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zubby

Opening a New Pro Shop. Advice Needed!

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So I haven't worked in a retail hockey shop in a really long time but I have an opportunity to open a shop in a twin pad ice rink where the closest competition is 30 miles away. I'm working on securing a sharpener, work bench, riveter and tools. I also have to figure out what to carry for equipment as the retail floor space is limited and of course finding a distributor. Any useful advice or information would be appreciated. Thanks!

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Keep in mind your biggest competition is going to be online retailers so if it were me, I'd focus on services (skate sharpening, repair, etc) vs using stock to drive sales. If you are familiar with the rink, stock what you know would sell easy, sticks, accessories, and to some extent regular gear like skates, pants, helmets, etc.

You can also try and get into contact with local youth teams and see if you can provide them with the team gear like helmets, gloves, jerseys, etc. as that can be an easy area for revenue. Good luck & i think being attached to a rink is a huge plus as long as the rent & lease terms make financial sense

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Get as much advice as you can from people who have done it. Poor service cost repeat customers and overstocking puts a hardship on your bank account. If you are the only one for 30 miles you have a good opportunity. Talk to everyone at the rink, players, coaches, parents and see what the are looking for. I agree about getting in with the teams. No use wasting inventory and space on blue helmets if the teams where black. You never know when a player will need something at the last minute.

Good luck, hope it works out. 

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5 hours ago, Axxion89 said:

Keep in mind your biggest competition is going to be online retailers so if it were me, I'd focus on services (skate sharpening, repair, etc) vs using stock to drive sales. If you are familiar with the rink, stock what you know would sell easy, sticks, accessories, and to some extent regular gear like skates, pants, helmets, etc.

You can also try and get into contact with local youth teams and see if you can provide them with the team gear like helmets, gloves, jerseys, etc. as that can be an easy area for revenue. Good luck & i think being attached to a rink is a huge plus as long as the rent & lease terms make financial sense

Totally agree and service is definitely going to be my main focus.

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2 hours ago, chk hrd said:

Get as much advice as you can from people who have done it. Poor service cost repeat customers and overstocking puts a hardship on your bank account. If you are the only one for 30 miles you have a good opportunity. Talk to everyone at the rink, players, coaches, parents and see what the are looking for. I agree about getting in with the teams. No use wasting inventory and space on blue helmets if the teams where black. You never know when a player will need something at the last minute.

Good luck, hope it works out. 

Ya I believe i can give great service which will drive repeat customers but your right about the over stocking and its one of my bigger concerns. I hate to go bare bones on equipment but I am leaning more on just stocking tape, laces wax etc until I get things rolling..

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"The Customer is Always Right", sure there will always be PIA customers but "Kill them with Kindness" and you will see most will respond positively.  On that note sometimes you can never make certain people happy and if possible give them the service for free (consider it the costs of doing business). 

Also consider a used section for skates and gear that can be resold on consignment or exchange. 

Edited by SirJW

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2 hours ago, zubby said:

Ya I believe i can give great service which will drive repeat customers but your right about the over stocking and its one of my bigger concerns. I hate to go bare bones on equipment but I am leaning more on just stocking tape, laces wax etc until I get things rolling..

This is your best bet for starting out to be honest.  I'd contact Howie's Hockey Tape, as they have the biggest presence with most kids and offer everything from tape to laces to sharpening wheels.  Get your sharpenings good and people will come to you.  After that, everything else will come.

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Good advice in this thread, I'd say one way to look at it comprehensively, is that you have to view your business as a number of separate, distinct businesses. That is, you're not running a pro shop, you're running a number of different businesses with separate costs and income streams. You're now the CEO of a company that has a skate sharpen and repair division, a team sales division, a consumables/accessories (wax, tape, laces, etc) division, an apparel division. Maybe down the road you add a retail equipment division, or a embroidery division or a figure skating division. But for now in order to have a successful business you need to focus on what you can accomplish well.

If you need to expand one "division" because it's doing great, then wonderful - but also, if you need to shut down a  "division" because it doesn't generate enough revenue, then the decision should be easier if you start out with this mindset that they are all separate. Often, people start businesses and they offer X, Y, and Z, and conflate them all, and when Y does poorly it drags down X and Z until the whole business goes under. Whereas the right decision would be to chop off Y and give X and Z room to grow. Good luck!

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Also I'll just say that I'd be very careful about offering retail equipment. You can't touch the online guys in options, selections, colors, or brands offered. Really, your only advantage is convenience. These days if a kid wants new elbow pads and he orders them and they don't fit right, he'll just order another pair and return the old ones. Or, put a lightly used pair on sideline swap or whatever, until he has exactly what he wants. You can't compete with that.

If you were to stock equipment, I'd focus on one brand, stock a few sizes in good mid-level stuff, and keep your inventory as low as is manageable. That probably also means not selling skates, because there's just too many sizes and skate lines to realistically carry stock for. 

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Being a specialty store will help. Especially on skates. tongues, repairs, shot blockers, holders, profiling will all help you immensely. What level are the travel teams? I would definitely look at doing team supply if possible, but you will have to talk to the OEM's about what they can do for you, but if you're able to outfit an entire association it could be a good stream of cash flow. Additionally, become friends with an embroidery place that can take care of name bars and stitching for any apparel and jerseys that could end up going through your shop. another viable opportunity.

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Howdy,

For me, I use a local store for service, cheap consumables, impulse buys, and emergency needs.  Oh, and skates, but I don't think its realistic that a small shop could compete here in any way other than as a custom order/fitter place that doesn't need to have any inventory.

For service... I think you have to offer (good) sharpening.  Sparx has taken that need away for me, but that's not the norm for folks and I don't imagine it will be any time soon.  What I can't do myself is repair stuff or higher end services like profiling.  So, being able to do rivet replacement, holder swaps, etc. etc.  Don't ignore figure skaters here... They need skate work too.  :-)

Cheap consumables... Tape / laces / wax / water bottles (branded to you!)  Pick a brand (Howie's?), buy enough that you get it cheap.  And again... Figure skaters.  Surely they have inexpensive stuff they need to replace regularly?

Impulse buys... For me, this is the general "cool shit that costs under $30 or so" kinda thing.  Fun t-shirts (pick a couple designs targeting your rink residents.  Do it in small batches, do new designs.  Brand with your logo somewhere).  Tape Tiger tools.  Sweet Stick emergency sharpener tools.  Lace tighteners.  Water bottles with your brand.  De-stinkify sprays.  anti-fog sprays, etc.

Emergency needs... Skate steel in common sizes / types.  Cheap jerseys in common sizes in a range of colors (buy closeout Tron or ebay stuff for crazy cheap?).  Cheap socks.  A small selection of basic sticks.  Small selection of protective (jocks, elbows/shins, helmet, etc.).  Your goal with this is more to have something someone can make work for the "Fuck, I left my XXX at home and I'm here for a game".  Cheap (for you and the buyer both) is key.  Its not going to move fast.  Buy closeout Tron stuff when it comes available.

Other thoughts...
A used shop is an interesting idea.  Either in consignment form or as a play it again sports type of approach where you own the stuff, but take trades in, etc.  If you do this, then you can also fill your emergency role out this way, vs. buying new equipment.

Sell coffee / long term storage snacks.  I can't count the # of times I've taken my son to a morning practice and forgotten my damn coffee.  :-)  And kids like candy.  Dragging mom/dad into your small shop so they can get that $1 piece of sugary goodness as an "after hockey" habit is a great way for them to see that perfect t-shirt for grandma... :-)

Match your hours to when people will be there.  If your rink sees a lot of adult league stuff, opening at noon on weekdays is kinda pointless for that market.  Make your hours 4pm to 10pm or whatever.

Be the "if you need jerseys, I know how to make that happen" guy / team order of sticks / whatever guy.  No clue on if there's any margin / profit area here though?

All just my "I've never been there or done that" thoughts.  :-)  If it were me doing this, I'd be talking privately with guys like JR, Buzz, etc.  :-)

Mark

Edited by marka
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Without going too in depth;

-Smaller brands like STX, Warrior and True are invaluable, most of what you'll sell is mid-range in price and you can maximize quality and profit with the guys i mentioned. They also have reasonable minimums where you wouldn't need to use a distributor. 

-When buying, remember who grows out of things, and replaces gear regularly, focus your buying there (Hint; it's kids)

-Don't impulsively stock every product some guy says "you've gotta have, everyone wants it." Often these suggestions are by lookers, not buyers

-Definitely stock Howie's tape and accessories, they're close to you and run a great business

-If you're successful for one year, do some research on joining a buying group

-Get to know your reps well, they are a great resource when you have problems that arise. Touch base with them every other week or so, and don't call them only to complain

-Utilize company closeout lists to stock products at a bargain, but remember it will be on clearance everywhere else as well

-If floor space is limited, don't waste it. Don't make a business of used hockey gear in your store, rather organize a used swap prior to the season, or something of the like. 

-Depending on how you plan to fund this, a Cag-One machine and Sani-Sport type machine will bring in foot traffic and pay for themselves in short order

-Make sure you sharpen well but are expeditious about it. If you take 15 minutes to perfectly do one pair, and you've got a line 12-15 pair deep on a busy game day... do the math. You're also missing in store sales at this time.

 

Edited by Buzz_LightBeer
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20 hours ago, SirJW said:

Also consider a used section for skates and gear that can be resold on consignment or exchange. 

My local shop does this, it's definitely something you should consider. 

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Given that you're in the middle of PA, I'd consider working with some of the ACHA college club hockey teams. Maybe look to make partnerships with them to be a supplier of some sort. Not sure if that is feasible but something to consider given the lack of youth hockey out your way. 

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Sorry it's been a busy week and I haven't had a chance to respond to everyone's posts but I wanted to take the time to say thanks for your input. I really appreciate it. I've definitely started putting it to good use. I've reached out to the local youth hockey organizations and the 2 ACHA college teams that call the rink home as well as the local figure skating club and had some great conversations. I set up an account with Howie's and working on something for the figure skating supplies as well. I was able to get my hands on the skate sharpener, a riveter, work bench and tools. Making progress but still so much to do..

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For small accessories for both figure and hockey, A&R is great. We stock their figure laces and a bunch of their guards, tuffterries, and stuff. Not big on their hockey laces, but their stuff is cheap and easy 

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From a customer side of things, I agree with a lot of what's been said here.

Adding my 2 cents, I live in a Canadian city. There's lots of shops and competition. Off the top of my head, there are probably a half a dozen or more places within a 15 minute drive of where I live, small retail shops, rink shops, and big chains. For a good portion of my life, I took my skates to one shop for sharpening. While I was there waiting for my skates, I'd look at sticks, pick up tape, etc. Not a problem for around 20 years. Then, i noticed they had some turnover, and they had some younger kids doing the sharpening.

Suddenly, there was a problem with my edges after a sharpening. I brought them back and they fixed them. Then it happened again. I felt a little guilty, but I started taking my skates to a place on the other side of town. There are other places closer that I can go to, but this place is a small local shop that has all the bells and whistles. All the stock I could ever want to look at, and a shooting area where I can try before I buy. In all the time I've been going to this shop, not once have they messed up my skates. Add that to they have fantastic customer service, and it's a no-brainer for me. When my nephew had issues with his skates, they spent time helping him and eventually stretched his skates out for free even when they weren't even purchased there. 

Any way, aside form those stores, there's a local shop that popped up about 2+ years ago, no bigger than food truck. They specializes in skate sharpening and skate modding. They're known for being one of the best in town, if not the best. People bring their skates to them from all over the city. They carry odds and ends like the power foot inserts and bunga pads that nobody else in the city really stocks. Here's a link to their webpage to give you an idea of what another small shop carries. https://www.hockeyvancouver.ca/

But my general impression is that their bread and butter is skate sharpening, profiling, steel, and maybe odds and ends like tape. Everything else probably doesn't move anywhere near as fast as those. But like I said, that's just my impression, not fact.

 

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Everyone has great suggestions thus far.

I will add my two cents worth: Centre your business around skate service and consumables. The suggestion of a gear cleaning machine is excellent.

My biggest suggest as a man who has run his own business for nearly 20 years can give you: focus on customer service. That will separate you from the others. 

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2 hours ago, bunnyman666 said:

My biggest suggest as a man who has run his own business for nearly 20 years can give you: focus on customer service. That will separate you from the others. 

That term gets thrown out quite a bit, and while I would certainly want to believe it, it's hard to.

On hardgoods, in its current state, CS doesn't mean anything anymore (at high end skates, things will change soon.) By and large, customers will go to wherever it's cheapest - there's really no loyalty to the store/person who performed exemplary CS, or better yet, customers don't feel beholden to that store/person because there are so many other avenues to purchase said product.  

The story I like to tell was when I had a customer and I was fitting him for skates (which were MAP-restricted) and after 45 min, he kept on saying that he can find them cheaper online.  I explained MAP to him yet he insisted he could, and walked out.  Not more than an hour later, the skates I had him try on were picked for an online order.   He didn't know that the algorithms determine time and distance, and since our store was the closest to him, it chose our store to fulfill the order.

On the service side, convenience plays a factor.  Rink shops have an advantage because they're there and people don't have to make an additional stop.  Price also has to do with it, because it's hard to command a premium price for something that most people don't think garners a premium price.  And this is someone coming from a retailer that used to give away free sharpenings - and the question was, were they coming to us because it was good, or because it was free?  Now that store is in a situation where their most experienced sharpener has 4 years behind the wheel, sharpenings are all paid, and the price was increased.

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1 minute ago, JR Boucicaut said:

That term gets thrown out quite a bit, and while I would certainly want to believe it, it's hard to.

On hardgoods, in its current state, CS doesn't mean anything anymore (at high end skates, things will change soon.) By and large, customers will go to wherever it's cheapest - there's really no loyalty to the store/person who performed exemplary CS, or better yet, customers don't feel beholden to that store/person because there are so many other avenues to purchase said product.  

The story I like to tell was when I had a customer and I was fitting him for skates (which were MAP-restricted) and after 45 min, he kept on saying that he can find them cheaper online.  I explained MAP to him yet he insisted he could, and walked out.  Not more than an hour later, the skates I had him try on were picked for an online order.   He didn't know that the algorithms determine time and distance, and since our store was the closest to him, it chose our store to fulfill the order.

On the service side, convenience plays a factor.  Rink shops have an advantage because they're there and people don't have to make an additional stop.  Price also has to do with it, because it's hard to command a premium price for something that most people don't think garners a premium price.  And this is someone coming from a retailer that used to give away free sharpenings - and the question was, were they coming to us because it was good, or because it was free?  Now that store is in a situation where their most experienced sharpener has 4 years behind the wheel, sharpenings are all paid, and the price was increased.

Certainly I know where you’re coming from, which is why I did not suggest he sell anything beyond consumables, and that would include convenience items.

For my own examples of why my hair shoppe does not carry consumables, Beauty Brands has been eating every independent shoppe owner’s lunch for YEARS. Because of the $5 hair spray deals, they buy other items at BB because:

a) it is assumed the item will be cheaper

b) because BB has the buying power a teeny Mum and Pop shoppe will NEVER have, having every conceivable brand under the sun.

In the case of a small pro shoppe, if it were me, I would not even touch items like gloves, breezers, skates, etc., at least not at first. Because of your lack of buying power, you will most likely not get the best wholesale price or access to special deals that the bigs/online can get.  You’re right- customer service does not matter when you’re selling a helmet at $150 and Gigantic Partial Hockey/Lacrosse/Cage Fighting Ape sells it at $125 and has four more colours you don’t/can’t carry with a free cage.

I say Customer Service is key ESPECIALLY when it comes to being the rink shoppe. I have seen so much where the rink shoppe has employees with a poor attitude, with slow and inconsistent sharpenings and the merchandise is marked up 25% higher than anywhere else because they are the only game for 30 miles. I have several sharpening customers who have complained bitterly about the poor customer service in the rink shoppe that is literally five minutes from my house.

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Very true.  Unfortunately a lot of them think that they'll get the business solely due to convenience.

I was at a rink several weeks ago and was talking to their staff.  I was the only customer in the store for an hour.  

One of our skaters went in there to get her skates sharpened.  They could've taken their time, due to no customers in the store, but they went and rushed them.

After she was done she came out and I asked to look at them.  Told her she wouldn't have outside edges on both skates.  

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1 hour ago, JR Boucicaut said:

Very true.  Unfortunately a lot of them think that they'll get the business solely due to convenience.

I was at a rink several weeks ago and was talking to their staff.  I was the only customer in the store for an hour.  

One of our skaters went in there to get her skates sharpened.  They could've taken their time, due to no customers in the store, but they went and rushed them.

After she was done she came out and I asked to look at them.  Told her she wouldn't have outside edges on both skates.  

That is the most dangerous attitude to have as the “convenient store at the rink”. As I say- bad reputations as a result of poor customer service is the hardest thing to overcome.

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If you’re the shop at the rink the number one thing you can do is make sure you can sharpen skates. It’s REALLY irritating when you have to go out of your way for something you should be able to have done at the rink. 

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On 5/25/2018 at 12:50 AM, zubby said:

Sorry it's been a busy week and I haven't had a chance to respond to everyone's posts but I wanted to take the time to say thanks for your input. I really appreciate it. I've definitely started putting it to good use. I've reached out to the local youth hockey organizations and the 2 ACHA college teams that call the rink home as well as the local figure skating club and had some great conversations. I set up an account with Howie's and working on something for the figure skating supplies as well. I was able to get my hands on the skate sharpener, a riveter, work bench and tools. Making progress but still so much to do..

Good to hear. ACHA teams experience turnover. To have stability in some shape or form (hoping it is you) would be a big deal in my opinion. Will be interested to see how things go.

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