Eight years ago, Brian’s Custom Sports occupied a vastly different space than the one they currently hold. A hockey goalie equipment manufacturer, Brian’s was known as a custom graphic company. They made high end equipment, but customers were drawn to the custom designs they could put on the pads, rather than the specifications of the gear itself. Brian’s changed the game in 2008 when they did something no other company was doing at the time, they created a Facebook page. The introduction of this page not only gave the company a massive new following, but also started them down the path of becoming the leader in technological innovation. Brian’s used there social media reach to innovate products for the high and low end markets.
When speaking of high end custom goalie equipment, Brian’s was often the first brand name that people thought of. Brian’s started their Facebook page to show off the beautiful one-of-a-kind gear they created. It was a perfect match. Customers wanted to see what was possible and Brian’s wanted exposure. It quickly became a valuable resource for the company to discover what customers wanted in a piece of equipment. Brian’s occupied a niche of custom designed pads, but they wanted to grow their business into a more mainstream role. Chris Joswiak of Brian’s spoke of this in a brief interview.
A little over seven years ago we created the Brian’s Facebook page. We were the first goalie brand to join Facebook and post pictures of our equipment on social media. Quickly, we started receiving a following and the insights we were receiving on the equipment designs and graphics were very helpful and definitely impacted our research and development process. At that time we were known for two things, lightweight goalie equipment and custom designs. We could identify on Facebook that consumers were craving more innovation and even lighter pads. Due to this demand, we brainstormed and were able to come up with ideas such as the Smart Strap system.
Listening to the consumers online, Brian’s created a revolutionary new pad called the Subzero, which was the lightest pad ever released and featured a new strap system. Beautifully designed the pad took the goalie world by storm and quickly positioned Brian’s as one of the top manufacturers in the industry. If customers liked some new features but wanted something else added, Brian’s was at its core still a small custom company, and could accommodate. With their new found position near the top of the high end market, Brian’s didn’t stop innovating. They kept their ear to social media and figured out what people liked and disliked about their new equipment. This allowed Brian’s to cut costs, by getting their information online, rather than travelling to meet goalies all over the world. When asked if the company had ever seen something mentioned on social media that they would like to add to their equipment, Brian’s had this to say.
Not so much an exact idea to implement on our gear, but more so tweak or delete. In past years we were able to see that goalies were looking to widen or take away the knee cradle to make room for knee pads. More recently, through social media, we realized that we needed to make some improvements on our Smart Toe strap. Every day we analyze every comment and message on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and corresponding forums/groups. Less trips needed to speak to consumers and retailers.
When it came to the lower end market, Brian’s still improved their products using social media. A huge complaint that consumers had was how they couldn’t afford to invest a lot of money on pads that matched their team’s uniforms, because they might be on a new team the next year. The trend in the industry began to shift to completely white coloured pads. Consumers could use their gear over multiple seasons and never look out of place. While this solved a problem, consumers were unhappy because plain white pads have a very dull appearance. Most goalies regardless of income would love to have custom coloured equipment and while some things are impossible to offer at a lower price point, the company came up with a very good solution. Brian’s employed effective social media monitoring and innovated with their Net Zero series. Net Zero is a series of gear that is all white, but comes with packages of adhesive material to change individual colour zones on the pad. After a long research and development process, Brian’s released this line and solved a huge problem that consumers had been complaining about for years. Other companies had tried to solve this problem in the past, but a common complaint was the adhesive pieces only sat on top of the pad and came off easily. Brian’s identified this problem and recessed their designs, allowing the stick-on piece to lie flat. While everyone would like to save money, Brian’s noticed that this feature was much more beneficial to the lower level goalies who used the same set of pads over multiple seasons. They created the Net Zero for this demographic and kept their higher end line separate. These two lines of equipment removed a barrier to entry and gave every level of customer access to custom colour schemes. Brian’s noted this and commented about what the main complaint they heard from customers in the past.
The biggest complaint with any brand is when the design resembles something else already on the market or when it looks like there are not many customization options available to the user. So our goal is always to create something aesthetically pleasing, unique to the market, and offer a wide range of customization. We would like to think that every year our designs are improving, much in part to social media and the comments the consumers provide.
Lessons for Others
Other companies could learn a lot from Brian’s social media strategy. In just a few years they vaulted from a niche company, to a major player in the hockey equipment industry. Listening to customers using social media allowed them to discover what customers wanted long before the bigger companies. Once the information was gathered the research and development team worked diligently to complete the task. Organizations in any industry should look to Brian’s habit of keeping an eye on the community as an example of how to innovate. Brian’s commitment to delivering on customer requests has allowed one of the smallest goalie equipment manufacturers to claim a spot near the top of a massive industry.
Brian's Custom Sports
Name of Organization Contact: Chris Joswiak
Authored by: Jamie Hilts
If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.
Carr, P. (2016, October 10). Product Development. Retrieved September 10, 2016, from https://learn.uwaterloo.ca/content/enforced/262660-CE-SMBP100_001_cel_1169/lecture-content/week4.html?ou=262660
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Joswiak, C. (2008, January 1) Brian’s Facebook Page. Retrieved October 17, 2016 from https://www.facebook.com/goaliesonly/?fref=ts