During the summer, leading lacrosse manufacturer STX announced it will launch an ice hockey line in time for the 2014 season.
Matt Hoppe was brought on as point person for the new division. The Michigan native has a long history of ice hockey in his personal and professional life. In addition to playing at University of New Hampshire (2001-04), Hoppe spent extensive time in U.S. and Global brand manager positions for an existing ice hockey brand. At STX, he has played a central role in establishing a product road map and strategic plan for the new Ice Hockey division.
New England Hockey Journal caught up with Hoppe during the offseason to discuss what the big announcement means for STX going forward.
NEHJ: What kind of research has STX conducted over the last two years in preparing for this big move?
Hoppe: Probably the best thing we did was get out into the field. We started the process by conducting heavy amounts of field research in the U.S. and Canada. When we first went out to the field to test the waters to see what kind of response our entry in the category would elicit, we found an overwhelming amount of support from hockey players of all abilities, which obviously was incredibly encouraging. Even in regions where our brand isn’t as strong (where lacrosse happens to still be an emerging sport), we found players excited about the prospect of another company entering the space and offering to bring them new thinking to their equipment.
NEHJ: How much additional manpower will be needed in order to meet your expectations on the hockey side of things?
Hoppe: We are currently hiring positions for our product development team and are having ongoing discussions daily about the right number of other positions beyond those to fill out. There’s a real opportunity for us to grow fast and that’s exciting, but at the same token we are taking a thoughtful and methodical approach to how we are going to grow the internal team and our external business. We are in this for the long haul and every decision we make gets pushed through the lens of “how will this help us long term."
NEHJ: Was there any concern about the resources poured into hockey taking away from the longstanding success STX has had with lacrosse?
Hoppe: Absolutely no concerns whatsoever. The hockey team here is completely independent from the lacrosse side of our business. If anything, the two departments are only going to help each other. We already found shared benefits from working side by side. The performance needs of elite athletes in our sports are in some ways very different but in other very similar. Both are incredibly fast games that require high mobility mixed with incredible protection – so there is benefit to be had for everyone through our entry in the ice hockey category.
NEHJ: How will STX try to set itself apart and make a mark in the hockey market?
Hoppe: It sounds cliché but hard work. We are interested in getting out into the field, listening to retailers and consumers, anyone who is connected to the game of ice hockey – we want to learn and absorb their knowledge. Our intent is to translate those learnings into delivering the best products possible that exceed the demands of everyone playing the game. Whether you are an NHL player or someone who is playing solely for the love of the game, we want to provide you equipment to help you perform at the highest level possible.
We have a long history of creating high performing protective equipment and perhaps we can bring some new thinking to ice hockey. Hopefully in the end we push ourselves and our competition to seek out ways to continue to evolve hockey equipment for the betterment of its athletes.
We all come to work every day eager and ready to take on that challenge. There’s a real sense of ownership and excitement amongst our internal team. We can’t wait to get going.
NEHJ: How extensive will the number of models initially available be, and what kind of growth do you expect to see when it comes to that early on?
Hoppe: From a product offering standpoint we’ll initially be coming to market with a tight offering of products that we believe are the logical areas for us to enter in the category. There are a few key product areas where we know we can provide game-changing technology and certainly other areas that we realize we might be better off waiting a few years to enter. We want to make sure we are taking the time to develop products that aren’t just copies of existing products. It’s our intent in ice hockey to do what we’ve always done – create game changing technologies and equipment.
Regarding our growth plans - to reference a comment above - we are taking a methodical approach to our planning and expectations. Our intent isn’t to dethrone the industry leaders in year one. We are interested in providing a high performing product that helps players perform at their highest level possible and we believe by doing that we’ll see the requisite amount of growth and development of our share of the hockey landscape.
NEHJ: With the launch a year away, what's the marketing plan of attack leading up to fall 2014?
Hoppe: First and foremost we are ensuring that the products are correct. Beyond that we’ve hired a veteran of the NHL equipment business, Rocco Amonte. Rocco, who will be our NHL Pro Service Manager, will be out over the next few months working to find us the right pro athlete to partner up with. When I say partner up, I don’t mean pay to simply wear the products but rather find a few key athletes to become a part of our brand. We are interested in finding athlete we are fully vested in the process of our entry. That means everything from providing key product insights to becoming the face of our brand in the hockey category.
From a broader marketing strategy perspective we realize we are entering a pond with some big fish: Bauer, Reebok/CCM, Easton. These are all companies with solid consumer connection plans. That means if we hope to gain some consumer mind space we know we’ll need to bring our best effort to compete. But much in the way that we have with our lacrosse, golf and field hockey businesses, we’ll continue to lean on our fortitude and aptitude to bring some unique thinking to how we get our brand and products in front of our core consumer base.