Stauber sports store goes all-hockey
For its 25 years in business. Stauber Brothers Pro Shop & Custom Apparel in Duluth has offered a full line of sporting goods.
But its owners — five brothers from a renowned hockey family — are the first to admit that sports like soccer and baseball are not their forte.
"Hockey has always been our strong suit," said Jamie Stauber who owns the business with his brothers John, Pete, Robb and Bill. All played hockey at Denfeld High School during the late 1970s to mid-1980s. All went on to coach at the youth, high school or college level. Jamie is assistant coach of the University of Wisconsin-Superior women's hockey team; Robb is assistant coach for the U.S. national women's hockey team.
"They don't like or love hockey, they live hockey," said longtime customer Scott Pionk of Hermantown. "It's in their family DNA. You're going to get professional expertise with skate sharpening, stick selection and equipment, and it's a great location."
The Stauber brothers opened their sporting goods store in 1990 at Burning Tree Plaza, moving it in 1995 to a 3,200-square-foot building they built at the corner of Maple Grove and Haines roads. Over the years, the store has faced the usual competition from other stores. The opening of Dunham's Sports had an impact, so has the Internet. But it was the opening of Dick's Sporting Goods at Miller Hill Mall in 2013 that really hurt them.
Their growing hockey business wasn't affected, but sales of other sports equipment and apparel plummeted 40 percent, Jamie Stauber said.
"It forced us to look at our strategic plan," said his brother, John. "It's pretty tough to compete with big box stores."
So the siblings looked at their business model. They considered their competition. They asked: What can we do to set ourselves apart?
It was clear what they did best — hockey.
The result is a changed business strategy. A new name. A new focus. A new look.
After completing a shift to an all-hockey venue, the store changes its name Monday to the Duluth Hockey Company. An interior remodel, which started three weeks ago, is nearly complete. An exterior remodel, giving the building a new lodge look, will follow next spring.
"We're upgrading big time," said Jamie Stauber, serving as the store spokesman. And their investment? Substantial, he says.
With the changes, the store will be the only hockey-focused store in the Northland.
But there's more.
They have struck deals with the Minnesota Wild Hockey Lodge and UMD Stores to sell their hockey teams' branded apparel and gift items at the Stauber store.
The Minnesota Wild sells its branded product line — including jerseys, sweatshirts, hats, t-shirts and playing gear — only at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and at two Minnesota Wild Hockey Lodge stores in the Twin Cities area.
With the Staubers' partnership with Minnesota Wild Hockey Lodge, their store becomes the only retailer in northern Minnesota carrying official Wild apparel. And with their partnership with the UMD Stores, it becomes the first local sporting goods store to sell Bulldog merchandise, Jamie Stauber said.
"So this is huge," he said.
"Now, under one roof, customers can get Minnesota Wild and Bulldog hockey products and the top three industry vendor products — Bauer, Easton and CCM," he said.
Yet another possible partnership is in the works with one of those three leading brands. It's all part of a new strategy to create mutually beneficial hockey partnerships.
"We increase traffic flow into our business while helping them brand their products," he said.
Wild, Bulldog deals
It was Jamie Stauber who approached the Minnesota Wild Hockey Lodge and UMD Stores about selling their products.
"Minnesota Wild don't really have anything up North," Stauber said. "When I sat down with their executives in December, they thought it would be a real good idea to test the market up here."
In the resulting agreement, the Minnesota Wild Hockey Lodge gets a portion of the sales and the Stauber store gets more customers to the store.
"It's financially beneficial to both, a true business partnership," he said.
The partnership with the Wild Hockey Lodge is why the exterior of Duluth Hockey Company will get a lodge look when it is remodeled next spring. The building will get new steel siding, with decorative accents and shakes that look like wood.
In June, Stauber approached UMD Stores, seeking a similar arrangement. At that time, UMD Bulldog products were only sold on campus and at Amsoil Arena where the UMD hockey teams play.
Teaming up with a local retailer, especially one that was a big part of the community and has ties to UMD, fit in with the university's community outreach goals, said Jeff Romano, director of UMD Stores. He noted that Stauber's daughter, Emma, was senior captain of UMD's women's hockey team last year.
"It's another way to get UMD merchandise out," Romano said of the arrangement. "We looked at it as a win-win, an opportunity."
In the consignment agreement, UMD owns the merchandise and sets up its display at the store, but Duluth Hockey Company sells it. Then they settle up at the end of each month, he said.
Like with the Minnesota Wild Hockey Lodge, the UMD agreement is for a year. At that point the agreements can be renewed for another year.
A regional draw
The Staubers want their store to be the regional go-to place for hockey equipment and apparel.
The store's reach, however, already extends beyond the Twin Ports. It's where the Virginia High School hockey team, which includes players from Mountain Iron and Buhl, outfits its players with helmets, pants, gloves and jerseys.
"Every year we have to bid out at least three different quotes for families," said Reed Larson, the team's head hockey coach. "They come down with the best prices every year."
But it's more than that.
"The quality of the equipment is phenomenal," he said. "But their customer service is second to none. They will do anything they can for me and my hockey team."
That customer service includes its growing custom sewing department where embroidery is still done and patches for teams, clubs, businesses, police and military are sewn on apparel.
While the business' retail shift to all hockey made sense, giving up the store's family name for the new Duluth Hockey Company name was tough but necessary, the Staubers say.
"It becomes more of a regional branding of our company versus a family branding," Jamie Stauber said.
Moreover, he says, it makes sense since they work with so many hockey groups from outside the Twin Ports.
"Duluth is known for its hockey," he said. "The new name resonated better for them."
Pionk, a frequent customer with four sons playing hockey, is all for the store's new all-hockey format.
"We may very well be the Duluth Area Hockey Town, USA," he said. "A lot of places make that claim but we have more to crow about here than any other city in the United States. Them going strictly hockey makes for a better venue. We have camps, leagues for kids, summer teams, winter teams. ... This just adds to the smorgasbord."