Shop Talk: Reflecting back on more than 20 years of evolving brands
With the dynamics of retail over the years, hockey brands have dramatically changed. Some remain the same, some are new, and some have faded into lore and legend.
When BTM first opened in 1994, the first brand we carried was Rollerblade. At the time, Rollerblade was the king of inline skates. It seemed in the early 90s, everyone had a pair. They ventured into the hockey market making inline hockey skates and protective gear.
Fun fact – if Rollerblade had not opened our account, BTM would not have happened. It rested on me selling the Rollerblade rep, Paul Middleton, at a coffee house in old town Scottsdale early in 1994. I showed up to pitch the crazy idea of a hockey retail store in Peoria. It worked and our first store at 75th and Cactus was going to be a reality.
The store was 400 square feet and opened in March, a couple miles from the Glendale YMCA where inline hockey leagues were forming. Our Rollerblade hockey product did not show up until a month after we opened. BTM was selling sports cards and the POG phenomenon was in full swing. I still run into Paul, who now resides in Minnesota and is the True Hockey rep. He still shakes his head wondering what I was thinking.
The next company that we secured to sell gear was Karhu – the parent company of Koho, Jofa and Titan. Chris Martin was the rep. He serviced California and made the trip over to check us out. Again, I am sure he left scratching his head on our business plan, but opened us as an account.
We were rolling now.
Next, we needed to get an account set up with Bauer/Cooper. This would mean we could get ice skates and a full line of equipment. We had a meeting planned and they never showed. It took us another six months of calls and persistence to become a Bauer account. Our first ice skates arrived.
CCM followed. Their rep, Bill Finneran, took the time to help us understand retail. We knew hockey, but didn’t have a clue on retail.
In Dec. 1995, a huge announcement came that changed BTM’s future. The Winnipeg Jets were moving to the desert and in the fall of 1996, the Phoenix Coyotes played their first game. New hockey players were born and the sport gained mainstream acceptance in the Valley. Hockey was the cool new sport. For the first time, you saw hockey nets and street hockey being played in driveways, parks and school yards.
Then Nike announced they were getting into the business and changed the world of hockey. They were going to make skates in flashy colors and start advertising and marketing equipment and players like never before. Those of us from that era remember the Nike TV commercials – they were brilliant. When our first shipment of Nike equipment arrived, people flocked in to buy. But it became apparent later that Nike thought you could put a swoosh on anything and it would sell. For a while, it worked, but the Nike hockey fad lasted a few years and then quietly faded out.
Easton followed – they were the innovator in the category of shafts. Remember the silver shaft Wayne Gretzky used? It stood out on the ice with the big “EASTON” running down it. Then they revolutionized the game with the one-piece stick. Who in their right mind would pay $129 for a stick? We reluctantly brought in a few. Sales were slow – the shaft and composite blade were still king. Over the years, technology in one-piece sticks has been astounding. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that years later, top-end sticks would hit $299.
Thanks for taking a walk down memory lane. Who knows what the next 22 years will hold?
Randy Exelby is the owner of Behind The Mask Hockey Shops.