A leading consolidator in sporting goods sees opportunity in training and recovery space.
In April 2015, Shock Doctor completed its biggest acquisition when it merged with McDavid, the specialist in knee and ankle braces. And in August of that year, Shock Doctor changed its name to United Sports Brands to signify its position as one of the leading consolidators in the sporting goods space. In October, it acquired Nathan Sports, the developer of visibility and hydration solutions for runners.
Well before those acquisitions, the company had acquired Cutter, the maker of baseball and football gloves, and XO Athletic, known for its athletic cups. Overseeing all the M&A action has been Tony Armand, CEO of United Sports Brands (USB), which is owned by Bregal Partners.
Armand took time out to talk with SGB about recent consolidations in the industry and the company’s opportunities in the training and recovery space.
What inspired the USB consolidation model? Prior to joining Shock Doctor, I led a variety of acquisitions and found unique, innovative ways to further organic growth. Those experiences have been quite helpful in shaping some of our growth strategies at United Sports Brands. However, our goal of bringing global category leaders in sports performance and protective products together, and producing the best and most innovative products athletes need to perform at their personal best, is an original vision for United Sports Brands. The timing was right, as the industry is continuing to evolve and grow significantly, and there is a strong demand for technologically advanced products — a demand our set of brands is positioned to meet.
Concussion concerns and overuse injuries have been front-page news recently. What’s your take on sports injury concerns? Consumer safety and performance is at the heart of all of the USB brands. It is a shared mission, binding the brands together in a common effort to help educate and promote safety for all athletes, while simultaneously providing the gear necessary for top performance on the field, court or in the arena of their choosing. We are committed to the protection of all athletes, but young athletes in particular, and it is that commitment that forms the base of our brands’ efforts in the sporting goods space. We are proud partners of USA Football and POP Warner, two leading associations charged with the care and safety of young athletes. Furthermore, Shock Doctor’s ongoing campaign to increase discussion around the benefits of wearing mouthguards in basketball is an effort that stretches beyond the development of products to a discussion that implores youth athletes, athletic governing bodies, youth leagues, travel ball organizations, high school federations and players’ parents to make the smart safety choices necessary to keep young athletes happy, healthy and ready for whatever the game might throw their way.
How is USB supporting the team channel? Unified one-stop ordering and invoicing, along with enhanced marketing support that partners on a broader, multi-brand category level, are just a few of the ways we envision United Sports Brands benefiting a team dealer. As far as expectations from the brand level, they remain business as usual. For instance, for more than 35 years, McDavid has offered customization for our HEX protective apparel and has nurtured strong relationships with athletic trainers, coaches and equipment managers. Team dealers can rest assure that this will continue from our Fountain Valley facility and will further McDavid’s legacy at the highest level of play. Our field promotions team continues to educate and work directly with colleges and pro teams across the country, now offering new products from more brands, including Shock Doctor, Cutters and McDavid.
There’s been some concern about the sporting goods channel with the bankruptcy of Sports Authority and others. What do you make of what’s going on in the space? Although we are seeing changes and potential consolidation in the traditional brick-and-mortar sporting goods retail landscape, a considerable — even expanding — consumer base for performance, protection and recovery sporting goods products remains. With this development, consumers are looking for products to help them stay healthy in a growing myriad of sports and activities. As that is a focus for all of our brands and an area in which we specialize, we remain optimistic. We see this shift in the landscape as a reaction to where and how consumers are shopping, and luckily less of an indication of interest or demand for our products and the way consumers are living and playing. If anything, it is just reinforcing that brands must steer their own ship and not be overly dependent on retail partners alone to support them.
Can you discuss the development of in-store athlete care centers? Products that once stood alone are now being embraced and categorized as essentials to all athletes, regardless of season, sport or nation. Natural synergies exist across our brands, so it was a logical next step for United Sports Brands to improve the consumer experience at point-of-purchase by combining offerings where it makes sense, and in some cases, offering a 360-degree total athlete-care concept across retailers. Several major retailers in the U.S. are experimenting with this philosophy now, and we expect it to take on a variety of shapes and forms in the future.
Are you aggressively looking for more acquisitions? We continue to review brands that have established a strong, authentic niche, created new categories through innovation and/or could benefit from streamlining their operation to achieve that next level of growth.
Are there a lot of candidates in the sporting goods space? Taking both a strategic as well as opportunistic approach, we find that great candidates continue to surface. However, it is the special one that checks all the boxes.
Is it easy to get deals done? Our experience is that if both parties are committed to getting a deal done, it ultimately gets done to everyone’s satisfaction.
Can you give us a three or five-year plan for USB? Full integration is still underway, as this is a work in progress, and we are learning as we go. Ultimately, it is our goal to set a new standard in the industry for how sporting goods customers are served through the newly constructed, state-of-the-art distribution center headquartered in Fountain Valley, CA. Featuring a highly-skilled workforce and a more streamlined shipping process across all brands, the warehouse management system boasts best-of-breed technology and the ability to easily scale to serve the needs of a growing global United Sports Brands customer base.
Lead photo courtesy United Brand Sports