How do you offer products for a specific niche? Ask the ladies at Bela Hockey: Based in Portland, Maine, and operating since 2006, they’re breaking away from the pack and reaching the oft-overlooked segment in the sport of ice hockey – girls and women. Their product line includes sticks, caps, socks and other great accessories, but what truly makes them shine? Colors! Using some of the coolest and fun color combos around, any gal, young or old, would be thrilled to get geared up for her game.
Believe it: Chicks Dig Hockey!
Each year, the sport of hockey grows more popular with girls and women across the U.S. According to USA Hockey, registration of girl and women players is over 58,000, up from just over 10,000 females in 1993. With that popularity also comes a need for gear that appeals to this burgeoning market, gear that both reflects a player’s personality, but also suits the pocketbook and performs as advertised. Girls are tired of always seeing colors for guys, but where to look?
Ann Cloutier of BelaHockey says the female market is virtually ignored by larger companies, which seems to be a very bad mistake on the part of the usual companies like Bauer, Easton and Reebok (who in recent years acquired giant CCM.) With such tremendous growth in the girls market, Cloutier, along with her partners, Justine Carlisle, and Hockey Hall of Fame and Olympian, Cammi Granato, see terrific potential to meet a need. “We don’t want to change the face of hockey, we just want to add another player to the market.” And they certainly have. Having witnessed the frenzied purchases at a recent event, it’s obvious their product offerings appeal to their target market.
Using a clever website and social media components like Facebook and MySpace, BelaHockey continues to push their online presence. In addition, they’re beginning to gain some traction and increase their reach by offering products through Player’s Bench, Play it Again Sports and Hockey Monkey. “We’d definitely like to get our products into more stores, but really, we’ve had great success with our online store.” An unexpected bonus has come along, too: they have appeal in the soccer, inline hockey and runners markets. “People have bought our caps and shirts for these other sports because they liked the colors and the way we performed,” says Cloutier. Whenever you can penetrate more than one market with a single product line, and didn’t spend your marketing budget to do it, you’ve truly knocked it out of the park.
Picking products for a company like BelaHockey seems like it’d be, well, fun! How do they decide what to products to offer and choose what colors and fabric to use? “We test it all ourselves, plus put it on Bela (Cloutier’s daughter) and have Cammi try it out on the ice, ” Anna shares. “We had the prototype for our tshirts and wanted to make sure they were comfortable, but also stood up to washing. We washed the shirts about 10 times and checked everything to see if it stood up. Once we had what we thought worked, we offered it in the market. They’re extremely popular.” Most of their products are made in the USA and they feel some consumers will find this appealing. “We know that some people purchase based on this, plus we like supporting businesses in the US.” Another important consideration? Pricing. Cloutier says, “We ask ourselves – Would I spend my money on something like this? – and think from the standpoint of a Mom.”
As BelaHockey becomes more popular and builds a name for itself, it’s critical to continue to push forward with other offerings. “We have some ideas for laces and some fun hockey tapes. We’re also considering hockey stick bags, performance shirts, hockey pants, jerseys and other colorful, playful custom equipment. Protective gear is such a tough market to penetrate, so we really want to stay focused on accessories.” Smart thinking, especially when you have such a captive audience; repeat sales come from customers who love the colors, fun graphics, and quality. I give their products an enthusiastic “thumbs up” – I purchased a pair of their socks and a Katie cap – love ’em!
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