As more and more ratchet belt brands pop up in our market the question begins to get asked, "Which ratchet belt came first?" "I've heard of [other brand] but is this just a copy?"
These are common questions that get asked to us and, hey, you probably thought the same thing when you heard about Railtek Belts. Well let's get everything out in the open so you have the knowledge to buy the belt brand that's right for you.
If you've heard of ratchet belts you have probably heard of Mission Belt, SlideBelt, or even Ratchet Belt™. There are a few other brands out there that we won't go into but you can look them up. All of these belt brands use the ratcheting, no-hole concept which has been growing in popularity over the past several years. So then you ask, "which ratchet belt came first?" Let's look into this because you will be surprised that the ratchet belt has been around longer than you think.
If you have done any traveling outside of the U.S. you most likely have been exposed to ratchet belts, or as they are better known in foreign markets as automatic buckles. We have personally seen them in China, Thailand, Mexico, and Ukraine and have heard of people bringing them back from other countries as well. This no-hole belt has been available for purchase in markets outside of the U.S. for over 25 years so it is no surprise if you see someone strolling down the street wearing a foreign branded ratchet belt.
In 1998, one of the first U.S. ratchet belt brands showed up in the market called Ratchet Belt™. A fitting name that has kind of taken on the standard to describe this belt. Now, they may not have been the first company to bring this concept to our markets but they definitely were early adapters. And that is the main point of this post, that this belt concept is not new. Ratchet Belt™ has been selling to military bases for many years now and if you were to show any brand of ratchet belt to someone who served in the Marine Corps community in the early 2000's, there's a good chance they have seen it.
In 2007, the beginning of another brand began to emerge, this time going by the name of SlideBelt. Started by a student at Brigham Young University who discovered these belts in Moldova, this brand became a known online presence marketing to young, fashionable males and still maintains a large share of the online ratchet belt market. They took this foreign product concept and marketed it well online.
This is where the story gets really interesting. In June 2012, Mission Belt was founded, providing similar ratchet belts sold by their competitors with a "mission" to fight poverty. According to multiple sources (the family blog and reddit) there was a bit of juicy family drama that went on at the beginning. Apparently the owner of SlideBelt and Mission Belt are cousins and claims were made that over the course of SlideBelt's initial startup, the co-owner of Mission Belt used his cousin's idea to start his own belt business and directly compete with him. Some say that is just business, many say it was unethical, and most don't even know about it.
In April 2013, Mission Belt made it on Shark Tank to showcase their style of ratchet belt which boosted their brand into the limelight. Because the majority of Americans have never seen a ratchet belt they assumed that this brand was the first of its kind and that it was Mission Belt's idea.
Now this is where Railtek Belts comes in. If you haven't read the full story on how our company came to be, you can read it here. In short, the founder of Railtek Belts served a mission for his church in Ukraine in 2005-2007 where he first saw a ratchet belt. In the fall of 2011, several years after returning state-side, he got more serious and started looking for ways to manufacture the belt. A year went by and he finally nailed down some sourcing in late 2012 and established the business a few months later in January 2013. At that time he hadn't heard of any of the current competitors so he pushed forward with the business. It wasn't until Mission Belt's airing on Shark Tank in April 2013 that he realized there were others who had the idea of selling this amazing style of belt. And like we said earlier, no one really knew what a ratchet belt was and if they did, they had seen that Shark Tank episode. For this reason, the question has been asked if we are a copy.
If you look at the original buckles of all of these brands you will notice a similar functional design. That is because the design of this buckle is considered generic and is so widely manufactured outside the U.S. that it is almost impossible to patent and protect as your own. Certain brands have evolved and created similar but different buckles, enough so to be able to patent that design and make it unique to them.
In summary, there are several ratchet belt brands out there and the numbers keep growing. Each brand has a unique startup story and it is worth looking into to understand the business you are buying from. We all agree on one thing though, that ratchet belts are the best!