open and Schutt: NSGA Q&A with Kip meyer

By Marty Maciaszek
NSGA Director of Communications

Schutt Sports has been a big part of the sporting goods industry for more than a century. So, it was big news in December 2020 when it was part of an acquisition by Certor Sports LLC and became part of the Certor portfolio.

Schutt started manufacturing basketball hoops in 1918 in Litchfield, Illinois, about an hour northeast of St. Louis, but football is where the Schutt name is best known. It was the first company to mass produce faceguards in 1935 and began producing helmets in 1987. Schutt purchased the Adams USA brand in 2014 and high-end shoulder pad manufacturer ProGear in 2017 and it started producing products for the Department of Defense in 2018. Certor Sports also acquired the assets of high-tech football helmet startup VICIS along with Schutt, ProGear, Adams, Hollywood Bases and Tucci Bats.

Kip Meyer, the General Manager and Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Schutt, has been with the company for 12 years and he also spent 13 years at adidas. Meyer shared his thoughts on what the future holds for Schutt in this Q&A with the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA). 

Q: Please share what the changes are with Schutt Sports being acquired by Certor Sports? What led to those changes?

A: The assets of Kranos Corporation were sold and assigned to Certor Sports LLC. Certor Sports is a private corporation that owns all the intellectual property of Schutt Sports, VICIS, ProGear, and the like. The company continues unimpeded in the team sports business. Certor Sports prides itself on creating the best protective equipment in the business.

Q: How will this acquisition by and formation of Certor Sports keep Schutt poised for success?

A: The cross-pollination of technologies between Schutt Sports LLC and VICIS will keep us ahead of the competition in terms of helmet technology. Bringing the best technology is the key to our success in the marketplace. And utilizing our mass-customization platform allows us to get the customer what they want, when they want it, and at a price they can afford. Our philosophy of relentless innovation and cascading technologies throughout the product line into volume categories will serve the team sports business well. This standard of excellence puts a tremendous pressure on our engineering groups at Schutt Sports LLC and VICIS, but ensures new and exciting products into the marketplace. This will help our customers maintain and grow product margins which we know is very important in equipment sales.  

An artist's rendering of Schutt's new headquarters and manufacturing facility that is scheduled to open late fall 2021 outside Indianapolis.

Certor Sports is also making structural investments for future growth. For example, we are consolidating and moving into a completely new headquarters and manufacturing facility near Indianapolis in late fall 2021 (artist's rendering at right). This new facility will provide us efficiencies in labor and manufacturing and will help service our customers significantly better. 

Q: What are some of the misconceptions in the marketplace you would like to clear up about Schutt’s future because of all the changes? Have you seen big concerns expressed by team dealers/retailers, or perhaps consumers and end users such as teams and leagues?

A: Our customers have been great during this transition from Kranos to Certor. Yes, there were initially concerns in the marketplace concerning the direction Schutt was heading. However, after communication of the Certor acquisition of the assets of Kranos, nearly everyone was excited about the future of the Schutt Sports and VICIS brands. Together under common ownership we believe this new platform will not only enhance and strengthen innovation in the football protective market, but also enhance our ability to service our customers on a going forward basis. We are the only helmet manufacturer that sells into the team dealer network and we know the team dealer network is vital to our success as a company.

Some competitors were making claims about this that just were not true. Our competitors were misrepresenting the news regarding the sale of assets to Certor as a sales tactic, attempting to cause fear or concern with the Schutt-branded product lines. While we understand and appreciate good, honest competition we feel in far too many instances our competitors have fallen short in presenting the entire truth. All we want to do is to compete on the field of play (product versus product).  Winners talk about their own product.  I believe this is a tactic that is used when a competitor is scared about what is going to occur in the marketplace. If I were sitting in their position, I would also be worried. The combination of two significant brands and related technologies should scare every salesperson that is not carrying and selling VICIS or Schutt branded products.

Q: How will Certor Sports enhance the Schutt and VICIS brands in the marketplace?

A: Certor will now be used as a platform to launch new technologies and possible expansion into other product categories via acquisition, organic growth or potential licensing opportunities. It is great being part of an umbrella company backed by a substantial investor. The future of the company is limitless. However, in the short term we need to ensure that we perform the basics very well. We need to “block and tackle.” The products speak for themselves. 

Q: What are the percentages of Schutt/VICIS football helmets being used in the marketplace?

A: Currently we estimate that Certor, through its Schutt, VICIS and ProGear brands have products worn on approximately 35%-40% of NFL and college football players and these numbers are rapidly growing every day.  The recent launch of the VICIS ZERO2 and VICIS ZERO2 Trench helmet will quickly add to this percentage of players wearing our helmets in the marketplace. We expect that our overall market share at the NFL level will exceed 50% within the near future. 

VICIS just re-entered the market with its Zero2 and Zero2 Trench product, topping the Virginia Tech Helmet Rankings. Schutt is experiencing rapid growth at the NFL, NCAA , high school and youth levels in football helmets, football shoulder pads and football accessories. The Schutt F7 series of helmets continues to grow in popularity at all levels of play. Players love the look and comfort of the F7 helmet while coaches and administrators like the performance of the F7 helmet. The helmet passes the “mirror/cool” test and is now the helmet of choice for many players. In youth sports, Schutt continues to dominate the competition in all football-related products with the rapid growth of the youth F7 LX1 and A11 football helmets. 

ProGear shoulder pads are the fastest growing shoulder pad in the market. At the NCAA level, success stories include them being worn by Alabama Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, more than 70 players at Clemson and more than 50 players at Oklahoma. Schutt continues to drive innovation at the high school level with the recent introduction of the Pro Gear Standard shoulder pad. This shoulder pad introduces technology at a price point that is affordable at the high school level.

Q: How much did COVID-19 impact Schutt in terms of helmet production, reconditioning and innovating in products such as the Splash Shield?

A: Just like most sporting goods manufacturers, 2020 was a very difficult year. However, we believe 2020 made us a better overall company. We came together as an organization and realized that in order to survive, we had to change our selling tactics, overall marketing efforts and learn to manufacture and recondition helmets and shoulder pads in a completely different environment. In 2020, the time frame from selling a product to shipping a product was very short. The operations team did a tremendous job in manufacturing and reconditioning helmets during a shortened selling and delivery season.

In May of 2020, we were really concerned that football and all sports for that matter would not be played. We came together as a management team and thought of ways we could help get football back on the field of play sooner versus later. In one of the meetings, we realized we could help athletes and coaches if we could offer some protection for football players from harmful droplets caused by talking, sneezing and coughing in close proximity. With this idea, we created the Schutt Splash Shield. We needed sports to return and this new product helped with the thought process that football could be played in fall. The timing was perfect for teams all over the world as they were beginning to prepare for the football season. The product gave people “hope” that football would and could be played in the fall.

Q: How would you describe the partnership through Certor Sports between Schutt and VICIS and how will it impact the football community? Does it provide more opportunities for innovation?

A: Innovation is the key to our success. We are going to cross-pollinate technologies between brands and product lines. If you look back in recent history in the sporting goods equipment market, we have an opportunity that seldom occurs in this segment of the industry. We have the ability to combine the best technologies in the marketplace. These technologies were initially created in separate environments but the combination of the two will create something very special for the athlete. Our mission of designing, developing and manufacturing the highest-performing protective products in sports will help elevate the game and protect the athlete for years to come. We are currently ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the Virginia Tech Helmet Rankings. And this is just the beginning.

Q: With all these changes, how important is Schutt’s continued commitment to distributing products through Team Dealers and retailers?

A: As stated before, the team dealer market is key to our success as a company. We feel developing more technologically advanced products will help the team dealers sell more products into their existing customer base and expand their sales to new customers. Currently, Schutt represents nearly all football helmet sales sold by team dealers nationwide. Our job is to grow our overall market share, which will in turn help the team dealers. By providing football helmets, shoulder pads and equipment that is needed and wanted by the teams, it will help team dealers “own the locker room” and help sell more football and other sport category products to the school. This all should translate to more sales and margin dollars for the team dealer. 

Q: What do you see as some key tactics wholesale partners and brands can apply to maintain a strong working relationship with each other?

A: The formula for success is pretty simple: communication, communication and communication. We have positioned numerous salespeople located throughout the entire United States. When our salespeople work closely with the Team Dealer road salespeople, scheduling appointments to see high schools and youth leagues together, everyone wins. When seeing a customer, the combination of working with an expert in the equipment field and a Team Dealer road salespeople is difficult to match for any competitor. We find that our success rate is over 70% when these salespeople make a dual presentation of our products to the end consumer.

It is also important to know the “Key Timing” of when products are sold into the marketplace. Our competitors do a great job in selling football products early in the calendar year by taking advantage of the reconditioning cycle for helmets. This timing is normally from November through February. If a Team Dealer reconditions football helmets, they are first to know a possible new color, rejected helmets, additional players and other equipment needs. This leads to incremental sales of not only football helmets, but many other products being serviced by that Team Dealer (shoulder pads, shoulder pad accessories, etc…).

Q: The new VICIS ZERO2 Trench and VICIS ZERO2 just received the highest rating in the Virginia Tech football helmet STAR rankings. What are some of the key features of these helmets and when will they be available?

A: We have the Top 3 football helmets in the Virginia Tech rating system (VICIS ZERO2 Trench/VICIS ZERO2/Schutt F7LTD). No one individual company has ever accomplished this feat before and we are just starting the process. We are excited about the future and we will continue to dominate the independent ratings systems on a future basis. Some of the key features of the VICIS ZERO2 helmet are:

  • VICIS  ZERO2 TRENCH (Virginia Tech #1 rated helmet)
    • First “position-specific” helmet in the marketplace developed for the players in the box.
    • Raised corrugation and perforated venting in the deformable outer shell increases both performance and appeal
    • Thermal Plastic Urethane (TPU) reflex layer
    • Delta Pod fit system delivers the new VICIS standard for customized and secure fit without air bladders
    • Enhanced vision and sight lines
  • VICIS  ZERO2 (Virginia Tech #2 rated helmet)
    • Raised corrugation and perforated venting in the deformable outer shell increases both performance and appeal
    • Thermal Plastic Urethane (TPU) reflex layer
    • Delta Pod fit system delivers the new VICIS standard for customized and secure fit without air bladders
    • 15% lighter than the VICIS ZERO1 helmet
    • Enhanced vision and sight lines

The delivery of all sizes of the ZERO2, ZERO2 Trench and ZERO2 youth helmets is scheduled for mid- to late-April. The NFL and NCAA teams will have product available for spring football. The initial feedback from teams wearing the helmets is phenomenal. Players love the look, performance and comfort of the helmets.

Q: Schutt is best-known for football helmets, but how will the formation of Certor Sports enhance the rest of your product assortment including shoulder pads? How will it benefit other brands and products?

A: The great thing about developing new and advanced technologies is the ability to apply these technologies to other product lines. We will continue to innovate and advance football and other sports category equipment in the marketplace. We will start with helmets and apply this technology (when applicable) to other product and sport categories. Our process of launching technologies at the highest level and driving them down through lower price-point products and through other product categories in future years will keep us being the unequivocal leader in sports equipment.

Q: Why should people feel good about the future of Schutt as part of Certor Sports?

A: Our customers and end users should feel great about the future of Certor Sports. The recent Virginia Tech Helmet Rankings should give everyone comfort. We will continue to drive innovation into the marketplace across multiple sport categories. This will ultimately help our customer (sell more products at higher price points, higher margins, higher margin dollars) and help the end consumer (advancing product technology).