributors/buying groups have taken favorably to the HOB and early in the year two major players have signed on. We had a good response at the ATA Show in Jan and dealers are also signing on every week. We hope to have a good first season at the retail level.
Better late than never – December 28th 2009 bucks shot from our Hang-On Buddy’s.
BHN: What are you plans for the future?
JW: Predator Innovations, LLC is laser focused on getting the HOB off the ground and making it successful. However, additional products are on the drawing boards. Our main goal is to run a sustainable, profitable business that provides hunting solutions to consumers that just plain work – a real added value asset in the field. We want to offer something different, a new mouse trap, not a better mouse trap (unless the better mouse trap is a serious technological leap over the previous generation).
RE: For Jay and I hunting has been a lifestyle. It isn’t just a hobby but a way of life. As die-hard hunters we will continue to find problems that we feel we can create a product to fix. We are both really excited to be at this stage and are looking forward to the future.
The Hang-On Buddy – Two part system that makes hanging a stand easier, safer and more versatile.