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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Ron Gresko, of Paragon Development Producing Ener-Gel Insoles Our Coverage Sponsored by ToeHugs®

Ron Gresko

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Ron Gresko was born in Carrolltown, PA (80 miles east of Pittsburgh). He was the youngest of six children. His father, Paul Gresko, began working in an underground coal mine at age 18 (1941) and continued for the next 40 years until the age of 58 (1981). During that time he only missed 2 days of work due to illness (pneumonia) – miners did not get paid for sick leave back then. The mine he worked at, Revloc 32 of the Bethlehem Mine Company, had the largest mine fire in the history of the Johnstown, PA area in Febrary 1977. The mine was shut down for 15 months, but his dad was called back to work with fires still burning because of his seniority, unfortunately many of the miners called back became ill and Paul was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 1981 – he died 18 months later in July 1983. However, the work ethic he instilled to his children certainly had a positive impact on each of their lives. 

Ron attended Cambria Heights High School in Patton, Pennsylvania and graduated in 1983. He was named Most Athletic Senior while quarterbacking the football team and starting at shooting guard on the basketball team. Ron attended college at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Secondary Education (1987). In the fall of 1987, he began working toward his Masters Degree in Sport Management at IUP and in the spring of 1988 was offered an internship position with the Pittsburgh Steelers Football Club within their Scouting and Player Personnel Department. He served in this capacity for one year and was retained by the Steeler organization for an additional 15 months as he continued to pursue his Masters Degree. 

The night before thanksgiving in 1988, Ron was at a bar/restaurant and he met a girl named Gwen Ratay who wanted his Steeler t-shirt he was wearing. So he made an offer – the t-shirt for her phone number – she agreed. He called the next day and they have been together ever since.

With so many memories made during his 2 ½ year stint with the Steelers, he most fondly remembers Dan Rooney, Steelers Owner and current American Ambassador to Ireland, attending his wedding at in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. Five Steelers players and Hall of Fame broadcaster Myron Cope (creator of the Terrible Towel) attended the reception. One of his neatest experiences was while attending the Indianapolis Combine (350 of the top college football players attend prior to the NFL Draft) he was invited by Chuck Noll, former Steelers Head Coach to sit with him, Don Shula (Miami Dolphins) and Tom Landry (Dallas Cowboys) during breakfast. An incredible experience to sit among 3 of the greatest NFL coaches of all-time with 8 combined Super Bowl victories. Aside from all the interaction with the players and front office personnel, game days on the sidelines were an incredible experience. Finally, for Ron and Gwen's wedding gift, Coach Noll offered his off season home in Hilton Head Island, SC for their honeymoon destination – they gladly accepted!

After leaving the Steelers in July 1990, Ron, Gwen, and his father-in-law Ed Ratay decided to develop a new product as a result of their active participation in sports and dissatisfaction with the insole products available in the market. The idea was to develop an extremely cushioned insole to provide comfort to tired, achy feet. The product development began in their garage. They tested insoles, insole products and materials. Fabrics, shock absorbing, energy return and polyurethane materials were collected and evaluated to ensure the best quality insole would be developed. After many months, they finally produced the “perfect” blend of foam materials to provide superior energy return and shock absorbing qualities.

In 1992, after making many trips to visit potential manufacturing facilities they made a decision to invest in their own molds, equipment and manufacturing facility for the production of Ener-Gel Insoles. Initially, the Ener-Gel Insoles were sold to local “mom & pop” stores in western PA. The first big break came in early 1994 when Dick's Sporting Goods began selling the product. Ener-Gel Insoles were worn by major college football (Florida State, Georgia, Penn State) and basketball teams as well as professional football teams (Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks). In 1996, the Kentucky men's basketball team wore the insoles in route to a 34-2 record and a national championship. 

Gatti Pharmacy, located in Indiana, Pennsylvania (hometown of legendary actor Jimmy Stewart) was their first account. The Gatti pharmacist, Brian Curry, moved to the new Walmart in town in 1995. He asked his district manager to consider adding a locally made product to the pharmacy foot care department. The answer was “yes” and the insoles were now in 18 stores. After terrific sales within the first month, Ron met with the Walmart regional manager and and he agreed to stock 60 stores. The momentum continued to build and within two years the Ener-Gel insoles were available in over 500 stores. By the end of 1996 they had out grown their original facility and relocated to their current facility in Penn Run, Pennsylvania. They added 5,000 square feet in 2003 to meet a growing demand from Walmart , by 2005 Paragon was servicing over 3,000 Walmart stores nationwide.

Paragon has always prided themselves with the “Giving Back” Program. Their support for the military and other charitable causes include over 10,000 pair of Ener-Gel Insoles being donated to the following organizations: Relay for Life, Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Basketball, Little League Baseball, Operation Care and Comfort (Military Care Packages), and the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Additionally, 1,000 pair of Ener-Gel Insoles were donated to workers at Ground Zero shortly after 9/11 (they even wrapped the search dog's paws with the insoles due to the sharp steel cutting the dog's foot pads.

As a company, Paragon Development is proud to invest in American workers who provide some of the greatest working spirit, commitment to advancement and ingenuity known in the world. Their mission has always been to deliver superior quality insoles with extreme cushioning and comfort at a price customers can afford. For the past 20 years they have delivered on this promise with the successful Ener-Gel Cushion Maxx Insoles. Recommended by podiatrists, the Ener-Gel Insoles are an effective, economical alternative to other higher-priced insoles and expensive orthotics.

The “Made in the USA” label on the packaging is very important to Paragon. Ron sees a parallel between the Ener-Gel Insoles and the brake pads that Chris Farley was selling in the movie Tommy Boy. Tommy Boy stated, “Made by the American worker for the American worker.” Most competitor insoles are made in China and producing the Ener-Gel Insoles for the American worker, athlete and soldier gives the company a sense of patriotism and pride knowing this is accomplished at their manufacturing plant in Penn Run, PA. They have proven that a high quality product can be made right here in the United States for a terrific price. 

In addition to nationwide retail distribution through Walmart Pharmacy Foot Care Department, the Ener-Gel Insoles are also available on the company website We are so pleased to present Ron Gresko as our latest Mover and Shaker! Peachy Deegan interviewed Ron Gresko for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: How has the history of America impacted your goals for your brand and your business decisions? 
Ron Gresko: Small manufacturing companies are vital to the growth and prosperity of the United States. Our primary goal is to provide the most cushioned and comfortable insole for the American athlete, soldier and worker. Secondly, we feel it is extremely important to create and offer jobs to hard working Americans. We have been offered several times to have our product made overseas....each time we have emphatically said "NO".

What should most people know about insoles that most do not know?
Most insoles in brand new athletic shoes and boots are made for pennies overseas and breakdown quickly. Ener-Gel Insoles are an ideal replacement and will allow customers to extend the life of their shoes and boots with the added comfort and cushioning. 

In the long run when people spend money on quality American products as opposed to items made in inferior countries with lesser ingredients that wear out sooner, we feel the American buy is actually a better deal when you consider that it lasts longer. How do you feel about this? 
Many people assume when a product is made in the USA it will be more expensive than a similar product made in China – with the Ener-Gel Insoles that is certainly not true. Over the years we have found terrific companies within the United States to purchase raw materials, equipment, packaging, etc. Combining those factors with an efficient manufacturing process has afforded our company the opportunity to keep costs down and pass the savings onto customers through lower pricing. The result is a high quality pair of insoles for under $10.

Who would you like to see wearing your insoles and why?
Initially the Ener-Gel Insoles were designed to improve athletic performance. Several NFL teams as well as major college football and basketball programs are wearing our product. Podiatrists began recommending the Ener-Gel Insoles to patients with heel spurs and other foot ailments as an economical alternative to higher priced orthotics. In the mid 2000’s, we began a program for Industrial Footwear to maximize shock absorption and comfort. This was a perfect application for the workplace especially in manufacturing, warehouse, maintenance, construction, and military. Ultimately, I would like to see anyone looking for added comfort and cushioning in their existing shoes or boots to give our product a try… won’t be disappointed!

What was it like to work for the Steelers organization and what did you learn through this experience?
Working in the Pittsburgh Steeler’s Scouting and Player Personnel Dept. from 1988-1990 was an amazing experience. I really like meeting people, so the interaction with Steeler players and coaches, prospective free agents and potential draft picks was enjoyable. Dan Rooney’s management style emphasized being open, practical and efficient. These qualities were evident throughout each of the front office departments. In turn, we have tried to adhere to this management style in the production of Ener-Gel Insoles. It was truly an honor to work for the Rooney family and the Pittsburgh Steeler organization.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My parents were and my wife and in-laws are ideal role models for demonstrating an outstanding work ethic in everything they do. One of my mom’s favorite sayings was, “you only get out of it what you put into it.” Anyone who achieves success in business, athletics, etc. devotes an incredible amount of time behind the scenes to ensure their efforts will be rewarded. Our family is strong willed and we know that if we continue to work hard to provide the most cushioned and comfortable insole on the market, success will follow.

What are you proudest of and why?
From a parent standpoint, I am most proud of my three children. Aric is a freshman at Washington and Jefferson College (Washington, Pennsylvania), Katee is a high school senior and Ryen is in 1st grade. As a husband, I couldn’t have asked for a better wife and she is a terrific mom for our kids. How many people can say your father-in-law is your best friend? I guess this close family relationship allows us to overcome any obstacles that arise in the day-to-day operations. As an American citizen, I am most proud to live the American Dream – start a manufacturing business from nothing and develop a Made in the USA product that will bring comfort to people.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Even though our company has had national retail sales for the past 15 years, we are relatively unknown. We have always kept a low profile, however I would like to someday appear on a major news program (FOX News) and let people know that a small, family owned business from western Pennsylvania can produce a high quality insole in the United States for a great price. I think my daughter’s high school senior project (7,500 pair donation to the Wounded Warrior Project) would make for a good story.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
In 1995, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) named the Ener-Gel Insoles as a “Top 10 New Product of the Year”.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
I only visited Manhattan once - Sept. 11, 2002. I was assisting a musician friend of mine while on tour and we stayed at Faith Daniel’s (former NBC Today show host) home. She is originally from Pittsburgh and a huge Steeler fan. Times Square was my favorite place.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
I enjoyed browsing the street vendors.

What is your favorite drink?
Typically I would say that I enjoy a Seagram 7 and 7-up mix, but I know where my bread is buttered so I emphatically say that I will bump the 7&7 to #2 after I drink a Peachy Deegan.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
In western Pennsylvania, we really don’t have cocktail parties – beer is mainly the drink of choice. However, at a party last week I jokingly asked the host if he had a Peachy Deegan available and he answered seriously, “Is that like a Fuzzy Naval?”

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
I went to a deli near Battery Park and the food was delicious!

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
Not much of a book reader, but I did read the USA Today sports section in Manhattan.

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
I would like to be Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University Head Men’s Basketball Coach) on the day he wins his 5th NCAA Championship. As a lifelong Duke fan, I have worked Coach K’s summer basketball camp for the past 4 years and I admire his character, charitable giving, ethics and leadership qualities.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
I would like a store named after me that only sells Ener-Gel Insoles…….and Pizza!

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
I had to chase down a cab for two blocks – I got my running in for the day.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Standing in Times Square and watching all the people walk by was very interesting.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
It would be very interesting to have dinner with Jim Caviezel – my favorite actor. I know he played basketball and is religious – two areas where we share the same interest.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
The best Manhattan music experience was while in a cab, Don McLean’s American Pie was playing – one of the all-time great songs.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
As previously stated, our family business is committed to charitable giving to include: Relay for Life, Heart Association, Little League Baseball, AAU Basketball, and military. Donating 1000+ insoles to the brave workers at Ground Zero, shortly after 9/11, was our way of showing our extreme appreciation for all their sacrifice. Flight 93 crashed less than an hour from our home. We are indebted to all veterans and are extremely thankful for their service and providing us with freedom.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Not enough experience to answer this question.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
The Made in USA Column because I enjoy reading American manufacturing success stories.

Have you drank The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not?
I have not drank the Peachy Deegan - not yet available in Pittsburgh. However, my family is expecting to visit Manhattan this summer and I can't wait to drink The Peachy Deegan.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
First of all, I would like to thank Peachy for affording me the opportunity to share the story of our Ener-Gel Insoles with Whom You Know readers. I am always looking for vendors who may be interested in carrying a quality made American product (Ener-Gel Insoles of course!) for their customers and to network with anyone who is in a buying position with a retail store. I believe American manufacturing is the number one way to rebuild the United States by providing job opportunities. We are one small, family owned business doing our part to make this happen.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Any Whom You Know readers may reach me at (home email). For more information regarding Ener-Gel Insoles, please visit our website at – thanks again Peachy - you certainly inspire me with your high energy. 

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