Written by Theresa Katalinas
A mate who works half the year aboard a 100-foot-long, 30-foot-wide high tech tugboat in New York Harbor, Upper Moreland resident Joe Mottola has a recession-proof job.
“People need stuff,” Mottola said during an interview at Panera Bread in Willow Grove, when the father of two was home for his typical two-week work/home cycle. “Even with the economy, the shelves aren’t empty.”
It’s shipmen like Mottola who, since graduating from maritime college in 1992, ensure that goods are flowing from the docks into the stores.
In doing so, Mottola, who spends two weeks at a time alongside the boat’s three other crew members working, eating and unwinding, has built a familial relationship onboard.
“The crews of these boats stay together for a long time,” Mottola said. “Our job is more tidal-based than anything else. Our job knows no time.”
As such, Mottola and his crew work out together, watch sports together and “fiddle with things constantly because we have the time.”
That fiddling led the naval architect by trade and two crew to transform ordinary hockey pucks into custom-made cell phone holders.
Put your best PuckUp forward
So-called PuckUps are made from actual six-ounce hockey pucks–sans a center section where a cell phone would be placed–and can be fashioned after sports teams and practically any design imaginable.
Mottola said he first envisioned a new use for the rubber devices while walking through a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. Soon after, last fall, he “started proving out the idea.”
It took about 10 variations, but Mottola–who designs customizable waterproof vinyl decals for the holders and molds the pucks to cell phone holders in his Upper Moreland backyard–said he figured out strategically how much of the puck should be cut and to what angles to allow every cell phone size to stand in the holder and for its keys to be visible.
“The idea’s so simple and it works so well,” Mottola said. “The puck lends itself to its usefulness.”
Darren Meehan, an organizer for the Officer Brad Fox 5K in April, would agree.
Last winter, while at his kid’s practice, Meehan said he was standing next to someone who had a PuckUp on their driver’s seat.
“As soon as I saw it I knew exactly what it was and what purpose it served,” Meehan said.
Meehan liked the cell phone holder so much that he worked to have a local business cover the cost of buying 500 of them to use as giveaways for the run in honor of Fox, a Warminster native andPlymouth Township Police officer who was killed in the line of duty.
“As a runner myself, I understand what draws me to races,” Meehan said. “It’s the giveaways.”
So, Meehan decided to have Fox’s family give a PuckUp to everybody as a “finishing prize.”
“It’s such a logical tie to Brad because Brad played hockey and it’s a hockey puck,” Meehan said. “People really, really responded favorably to them. It’s a great product. It’s got obvious uses at home at work or at the bar.”
Turn on ‘The Puckin’ Light’
For Mottola, the “a-ha” moment came last fall when he and his crew mates went out to a bar and saw the line of cell phones lying on the counter.
“We said, ‘hey we can market this to bars,’ ” he said, adding that the concept has taken off in Wisconsin and on the West Coast.
Since forming an LLC for PuckUps in January, Mottola said the company has been working to recoup the roughly $1,000 in startup costs. He and his partners, who hail from Maine and Georgia, also hope to patent the process involved in making the cell phone holders.
Proving that a hockey puck has more uses than its obvious sports-related purpose, Mottola and his crew recently rolled out “The Puckin’ Light,” a lamp whose base is made from a hockey puck.
From the scraps “born out of mistakes in the cutting process,” Mottola also makes refrigerator magnets from half of a hockey puck.
“We try to waste as little as we can,” he said.
Putting PuckUps on the shelves
PuckUps officially opened for business (virtually) at the beginning of 2013. Since then, Mottola said the company has sold thousands of cell phone holders.
Looking ahead, Mottola hopes to see his invention on the shelves in Walmart stores, along with the mountains of “stuff” the tugboats he boards transport.
According to an e-mail Walmart sent Mottola this week, the “PuckUps Hockey Puck Cell Phone Stand” made it through the first stage of “Get on the Shelf” and has moved to an audition round, where “online voting will help show our judges how much public support products have,” according to the e-mail.
Through Sept. 2, voters can show support for PuckUps once a day by casting a vote here.
“I always liked to make things,” Mottola said. “It wasn’t a stretch to put your name out and push a product.”