I’ve had the chance to correspond with a handful of hockey personalities this summer. People tapped into the industry working for companies like CCM and Warrior. I also had a very unique opportunity to do a Q&A with Ron Kunisaki, one of the founders of BASE Hockey.
If you haven’t heard of BASE, don’t worry. They’re a stick manufacturer who doesn’t bother trying to run with the bigger name companies in terms of marketing or endorsements. Instead, they put their money where their mouth is. Ask anyone who has used their products – there are way more guys out there than you’d think – you won’t hear a bad thing about them. Check out the Q&A below and then check out BASE Hockey.ca to see their entire product line.
Q: Mind giving a little more history about BASE? Just talking a bit about how you got started, the products you produce and your general mission?
Ron Kunisaki: The inspiration for BASE Hockey was borne out of a conversation between Cliff Ronning, Al Iafrate , Holmes Ghassemi and myself in early 2010. As veterans of the hockey stick business and the NHL, we recognized the need to bring to amateurs the shooting evaluation and stick customization offered to NHLers. Cliff is almost autistic with his trained eye, memory and stick spec expertise. Al understands shooting mechanics better than anyone. Combine these unique talents with their NHL career and experience as NHL Pro Reps, and you can understand why their career paths merged into BASE.
We developed proprietary software, hardware and protocol using high speed video to analyze a player’s shot and identify a player’s optimal flex, curve and lie. We then built our own stick factory in Tijuana, Mexico and our first Fitting Center in Vancouver. Simply put, we built from scratch the ability to deliver to amateurs the high-end analysis and custom sticks provided to NHLers.
With the design team, manufacturing plant and retail fitting center built in 2010, BASE began providing custom stick fittings, instruction and custom sticks in 2011. In addition to improving your game, all of our sticks are sold factory-direct to customers to keep pricing low.
Q: What’s behind the name BASE? Is there a secret behind why you guys chose that name?
RK: We felt the name ‘BASE’ symbolized our new approach to selling hockey sticks, i.e. the foundation of your stick decision should be based upon what improves your performance, i.e. optimal stick specs and better technique.
Q: One thing that is consistently said about BASE is the quality of the product. What is it that you guys do that sets you apart? Don’t be shy with the answer, either.
RK: All businesses have to allocate resources according to priorities. All of our competitors allocate substantial resources to brand marketing, advertising and overhead. To offset these profit margin eaters, our competitors spend less on their materials and manufacturing. Simply put, our competitors cannot afford to use the quality of graphite and precision-manufacturing disciplines that BASE uses. BASE is 100% a Grass Roots company that has very little overhead and spends essentially nothing on advertising and brand marketing. All of our dollars go into product perfection, properly fitting our customers and shooting instruction. At the end of the day, the optimal stick specs combined with an NHL-caliber stick and improved shooting technique scores more points.
Q: Would you say that certain manufacturers sticks pull from what you guys do?
RK: Yes, we have seen other manufacturers try to minimize us since we are a Grass Roots company, all the while copying many of our designs. However, in the end what trumps all is the business trade-offs our competitors have to make by sacrificing quality, performance, consistency and durability for their high costs of advertising, marketing and business overhead.
Q: Of your full product line, what is the stick that you’re most proud of – or, which stick would you stack up against any of the major manufacturers sticks?
RK: The Savoy was our first stick. We still believe it is the best all-around stick ever made. Mike Gartner is a hall of famer and very stick savvy. After trying the Savoy, he said that some sticks may have one feature that out-performed the Savoy; however, the Savoy combined all of the important performance features (flex, kick, puck feel, snap, receiving passes, balance, etc.) better than any stick he had ever played.
We recently introduced the SuperNatural for the highly skilled players that need a little more from their stick. Sergei Gonchar, Jared Cowen, Alex Kovalev and Richard Park are recent converts to the SuperNatural. We stiffened the blade and lowered the torque of the blade to handle more toe loading on the shot. This allows the blade to not distort during the shot, keeping the stick on line and not losing energy. This translates to a harder and more accurate shot. To offset the harshness caused by the stiffer blade and lower torque, we moved the kickpoint up to absorb more vibration. This makes the SuperNatural great at receiving passes. Then, we added polar fibre on the outer layer to increase the vibration up the shaft ever so slightly, which leads to incredible puck feel.
For accuracy, maximum shaft kick and release, easy puck reception, puck feel and durability, we do not believe there is a better stick than the SuperNatural.
Q: One thing I’ve always been curious about is how companies decide what to call a product. For example, the SuperNatural. What led you guys to choose that name and the names for your other sticks?
RK: The Savoy was inspired by the movie The Natural, i.e. the Savoy Special. The SuperNatural was the result of combining the natural feel of our stick with some ‘super’ qualities. It sounded simple, descriptive and catchy. No real science. Just a great gut call.
Q: I know BASE has found it’s way into the hands of many professionals, are you able to share how many NHLers are using your sticks currently? How many other professionals worldwide choose BASE?
RK: Unlike our competitors, not only do we not pay NHLers, we do not actively pursue NHLers. Our focus has been to help amateurs. However, the word has gotten around and we were asked last year by a few NHLers to provide a Shooting Analysis, custom stick fitting and custom sticks. These players include Sergei Gonchar and Jared Cowen. This summer, we have worked with a few more NHLers. As for Europe, both Alex Kovalev and Richard Park use BASE. We will continue next season with no pro reps and no solicitation of NHLers.
Q: BASE is a company that you hear hockey guys talk about here and there, but it seems to be largely unknown by most. Is that something you guys battle to dispel?
RK: No. We understand that a grass roots company focuses on one player at a time. We let the quality of our sticks along with the phenomenal experience of our custom stick fittings and instruction build the momentum. In a little over 2 years, BASE has in excess of 16,000 customers and has done shooting and stick consulting for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators. We focus on improving your performance, word of mouth. We know the brand will earn its own place at the right time. Plus, in today’s world , word travels fast…especially in small communities like hockey.
Q: Is having such a strong professional backing helpful in proving the quality of the product?
RK: The BASE Team is unusual in its stick design and manufacturing expertise combined with shooting analysis and NHL expertise. We are the only company that is vertically integrated and owns everything from design, to fittings to customer interface. We own everything. We do not subcontract anything. This unique collection of experts is what allows BASE to do what others cannot.
Q: I know the NHL equipment fee is substantial and keeps many brands from advertising with their professional clients. Is that a difficult pill to swallow for you guys?
RK: No. We do not consider brand marketing or brand building a worthy business strategy. We are not in the business of building an image and filling the pipeline with the same China-made product. We know that great product and services will earn us the business we want. Let others spend their money on NHL marketing and have to take these costs out of the quality/consistency of their product or the level of their service.
Q: What is the strangest request that you’ve received from an NHLer?
RK: Can’t think of one. NHLers know what performance keeps them in the game and they look to experts to deliver products that will help them. So all requests are challenging and rewarding.
Q: Would you say there was one professional you had the most fun working with? Why?
RK: I can honestly say that every NHLer has treated me with the upmost respect. They have all been very humble and polite. A few have been extra special. Alex Kovalev and I kind of grew up in the business together. He has always been a special friend. Sergei Fedorov was also special. After the season ended, he would always call up and thanks us for all of our hard work.
Q: Going back to the question on the number of pros using BASE currently, do you expect to see that number rise for this season?
RK: Yes. We continue to get calls. We have no interest in just making samples for NHLers. Our protocol is that we require a full day to do a shooting analysis and custom fitting. If they don’t see the light, we don’t waste our time. We know the word is getting out and we will have more NHLers this coming season.
Q: Do you plan on branching out into any other aspects of gear development?
RK: Yes. We have been working on a glove that we can customize like our sticks. We expect to launch our initial marketing test soon.
Q: What might be next for you guys in terms of new sticks and products?
RK: Our main focus will always be sticks. We have our line plan of stick features for the next 3 years already set. Having fine-tuned sticks for NHLers over the past 20 years, we understand the details that will continue to drive improved performance in your shot and stick handling.
For ordering information, contact Dirk Balow