Money Where The Mouth Is
Ever so quietly, Shock Doctor has been growing annually at double-digit rates for the last decade. But according to Tony Armand, who became the Plymouth-based sports gear manufacturer’s CEO in April 2010, the company’s voice and sales volume are about to go up. “We want Minnesotans to know that we’re here, a company that revolutionized a product and that’s looking out for young athletes everywhere,” he says.
So who is this Shock Doctor? According to athletic retail market analyst SportsScanINFO, it commands 90 percent of the U.S. market for athletic mouthguards, which are used mostly by hockey, football, and lacrosse players. Jay Turkbas, Shock Doctor’s senior vice president of product development and marketing, describes that market as a pyramid. The broad base is kids age 8 to 15, where Shock Doctor rules. Past 15, fewer and fewer young people play organized sports, and high schools and colleges typically provide guards (usually lower-end products, Turkbas says). At the top of the pyramid, Shock Doctor does sell some guards to pro baseball, hockey, football, and basketball players, though that’s of course a very small market.
Why Shock Doctor’s dominance among younger athletes? “We provide a very visibly distinctive product,” Turkbas says. “And our package communicates the technical innovations.” The eye-catching package design has helped Shock Doctor stand out from what Turkbas calls “the wall of mouthguards” at sporting goods retailers.
Shock Doctor retails more than a dozen different mouthguards and holds seven mouthguard patents. According to Turkbas, the company seeks to improve the technology of its guards so that that they are better fitting and “lower in profile”—lighter, smaller, yet still protective.
Last year, Shock Doctor launched a custom program that targets parents who are willing to spend around $150 for a precision mouthguard. The custom kit includes a mouthguard form, moldable filler, and a prepaid postage box. “Our dental professionals will customize a mouthguard, complete with choice of color and the customer’s name on the mouthguard,” Armand says.
That said, Armand believes that Shock Doctor’s newest products have the biggest growth potential. One is the ShockSkin line, introduced late in 2009, comprising formfitting football and hockey underclothing that combines protection with seamless pads that “move with the body, giving the athlete more protection without taking away any flexibility,” he says.
Another new product family is the Performance Sports Therapy line, introduced in June 2011. “We looked at what was available in sports wraps, and it was mostly uncomfortable, poorly designed black things,” Armand says. “So we basically started over.” After extensive athlete-focused testing, the result is more than 20 wraps and supports for joints and other parts of the body.
Armand was president and CEO of Bravo Sports, a San Diego recreational goods company, before joining Shock Doctor. The company he now leads was founded in 1992 as E-Z Gard Industries. It renamed itself after its original mouthguard brand in 2000; eight years later, it became a portfolio company of Minneapolis-based Norwest Equity Partners. Before Armand came on board, Shock Doctor was focused on business-to-business marketing, targeting its communications to sporting goods retailers like Dick’s and Sports Authority. “We sell product in more than 8,000 retail locations in 51 countries,” Armand says, as well as on line.
However, Shock Doctor now is boosting its business-to-consumer presence via trade publications, social media, and partnerships with youth sports organizations. It now also has a spokesman: San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. The once-guarded Shock Doctor is starting to mouth off.