One-on-One With Laura St. George
In a milestone rarely reached by any companies, team sports equipment supplier Gared has been celebrating its 100th anniversary throughout 2022. To mark the occasion, Team Insight sat down with Laura St. George, VP at Gared and Executive VP and Managing Member of Gared Holdings, to talk about the history of the company, how it lives up to the policies of its founders, its role in team sports in 2022 and where the company is headed in 2023.
Team Insight: A Century of Sports is a long time — more than most other companies. To what do you attribute this longevity?
Laura St. George: From inception, the foundation of Gared has been based on innovative approaches to improve the performance of sports equipment, ultimately creating an optimal and safe play experience for athletes, coaches, facility managers and spectators. Sports equipment is the backdrop for thrilling, inspirational and devastating stories of athletic performance. As such, providing quality product that allows athletes the premier environment for success has allowed Gared to be part of the story.
Go ahead and give us the “elevator pitch” on who Gared is headed into 2023.
Gared is focused on further implementation of our mission statement — Activate spaces with quality sports equipment. Elevate the sporting experience by matching equipment needs to the level of play of the athlete, fiscal requirements and playscape. Celebrate the impact that sports have on communities and youth.
You continue to follow the guiding principles of your founder. Please explain how that impacts your way of doing business.
Passion for sport and the athlete’s experience was the established as the measurement of success for Mr. Sandeberg a century ago. Through the decades, Gared has continued to build on this solid principle, leading to continued innovations that have improved the standards of the games.
How does that translate into your products?
We continue to create product and provide services to sporting market focused on creating optimal athletic experiences for participants of all ages.
Does it include expanding beyond your core product?
While Gared’s core equipment focus continues to be on the sport of basketball, we continue to expand our footprint into volleyball, soccer, football, gymnasium, pickleball and net sport markets. We use the manufacturing standards established through the years as the base for constant innovation with focus on safety and exceeding performance standards.
Was there a certain turning point that allowed for the continued success of Gared?
There is a Michael Jordan quote that says a lot about how we approach our business: “You have competition every day because you set such high standards for yourself that you have to go out every day and live up to that.”
Explain that for us.
Gared’s legacy has set expectations for forward-thinking thought leadership. The turning points of our history are based on the demands of the athletes interacting with our equipment. As sports have become more accessible to active individuals of all ages and skill, the demand as an innovator increases. Whenever equipment does not meet the demands of premier athletes, Gared has used the opportunity to catapult into the next phase of the brand evolution and growth.
Gared has gone through some consolidation and relocation in recent years. How has that impacted your dealings with the team sports business?
Gared formally relocated our manufacturing facility from St. Louis, MO, to Indiana in 2002, followed by transforming our sales workforce to remote practice in 2013. The footprint of our manufacturing facility in Noblesville, IN, has quadrupled in size in over the past 20 years. Additionally, our onsite workforce has tripled in team member count.
Gared is one of the few female-led businesses in team sports. How does that impact the way you do business in 2023?
It has been an honor to continue the tradition of being a female leader of this organization. In fact, Gared’s division features an all-female management team with Bobbi Jones as customer care manager, Kara Oughton as marketing manager, and myself.
What would you consider Gared’s strengths as it celebrates its 100th year in business?
As ambassadors of Gared’s brand, our team is aware of the impact our predecessors have had on the evolution of basketball equipment. We are passionate about honoring our heritage by being trailblazers in the industry.
And your commitment to team dealers is part of that?
While many have turned to direct sale channels to create growth, Gared continues to support the dealer network regardless of market pressures. Our legacy has been built on the foundation of team dealer loyalty.
You also continue to sell through independent sales reps.
We are indebted to our long-standing relationship with independent sales representative groups — RBC & Associates, Mickelson Agency and Teamwork Sporting Goods Sales. Members of these organizations, along with EC Frazier & Associates, have mentored us for more than 50 years. It has a great honor to be able to celebrate their contributions at Gared’s annual Rep of the Year party every November in Las Vegas. Independent sales reps are truly unsung heroes of the team dealer channel.
Basketball has been a particular focus in Gared’s history. What are some of the innovations Gared has brought to the table over the years?
Gared’s basketball innovations are found in every professional, amateur and residential installation regardless of brand manufacturer. Our founder’s 1926 basketball rim creation is the standard anatomy on playground and in gymnasiums today. Mid-20th century, we were the first to examine the impact of climate and playscape conditions on longevity of sports equipment resulting in the rear-mount outdoor basketball system configuration. In the eighties, Gared developed the 42-inch backboard and positive lock breakaway rim, which are the current competitive requirement for NCAA, FIBA, Olympic and NBA games. We improved the fan experience with the development of the clear view portable basketball series and at-home product lines in the ’90s. Recently, understanding social responsibilities to the environment, Gared was the first to launch a virtually paperless marketing approach to reduce carbon footprint in our category. Last year, we debuted the first hybrid portable basketball system for competitive game play with a family of new portables, with a family of new portables debuting in 2023.
How would you like team dealers and their customers to view Gared as a vendor and partner?
Gared strives to be viewed as a resource for the sporting marketplace. When situations arise where we are unable to provide the product requirements, we actively attempt to connect the dealer with someone that can accomplish the facility’s vision. More importantly, being advocates of play is our passion project. We are proud of the impact our philanthropic outreach has on communities globally.
What are Gared’s goals headed into 2023 and what is it going to take to achieve them?
After a hectic couple of years due to global economies of scale, we hope that the cadence of the market begins to normalize. While the sales growth over the past couple of years has exceeded 30 percent, the unpredictability of the product needs has impacted Gared’s deliverable standards due to supply chain, shipping and workforce instability.
How are your responding to that?
Our team is striving to return to exceeding industry standards and dealer expectations in 2023. We are excited to launch our Grow with Gared campaign, which aligns with our principle of celebrating communities and promoting wellness in youth athletes.
Finally, what does Gared have planned for the next 100 years?
The Gared team hopes to continue to build on our foundation of being an influential manufacturer of equipment that exceeds athletic expectations. We look forward to passing our passion and advocacy to the next generation of brand ambassadors.