November 4, 2023 By Bill Burt*****************************************
NORTH ANDOVER — Brian Packard was never a hockey guy.
Skiing in the winter and soccer, which he still plays with a “bunch of over-the-hill guys” on Sunday mornings, were his thing.
But while driving around his North Andover neighborhood about a decade ago he recalled seeing a haphazard, “dad-constructed” ice rink with wood sticking out “everywhere” in a backyard.
Mind you, Packard’s four children were not hockey players.
“I just remembered seeing this beautiful ‘mcmansion’ of a home and this Frankenstein-looking rink in the backyard,” said Packard. “Driving around town I’d see others, too, that looked poorly built in nice neighborhoods. It dawned on me one day, ‘Why aren’t these rinks better?’”
Packard also had other thoughts, as in during the spring, summer and fall months seeing dads and kids hitting in batting cages in many backyards.
“It hit me about hockey and skating in the winter,” said Packard. “Why not do what we see for a lot of other sports like basketball, with hoops over the garage, for hockey?”
Through research, Packard learned more about hockey and skating, realizing from local families that ice time is not only expensive but hard to come by.
Packard has spent most of his career in the medical device industry in marketing, business and development and chief officer roles.
He launched the first home defibrillator before moving on and becoming the CEO of a medical grade air purifier, “Celios,” which he and partners sold and is now a publicly traded company.
“I’m an inventor. I come from a family of inventors,” said Packard. “I wanted to take this outdoor rink thing to another level, as a potential business.”
The problem, Packard figured, was not only did the rinks he saw that looked unappealing, but that they were “boxie” rather than rounded like the all bigger rinks.
A friend of his, Stephen Kurtin, who graduated from MIT in Boston and has a PhD in applied physics at Caltech, got involved in the engineering and eventually joined as a partner.
“First off, Stephen’s brilliant. He’s a guy that knows how to build and run successful companies with novel technology at their core,” said Packard. “We did tons of research to learn why people build rinks in their yards and, more importantly, why they don’t. We discovered that many people really want a rink but lack the confidence to give it a go. So, we set our sights on designing a backyard rink for everyday folks.”
YardRink was born.
The goal was to create technically sound outdoor rinks with rounded boards, one, and two, a build-it-yourself rink that two adults can put together in about an hour, said Packard.
Packard believes there are two, key demographics for his product: Families looking to have outdoor fun in the winter months and young hockey players who want to improve their skills.
“Like the dad or mom with their kids in the batting cage, this offers so much more opportunity to work on puck and stick skills,” said Packard. “You see your kids have potential and want unlimited ice time? We offer that. But you know what? They can also horse around and have some fun, too.”
Key for Packard’s rink is that their technology not only changed the way a rink is built, but he owns the utility patent on how the tarp is connected to the outside of the panel.
“The tarp, on the bottom, has lines on it showing where to put the panels (boards),” said Packard. “The panels are connected with hex head screws and the tarp is pulled up on the outside and connects to back of the panels with cable ties. It’s that simple.”
Water is added from outside of the panels and it eventually creates a two-ton frozen wall of ice, said Packard.
“It plays like a real rink with a perfect 90-degree interface in each corner,” said Packard.
Packard has two primary locations for YandRink, including his home in North Andover, where the sales, marketing and financials are handled and Quinton, Iowa, where manufacturing and distribution is run.
“Iowa is centrally located in the upper Midwest and it's close enough to Canada, which will be half of our market this year,” said Packard.
Packard and YardRink got big news recently when it signed a partnership deal with the National Hockey League, which means NHL team logos can be used.
“The NHL wants to increase access to the game and get little kids on skates early, especially in their backyards,” said Packard. “If a kid in Chicago wants to put a Blackhawks logo or a kid in North Andover wants to put a Bruins logo up on their boards, they can. This is huge for the business.”
In the end, though, the pomp and circumstance won’t be the reason for YardRink's success, said Packard, whose company is the fastest growing home rinks in North America.
“We started just over a year ago and we had two sizes. Now we have hundreds of sizes,” said Packard. “I’ve enjoyed my life in the business world, but this is the most fun I’ve had, with YardRink. Maybe we can play a role in families going outside more in the winter, like they do with trampolines or swing sets. Maybe have a beer at the fire pit.
Basically, having a pool party in the winter.”