Fiddling at home with foam and wire = Start-up sensation

Tad Doyle (left) and Jay Ciccarone, founders of LaceUp — thin, tubular, bendable, foam-based weights they designed for lacrosse sticks and are now also marketing for baseball and swimming, among other sports, and even physical therapy.

So much seems improbable about LaceUp’s sensational launch as a start-up specializing in wrap-around weights for lacrosse sticks.

For one thing, cofounder Jay Ciccarone never played lacrosse. Golf was his sport at St. Pius High School in Pottstown and Georgia Southern University.

Then there’s the daunting retail reality, as explained by the founder of what bills itself as the largest lacrosse specialty retailer in the United States: “Our company gets 10 of these a week,” said Joe DeSimone, president of Long Island-based Lacrosse Unlimited, which opened in 1990 and has 44 stores in 12 states. By these, he meant “someone coming out with a kooky idea.”

But DeSimone instantly liked LaceUp’s Training Lace weights and has been carrying them since May. He’s sold about 3,000 and was about to order 5,000 more, he said last week, praising their versatility and ease of use.

With weights starting at $25 each and available in 5-, 8- and 12-ounce sizes, LaceUp is projecting more than $1 million in sales for 2017. It has just introduced a version of Training Lace for baseball bats, and has a host of other sports in mind, along with physical-therapy applications.

“Everything is going so incredibly well for us,” Ciccarone, 45, of Wayne, said last week.

There was a time when he and cofounder Tad Doyle — they were grade-school friends at St. Aloysius in Pottstown — wondered if they’d even manage to reach $10,000 in total sales. That was until “we realized we had something much bigger than lacrosse,” said Doyle, a former physical-education teacher and high school football and basketball coach.

The 44-year-old father of six from Spring City, Chester County, reconnected with Ciccarone two years ago, when one of Ciccarone’s two sons joined Doyle’s Rising Sons Lacrosse club, which operates out of Malvern Preparatory School.

Doyle, who also owns a property restoration/remediation business, was impressed by Ciccarone’s entrepreneurial spirit. Ciccarone has started a few businesses: golf-club manufacturing, novelty gifts, wine video, and, most recently, a weather-planning app that provides year-ahead outlooks. He is also former director of national advertising and business development for what is now Philadelphia Media Network, parent company of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.

The old friends got to talking about Doyle’s passion for lacrosse and the need for better strength-training apparatus for it. What was on the market, they said, were five-pound shaft weights that required partial disassembly of the stick to attach them.

“We were going to try to figure this out,” Ciccarone said of a decision in December. Their experimentation included wrapping sticks with flask weights, flexible coils coated in chemical-resistant plastic that are more typically used to protect glassware in a laboratory. Unraveling from play vibration was a problem that sent Doyle to a Lowe’s store one morning.

“I walked up and down the aisles to find something to solve this percussion problem,” he said, settling on window caulk made of foam rubber.

He went home and slid wire through the middle of it, wrapped it around a lacrosse stick, and headed to his backyard to test it out. No unraveling. Not even any slippage.

“I called Jay and said, ‘We got it!’” Doyle recalled.

Camera icon David Swanson
Jay Ciccarone wears a Training Lace weight. In addition to LaceUp products’ sports applications, the company’s founders see physical-therapy potential. 

Next came a difficult search: “Trying to find someone to make foam is not easy,” Doyle said. “And in this country, it’s pretty well impossible.”

They found one in China, spending $12,000 on their first order for 45,000 pieces of foam. With an inner core of lead, Training Laces are assembled at Doyle’s Fast Pro Restoration business in Gilbertsville, then shipped from Ciccarone’s house.

The name Training Laces? Ciccarone, who is divorced, attributes that to love and a Garth Brooks tune, in which he sings about some of God’s greatest gifts being unanswered prayers.

In this case, the unanswered prayer was an unfulfilled plan by a woman Ciccarone met a little more than three years ago who is now his fiancee. Tracie Adkison, a mother of two boys, is also a kindergarten teacher. When she met Ciccarone, she told him about something she had come up with to help students learn how to tie shoes — laces through which she had strung wire.

“She wanted to call it Training Laces,” Ciccarone recalled. He bought the domain name, TrainingLaces.com, on Sept. 9, 2014, for $3,000 in case she ever wanted to go into business. Talk about a romantic gesture.

“Then I realized we were never going to make money selling shoelaces,” he said, so he called Doyle and asked what he thought of using the name for their training weights.

“Like that for me,” Doyle said, snapping his fingers to show how quickly he approved.

Adkison built LaceUp’s first website, now laceup.com, which started accepting orders April 7. Their first retail customer was Pottstown-based Schuylkill Valley Sporting Goods, which has 17 stores. The weights are now also available at Amazon.com.

“We can’t make the product fast enough,” Ciccarone said.