If you heavily follow hockey equipment like we have since we started this business in 2015, you’ve noticed a trend in recent years. What once was known to most insiders an aficionados in the industry has changed dramatically. What is that change?
For many years, major brands made speculative runs of products for key players on pro teams in hopes that they would decide to use them in game play and provide the brand exposure to fans the company was seeking. These were the same builds of sticks offered at retail levels, with minor tweaks according to noted player preferences. Once the industry got wind of the branding success in doing this, it was expanded to the larger group of pro and college players for the same reason.
While this was happening, the products not selected by these players were dumped to discount retailers to unload and reclaim some revenue. With this practice, regular players started figuring this out and realized they could get a high-end performance hockey stick for significantly less cost than its retail counterpart. Pro stock sticks were treated as clearance products and had no warranty coverage, but the cost savings to hockey players and parents outweighed the loss of warranty. Shortages of pro stock sticks, gloves, and other products ensued as demand for the product reached far beyond the actual inventory of real pro stock equipment available.
A Branding Shift is Occurring
The major brands witnessed this and figured out that calling their flagship product “Pro” each year, significantly influenced consumer buying decisions and influenced them to spend more on their gear to get that “Pro” branding rather than purchase a less profitable lower tier product, despite the fact that the product structure had fundamentally not changed at all.
Another interesting evolution took place at the same time. Seeing this shortage of actual pro stock hockey sticks and gear, some larger brands began producing specific lines of product and selling them as pro stock, despite the fact that they never were intended to be used at a pro level in any scenario. In fact, they still do this. The power of the “Pro Stock” label branding was strong enough on the pro stock name that it didn’t really matter to what product it was attached. It was an easy way for them to grab consumer share of wallet with no added innovation.
That evolution continues with small companies following suit and today offering “Pro” and “Pro stock” hockey sticks, gloves, and more in their product lines despite the fact that there is, nor was there ever, a chance that their products would ever be used in a high-level professional game with regularity. In fact, multiple have actually name their companies as such in hopes that it will influence consumers strongly.
But real pro stocks hockey sticks are more durable right?
No. Absolutely not. For professionals, hockey stick durability is a minor concern. Stick performance is typically the only concern. A given pro stock stick's build will perform the same as it's retail counterpart in the same build. The composition of the stick doesn't change. You can read more on it here: How Hockey Sticks Flex and Why They Break
So, what are you telling me?
The build of real pro stock hockey sticks is not significantly different than the retail builds in what is offered at conventional pro shops. In fact, they’re often exactly the same. The differences come in the curve, grip, and flex point tweaks that are offered to pro players that don’t exist at the retail level.
If you like toying with your game constantly, like many of us do, you’ll probably like pro stock sticks. You'll never get the same stick twice, but you're probably fine with that if you fit this mold. Just be sure to do a ton of research on what you’re buying to figure out exactly what build and quality of stick you’re getting.
Don’t be fooled by pro or pro stock labels attached by smaller brands and hockey stick companies though. They aren’t being used at any pro level, nor will they be any time soon.
For most of us, the consistency of build, curve, flex, and grip offered at retail is a better choice so that we work on the rest of our game.