Despite tough economy, the gloves still fit
He’s a hockey dad, a figure skating dad and a small business owner specializing in creating, manufacturing and selling hockey gloves. The ‘hockey glove’ part might make Gary Sande a bit more Canadian than the rest of us.
The fact that he continues to find a way to compete with well-known hockey giants during these tough, economic times might make Sande a bit more stubborn than the rest of us as well.
Sande is the president and CEO of ‘Sande Hockey’, located in Mission, British Columbia.
Since 2001, Sande Hockey has focused its efforts on gloves, and in particular, a patented design that Sande says sets his gloves apart from the rest of the competition.
"Our patented ‘SuperFeel Technology’ is our claim-to-fame. Anyone can go to China and throw a hockey glove on the market," said Sande. "Everybody has the same widget. We’re trying to come up with our own widget."
Sande’s widget or ‘SuperFeel Technology’ is described as a hockey glove that provides more of a barehanded feeling than any other glove on the market today.
To create this feeling, Sande says he spent countless hours in his office, his basement and his living room, cutting up his competition.
"I bought gloves and I ripped them apart and I cut them up and I put them on and I tried them," he said. "I spent a lot of time to make sure that my glove stayed traditional but functioned better than what was offered."
This ‘hands on’ approach eventually led to the birth of ‘The Heatseeker’ in 2003 which was Sande Hockey’s official foray into the hockey glove business. The new glove, which met all safety requirements, was marketed immediately as a glove that gave players "the most natural grip on the market today."
Grinding it out
For the next few years, Sande hit the retail market hard, trying to find some valuable shelf space alongside popular brand names like Easton, Reebok, and Nike Bauer.
He had a wholesale manufacturing plant, an office, a sales staff and a desire to become the next household hockey name in Canada. His desire, however, was eventually replaced with frustration and exhaustion as the reality of the retail hockey business set in.
Sande spent six years trying to make his mark in some of the more popular sporting good stores in Canada and the U.S to no avail. He says retailers were more concerned with supporting the bigger brand name players than a smaller independent player like Sande Hockey.
He grew weary of battling store owners over his reputation, over money and for the all-important shelf space.
Add that to a steady downturn in the economy and Sande was eventually forced to head back to the dressing room to change his game plan in an on-going effort to keep his hockey business afloat and his hockey dream alive.
Today, Gary Sande continues to grind it out like a fourth line centre while experiencing the same painful business pinch Canadians are feeling across the country.
His sales staff is smaller, the office is gone and the warehouse has been relocated to his parents’ home in Abbotsford.
"My mom and dad have a fairly large house. We basically had to use their entire basement which is about 2200 square feet and we’ve made a makeshift warehouse in their basement. My office is in my house now as we try to keep our costs down."
Using the Dell Computer model as his example, Sande says he’s also adopted a new business strategy which will close the retail chapter of his life.
"As part of the new plan, we’re going manufacturers wholesale direct so we can keep our costs down and sell our products as cheap as we can. We’re setting up our website so you can buy everything direct from us with no hassles and no risks."
The NHL market
One aspect of his business plan that won’t change, though, is Sande’s desire to get his gloves into and onto the hands of players in the NHL. That, however, is easier said than done for a small business like Sande Hockey.
"The NHL has a license fee per category. Each of those categories is about $50,000 per category just to get those licensing rights just to be able to offer those NHL players a chance to wear your product," said Sande.
"It’s not just the 50 grand, either. You’ve got travelling, you have to take care of these players, and you’ve got to get them the product. You have to make custom stuff for them like a shorter finger or a longer cuff or a change in the palm."
Sande figures it’ll cost him somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 just for the right to have his gloves worn by some current NHL players.
While he admits it’s a lot of money for a company doing just under $1,000,000 in sales a year, Sande also knows he might have to write that cheque soon, especially when he considers how influential the NHL is on minor hockey players in Canada.
"If NHL players are wearing it, kids will be wearing it," he said.
Timing is everything
He also has a feeling that his timing might be right, despite the faltering economy.
"People still want choices. Right now the choices are getting smaller and smaller as far as brands are concerned. So for me, right now, I see a lot more opportunity."
Those shrinking brands are the result of an on-going transformation of the hockey manufacturer landscape. During the last few years, Nike sold Bauer, Mission and Itech merged, Bauer bought Mission-Itech, Reebok bought CCM and the list goes on.
Sande Hockey remains a small, independent Canadian company proud of its roots and its ability to keep ‘ heading to the net’ despite today’s gloomy economic forecast and yesterday’s difficult battles.
"It has been tough at times and sometimes you shake your head and you entertain the thought of bailing out. But I believe that eventually it’s going to work for me and I’ll succeed if I keep working at it."
"The other part of me wakes up everyday and I can’t imagine not being in this business because I love hockey."