Seeing the Light
CEO Nick Esayian discusses the advances Light Helmets is bringing to the football market.
Light Helmets, first established in 2018 as SG Helmets, was the brainchild of former racecar driver Bill Simpson, who also founded Simpson Racing and Impact. After meeting Simpson, current Light Helmets CEO Nick Esayian and a group of partners and investors purchased the assets of SG Helmets and rebranded it as Light Helmets. The charter has always been to transition the technologies from the military, aviation and pro auto racing industries into the sports helmet space.
Toward this end, Light Helmets opened a facility in Carlsbad, CA, where it uses advanced materials to engineer its helmets and headgear. It took about a year to start rolling out products and then the pandemic hit, which slowed the sales velocity. Despite the setback, the company introduced three helmets that earned Virginia Tech’s highest Five-Star rating and the school also ranked the soft-shell SS-1 headgear No. 1 for flag football and soccer protection.
Here, Esayian discusses Light Helmets’ growth strategy.
What differentiates your product?
We saw an opportunity in the football space to really have two or three competitors. These vertical markets had never really been challenged and new materials hadn’t been brought to bear. There’s been evolutionary change, but no revolutionary change. Our goal is to bring these advanced materials on the sports field.
What is the sales pitch?
One of the big benefits is the reduction in helmet weight, which reduces kinetic energy and many impacts. We’re the first company that’s really addressed athletic performance. In some cases, we’re taking two to two-and-a-half pounds off of absolutely the worst place you can carry it.
What is your distribution strategy?
We have three pillars in terms of how we are marketing and selling. The direct channel is growing and as a new company it allows us to get our messaging out and build the brand, which supports our dealers because people will know who we are and will know more about our products. The dealer channel, which we’ve relied on since our first sales in 2018, is a critical component and the largest for us. The third pillar is a small, direct team in-house that handles inquiries from teams and leagues from areas of the country that may not have a dealer in that location.
How is Light breaking into a market where there are few manufacturers?
One of the first things we did was to put together a medical advisory board that helped us not only in the development of our products, but also in our communications and messaging with leagues, athletic trainers, equipment managers, athletic directors and coaches. We tied that together with our spokesperson, Drew Brees. We want to provide helmets and gear that [comprise] a ladder system [in which players can graduate into various models of our helmets as they advance in age and ability].
How do you convince team dealers to take a chance on a new company and product line?
Our goal is to provide a product that nobody else is offering. We offer a composite shell, we have a unique liner [influenced by] military and auto racing helmets, and the facemask weighs half of what a traditional helmet’s steel facemask weighs, but is as strong if not stronger.
What are team dealers telling you that they need and how are you responding?
The dealers are hungry for information and want to be assured that our company will be around in the future. Our answer is that this company has existed since 2011 and we’re well funded. We’re opening new retail sales channels and dealers and our momentum is in the right direction.
What is your inventory situation, when will Fall 2022 products be delivered?
We’re delivering right now. A custom order takes two to three weeks. We’re taking team orders from college all the way down to [DTC] individual orders. Everybody knows that there is a supply issue in the helmet space. Dealers want to know if we have inventory — and we do. The majority of our components are manufactured here in the U.S., and the components that are coming from overseas are lightweight enough that they can be shipped via airfreight and it’s not cost-prohibitive to us.
What are the next phases of growth for Light Helmets?
Our plan now as we grow organically is to continue in the [tackle] football space with our helmets, and also in flag football and soccer with our soft headgear. We’re in the process of developing a hockey helmet and a lacrosse helmet, and we are eventually going to move into the snow space, skate and ebike markets.