To help hockey players stay up to date on the latest sports equipment, eCommerce innovator the PenaltyBox offers subscription boxes comprised of a myriad of hockey essentials, from well-known brands to up-and-coming companies the PenaltyBox team tests themselves. They keep their business personal: the product manager is a hockey coach and hockey dad who is out on the rinks daily, thinking of new products and ideas to cater to other parents of budding young hockey stars.
It’s a “straightforward signup process,” CEO and Founder Drew Laine told PYMNTS in an interview. The company offers a few different boxes — with one designed for those age 12 and younger, one for ages 12 and older, one intended for beer leaguers and one meant for goalies. “You choose from that,” Laine said. The company’s largest target market is the 12-and-under age group.
Once consumers make that decision, they can select a shirt size, sock size and gender. The company offers both month-to-month and prepaid plans, with credit cards and PayPal as payment options. When it comes to getting products for the boxes, the company sources its own items through manufacturers, and it also works with small to medium-sized manufacturers trying to get their products into the boxes.
The PenaltyBox also aims to have a different theme every month — whether its skate care, stick handling, or shooting. And while the boxes are different every month, the firm might have a quarterly re-run of the consumables in hockey like tape, a mouth guard or a new training tool.
The Marketing Strategy
The company typically looks for hockey parents — particularly hockey moms with children around the age of 12 — for its targeted marketing. The company got its start marketing in the blogging world, but its biggest marketing tool came when it needed to drop its acquisition costs in 2017.
It conducted many media buys with Facebook, Google and different partners and realized that if its acquisition costs stayed the way that they were, the company would not exist much longer. So, it decided to start a private Facebook group for hockey parents. “And that has blossomed” to include “hockey parents across the United States and Canada,” Laine said. He sees it less as a group and more of a community. Laine says that the company built the community into a place that provides value through content as well as deals.
The company also has a unique way of deciding which products make the cut for the group. If a given product was well-reviewed in January, in one case, it will reach out to box subscribers in February. It will ask them for photos of players using the product and what they think about the item. If the response is positive, it will go into the Facebook group in February and sell the product at a discount. That, Laine says, has proven to be the best marketing channel as of today. Beyond subscriptions, shoppers can buy individual items on the company’s website. SkaBoots, RollerGards and A&R Goalie Sweatbands are among the products listed on its accessory page.
For the future, the PenaltyBox is dabbling in the retail market. It purchased a rink shop, and Laine says the company is going to use the stores as different warehouse locations around the United States where it can cut down on shipping times. It is also going to use the stores to get eyes and as destinations for consumers to further recognize its brand. For the subscription service, it aims to get more of a footprint in Canada and see how it can provide value to families in that market. (Consumers in Canada can currently order a subscription box, and the company just opened a warehouse location up north of the border outside of Toronto.)
The PenaltyBox, however, is not the only subscription box serving athletes. RunLocker, a subscription box service geared toward runners, offers a main item in its box, which is the most valuable product. That could be a T-shirt, a pair of sunglasses or a baseball cap. There is also a secondary item, which could be a product that is more aligned with stretching exercises, rehabilitation, or general fitness, such as a jump rope. The third might be an energy product like bars, gel, or gummies. RunLocker works with a range of companies from startup-type firms to national brands making unique products such as maple syrup gels in Canada.
From Run Locker to PenaltyBox, innovators are aiming to provide equipment and gear tailored to the particular needs of runners or hockey players through subscriptions and Facebook communities.