The 'little guy' takes it in the teeth: United Sports Brands and its Shock Doctor mouthguards want a bite of youth sports
Circling the court in his gold and blue jersey, Golden State’s Stephen Curry is often seen biting down on a piece of plastic.
The basketball star is known for sinking his teeth into his mouthguard and although it’s a tiny piece of plastic, Tony Armand, chief executive of United Sports Brands in Fountain Valley, argues it is one of the most important pieces of equipment in sports today.
United Sports owns and operates Shock Doctor, an international mouthguard company. In June, Shock Doctor became the official mouthguard provider of the NBA, WNBA, Jr. NBA, USA Basketball and NBA D-League.
Two Shock Doctor-endorsed athletes are on the U.S. Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro: Harrison Barnes and DeMarcus Cousins wore Shock Doctor mouthguards during the Games.
Shock Doctor owns 20 mouthguard patents, including flavored mouthguards. The company, founded more than 20 years ago, operates under United Sports Brand.
Through the Shock Doctor website, consumers can buy mouthguards in a wide range of colors, materials and protection levels. Made with medical-grade silicone for users perfecting their smiles, the double braces mouthguard conforms to the teeth and mouth and retails for around $25. The brand also makes low-profile lipguards, breathable mouthguards and mouthguards designed to absorb shock.
In 2016, United Sports Brands anticipates it will make $170 million in revenue. According to the company, it sells more than 5 million mouthguards each year and expects to grow 10 percent to 15 percent in 2017.
EXPANDING THE BRAND
Americans spend a lot of money on their perfect smiles, sinking roughly $113 billion a year on dental care, according to the American Dental Association.
We also damage those pearly whites while tussling for the ball.
A 10-year study by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry followed 3,385 children who suffered mouth trauma, 31.9 percent of which occurred during sports activities. The American Academy of Dentists recommends properly fitted mouthguards for anyone who participate in team sports or activities.
In the past few years, an influx of basketball players have chosen to wear mouthguards, according to Armand.
Originally from Huntington Beach and a UCLA fan, Armand was the chief executive of Bravo Sports, a recreational and outdoor goods company, for five years before taking the helm at United Sports Brands in 2015.
“Basketball has become a very physical sport, not just at the NBA level but at the youth level as well. While 50 percent of NBA players use a mouthguard, only 5 percent of youth basketball players wear mouthguards,” he added. “That number is growing very rapidly, and we expect it to grow like the NBA has grown as they see their heroes like Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins or Harrison Barnes wearing mouthguards.”
In addition to Shock Doctor, United Sports Brands also owns four other sporting goods companies. Nathan sells running hydration gear and visibility products. XO Athletic sells sports protection products, and Cutters manufactures grip gloves used in football and baseball. McDavid designs and retails sports medicine and protection products as well as performance apparel.
With more than 50 factories worldwide, United Sports Brands’ retail products are in 65 countries around the globe. The Fountain Valley headquarters has 70 employees and plans to hire more before the end of the year. The company also has offices in Japan, Belguim, Canada, Philadelphia, Vermont, Minnesota and beyond with more than 100 employees.
Recently, Armand sat down to discuss teeth, athlete sponsorships and the future of sports retail. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q. What is the significance of athletes of all ages wearing mouthguards?
A. I have two boys. One is 10 years old and he’s playing youth basketball. If I can fully prevent that if my kid takes an elbow to the mouth and loses two teeth and has to have fake teeth for the rest of his life, why wouldn’t I spend $20 on a piece of equipment that can prevent that from happening? That’s something he’d have to live with for the rest of his life.
Q. Do you guarantee that Shock Doctor mouthguards will protect the teeth?
A. With every mouthguard, we (include) a $20,000 or $30,000 dental warranty. We will insure every tooth in your mouth if something happens. We’ve been in this business for 20 years, and we sell many millions of mouthguards every year. We get, on average, three to four claims a year under this policy.
Q. Was your company affected by the closure of Sports Chalet and Sports Authority?
A. Definitely. In both of those cases we were named as one of the top 20 vendors in terms of what we were owed, and that’s disappointing. It’s been a shock to the industry, for sure. I think for some businesses and brands, it’s going to be a tough go. We are very fortunate to be a well-financed, profitable and growing business, so we’ll be fine.
Q. How are you making up for those losses?
A. We’ve really redoubled our efforts in social media and e-commerce. Online retail is changing how people shop, how people view your brands. It’s a challenge to stay up to speed on how consumers are thinking and how they are reviewing products.
Q. Does United Sports Brands sponsor athletes?
A. We work with high-end basketball players like DeMarcus Cousins and Harrison Barnes. In football, we work with Jamal Charles, who is widely considered the best running back in the world. We work with many more players, too.
Q. How are those relationships formed?
A. They’re guys who have already been using our products and we use them to help us. We give them products that are not even on the market yet and have them put it through the ringer and give us feedback.
Q. Do you hope to sponsor more athletes in the future?
A. Look, we are not Nike. In the NFL, there are about 1,600 active players on NFL rosters, and Nike has contracts with about 1,300 of them. They have a lot of contracts. That’s never going to be us. We are the little guy. Our Cutters business is a great example. We are the small, scrappy guy. We have endorsement agreements with eight guys but 80 are using our product.
Q. Who specifically is using the Cutters gloves?
A. We have a guy called Anquan Boldin, one of the best wide receivers in the game. He used Cutters for the first six years of his career without receiving a penny from us. Over time, Anquan got 10 other guys using Cutters because they’d ask him about his gloves.
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Source: OC Register