Whitefish soccer company finds global success
By PEREGRINE FRISSELL
Daily Inter Lake
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) _ One local company has found a market niche in a place many don't even think to look: under other people's socks.
Legend Soccer Co., based in Whitefish, manufactures and sells specialty shin guards for soccer players. They made their debut several years back but have recently seen their business increase sizably.
Sean Person and Roland Benedict founded Legend Soccer Co. back in 2014 and are now shipping shin guards all over the world, including to clubs in Europe and the United States that play at an extremely high level.
Their special, ultra-light bamboo shin guards were made here in Montana during an earlier development phase, but as they've perfected the design, they've begun to use a manufacturer with facilities in Grand Rapids, Michigan to keep up with demand.
The two men chose bamboo as a primary material for both environmental and engineering reasons. The plant is a renewable resource that converts carbon dioxide to oxygen at a higher rate than many other trees. It also more than holds up to the stresses that shin guards are put through _ namely, people kicking other people in the shins.
``That's really kind of a big part of our mission, to produce products that are responsible, socially responsible,'' Person said. ``That was a big push for these guards. Most products in the soccer industry and sportswear are plastic. It's outsourced. We really stand behind it being made in the U.S. from sustainable materials.''
The shin guards are sustainably sourced, but they are also aesthetically pleasing. The minimalist design measures just seven inches long and three inches wide; for a little extra they can come with customized engraving for specific teams, players or tournaments.
``It's a design that we've found is a shin guard that we always wanted,'' Person said. ``It's smaller, it's lighter weight, it's lower profile, and I think one of the obvious characteristics of it is it's made from bamboo, a sustainable material. '
They credit the recent uptick in sales to two things. First, they received a lot of help from local agencies oriented around providing resources for small businesses, like the Montana West Economic Development. Through that organization they gained valuable experience pitching the project to investors and found invaluable local mentors.
They also got some help from Export Montana, an organization that helps small manufacturers in Montana with products that may have overseas appeal connect with international consumers.
Second, they're growing in popularity, and as time goes by and more and more people are wearing and talking about their shin guards. They have made a concerted effort to gain exposure by attending conferences for the soccer industry and getting their product on the shins of local club players.
The reaction has been validating, and proved they have a product that appeals to the masses _ so long as they can get the masses to know they exist.
The guards sell online for $59.00, and include a pair of sleeves that soccer players use to help keep the guards in the correct position on their shins. They come in one size meant for players 13 and up and have a yearlong satisfaction guarantee. They are manufactured in Michigan, but are all shipped out of a center in Whitefish.
As of now, Benedict and Person are the only two employees that dedicate the bulk of their working hours to the business, but they said when they experience a high volume of orders they do hire people as needed to help out.
Both men have also been involved with coaching in the Whitefish High School soccer program for many years. Person has been an assistant with the boys program for eight years while Benedict has been head coach of the girls program for the past four years and an assistant with both teams for the three years prior to that.
Information from: Daily Inter Lake, http://www.dailyinterlake.com
By The Associated Press, Copyright 2018