Athletes associate STX with lacrosse, but the Baltimore-based brand began appearing last month in stores on ice hockey sticks and plans to launch a line of men's field hockey sticks in the United Kingdom.
For the 44-year-old inventor of the modern lacrosse stick, the launch of an ice hockey line has been a long-planned step in a strategy to transform itself into a global brand. The line is being sold in specialty stores in the United States and Canada and being marketed as endorsed by National Hockey League player Matt Moulson and U.S. national team player and Olympian Hilary Knight.
To expand its presence in field hockey, the company is going overseas, where — unlike in the U.S. — the game is a popular men's sport. STX will launch a line of field hockey sticks in the United Kingdom in July. It paved the way for a brand that's largely unknown in Europe by signing an elite player, English Premier League field hockey player Sam Ward, to use and test the sticks, hiring a sales manager in Europe and opening a sales office in the United Kingdom.
STX, which also makes women's field hockey sticks and a line of golf putters, still relies on lacrosse for 90 percent of its sales, so moving into new sports and expanding overseas makes sense. STX has captured more than a quarter of the $50 million lacrosse stick market, outpaced only by New Balance-owned Warrior, which has nearly a third of the market, according to research firm SportsOneSource.
"The pie is only so big, so for them to grow, it's either new product categories or new geographies," said Howe Burch, president of Baltimore-based TBC Advertising. "I understand what they're trying to do, and it's not without its challenges."
STX is about halfway into a five-year plan that calls for growing in lacrosse while adding areas where the company believes it can develop innovative products, said STX President Jason Goger. Endorsements by athletes such as Moulson, Knight and Ward validate the years of research and development that goes into each new product launch, he said.
"If we know how to sell a lacrosse stick, we know how to sell a hockey stick," said Goger, adding that he sees the bigger challenge as "making sure the products are living up to our vision of empowering through performance."
As it expands, STX faces entrenched competition from rivals including Warrior, Maverik and Brine.
Plenty of companies have stumbled when trying to extend into new categories, said Burch, recalling an unsuccessful bid by Nike years ago to design skateboard shoes.
"It's tough for the mainstream guys to get into niche categories, and it may be difficult for niche brands like STX to get into bigger categories," he said. "STX is a great brand with a strong heritage in making lacrosse equipment, so I'm sure that will be to their advantage as they go into new categories. It's challenging because you have established brands operating in the category already with greater brand awareness and deeper pockets."
STX and other sports equipment makers are looking for new sources of business at a time when participation levels in team sports are declining, said Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOne Source.
"Fewer and fewer kids are playing sports, and more and more kids are electing to play just one sport," Powell said. So, "as a maker of products for just a few sports, one way to grow the business is entering into more sports."
However, ice hockey in particular is challenging, he said, because "the consumer is very loyal to the original brands."
Expanding overseas in field hockey, a sport in which STX says it already has the number one market share in the United States, made sense because of the sport's popularity elsewhere, Goger said.
STX had to develop an entirely new stick for use in the men's game, which is why signing a player of Ward's caliber to test them helped, said Ed Saunders, STX marketing director. Ward was among the top scorers in the English league.
STX will start selling the new sticks in the U.K. and eventually could expand to the Netherlands, Germany and France.
"It's a huge market and a step in the right direction," Goger said.
Goger envisions sports other than lacrosse eventually making up half the company's sales, which he would not disclose but said have grown at double digit ratess for the past seven years. Still, he does not see the expansion coming at the expense of lacrosse, the nation's fastest-growing team sport.
At its offices in an industrial part of Pigtown, STX is working on a prototype for its first-ever lacrosse helmet. A new women's lacrosse goggle developed there has been selling since last fall.
The 100-employee company is doubling the size of its research and development division.
The company recently announced deals to supply equipment to Major League Lacrosse teams for one year and to provide custom gear to Team USA for the FIL World Lacrosse Championships in July. The brand is expected to get a boost as well as the official equipment supplier of the NCAA men's and women's lacrosse championships, to be played this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium and Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, respectively.
To coincide with increased exposure at sporting events, including the winter Olympics in February and the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, STX recently unveiled a new marketing campaign: "Play Huge."
"As we grow into new markets, we have to act like a global brand," Saunders said. "It's time to take our game to the next level."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun