How Starting A Subscription Box For Hockey Lovers Led To A $400K/Month Sporting Goods Online Store

Published: September 24th, 2020
Drew Laine
PenaltyBox Sports
from Manila, Philippines
started November 2016
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Drew Laine here, I'm an entrepreneur and philanthropist. I’m the Founder and CEO of PenaltyBox Sports, an e-commerce and sporting goods manufacturer located just north of Boston, Massachusetts.

PenatlyBox Sports was founded back in 2016, while I was living with my wife and infant son in my in-law’s basement. It all started with (in retrospect) a split second and rather careless decision to start a subscription box company for ice hockey players, two days before Black Friday.

We had no infrastructure, no logistics, and frankly no idea what the hell we were doing, but we jumped in! Not more than a week later, we had two major hockey mom blogs call us “THE Holiday Gift for Hockey Players of 2016” and we were off to the races. Over the next six months, we saw that the idea had legs and went all in.

One of the marketing challenges that we faced as a subscription box was how to drop the acquisition cost per subscriber. After a few beers and some brainstorming, we launched a private Facebook Group for our subscribers, called Hockey Deals and Discounts. The idea was that we would invite our subscribers, ask them to add their favorite hockey friends, and then source product deals on hockey training and equipment for them. This was back in 2017 before Facebook Groups were a staple of their business strategy and it turned out to be the catalyst to where we are today. This group now has 45,000 passionate hockey parents, players, and fans in it and has become an amazing community.

We now work with small to mid-sized manufacturers and brands to take their products directly to our Community in this Group, always at a discounted price to ensure our Consumers are seeing value. Additionally, we launched our manufacturing program for training gear and apparel and a third party logistics warehousing company to service not only PenaltyBox, but many of our partners.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

When I launched PenaltyBox, I was in a very dark place. Not more than a year prior, I had shut down an extremely promising start-up in the animal health space that was my everything. A two-week-old baby, a wife who was relying on me to provide for the family and nothing to offer. I went into a depression and moved my family into the basement of my amazing in-laws. I felt like a complete failure and was completely embarrassed at where I had ended up, but knew that I still had something in me. I knew there was more in my tank.

The biggest difference between those who make it and those who don’t is GRIT and discipline. Do the little things every day and like drops in a bucket, you will make progress towards your goals.

The idea came while sitting with my business partner on a Friday afternoon. We also own a software development firm and wanted to shake things up and start something new. He had just received a Bark Box for his dogs in the mail and the idea popped. Why not a subscription box for hockey players? We know the sport, there are a ton of consumables and it’s a passion of ours. The idea took back burner for the next few weeks, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and decided to just do it.

I built the website in 24 hours and launched on the 30th hour, on the Tuesday before Black Friday. I didn’t really “tell” my business partner until it was live, it was quite a conversation, but he eventually backed it.

It was the morning after the first Hockey Mom blog post went live and I woke up to an inbox full of order emails that I knew we had something. We had to scramble over the next few weeks, but we made it happen.

Why hockey? Hockey runs in my family’s blood. We grew up playing and loved everything about the sport, including what we now call the Hockey Family or Hockey Community. Those who know the sport understand that it’s a different type of bond not only with players and coaches but families as well. Everything started to click and the fire in my heart was fueled knowing that I would not let my family down again.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

We went live two days before Black Friday and guaranteed that we would ship our first box in time for Christmas. This didn’t exactly give us a lot of time to pull together a company, figure out shipping materials, logistics, or even product for that matter. It was a hectic two weeks, but we made it happen.

Since that time, we’ve worked with nearly every hockey company in the space, not only for the Subscription Box but for the e-commerce business. With a 12,000 square foot warehouse we now have the facilities and technology to not only service our own business, but to provide pick, pack, and shipping services for a portfolio of other sporting goods companies.



Describe the process of launching the business.

We bootstrapped the business from day one. We had a credit card that was maxed out almost monthly, but we put our heads down and made it work.

As entrepreneurs, we tend to think we can do everything and as such take on too much responsibility. While necessary at some stages, you are much better off bringing on a team that fills your voids, trust me!

On the technology side, we were lucky to have a technology company as well, so we were able to stay ahead of the curve.

The biggest take away from this whole experience is that massive action will always win. You may not always get the result you are looking for, but taking action and doing will always get you closer to your goals. Jump in and do it!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

As of today, we purchase very little media to acquire customers. Through our Facebook community, we have been very successful at growing targeted email and text lists and the group itself is a direct, immediate impact channel. I would suggest EVERY business to start your own Facebook Community.

As for retention, we are a community-first company that simplifies everything. If a deal or product is not up to snuff, we don’t use it, we don’t sell it.

This also means that our interactions with our customers are always transparent and true. If a mistake is made, we own it and do our best to make it right. It’s not always perfect, but we try our damndest.

One of the most successful retention strategies we have is to place a handwritten note from someone in the company in every shipment. This gives a personal feel to every order.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are profitable and investing heavily in growth during the COVID Pandemic, product development, partnerships, and acquisitions.

Over the past six months, we have acquired three single product brands - SKABoots, a walkable skate guard, ODORGladiator a sports odor guard, and HockeyTUL a multi-tool for hockey players. All products fit our portfolio well and we look forward to expanding each brand.

Through our fulfillment facility and investment into fulfillment software, we have also positioned ourselves to grow the third-party logistics portion of the company. We currently have ten brands that we “pick and pack” for and have another fifteen ready to onboard over the next six months. We are praying we don’t outgrow our new warehouse!

The key to our success has been our ability to keep CAC to a minimum. We rarely run ads and have been able to grow organically through multiple Facebook Groups and partnerships.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Every stage of the company has been an adventure of mistakes and learnings. From poorly drawn contracts (always have strong contracts!) to trusting handshakes and relationships, giving too much information too soon, it has been an adventure.

The biggest take away from the last few years is to align yourself with a team that compliments each other's weaknesses. As entrepreneurs, we tend to think we can do everything and as such take on too much responsibility and this is when things start to fail. Self audit yourself and go find experts in your weaknesses.

Early on in the company, I would enjoy being the one person who marketed, did the finance, fulfilled packages, swept the floors, and refilled the water. While necessary at some stages, you are much better off bringing on a team that fills your voids - trust me! Had I opened my eyes to this, we may be much further along or do it in a much faster way.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

For our E-Commerce, we utilize Shopify for all of our brands. We find that the flexibility of the platform and multiple available apps make any integration or add on easily.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

David Goggins’ Can’t Hurt Me. This book showed me that anything is possible, despite your past.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

No one, I don’t care who you are, where you are coming from, what you are or have been through, you are never out of the fight. I was suicidal, depressed, and living in my in-laws’ basement and it took ONE moment to turn things around. We now have one of the fastest-growing sports companies in the country and have massive goals to continue growing our community-based company.

The biggest difference between those who make it and those who don’t is GRIT and discipline. Do the little things every day and like drops in a bucket, you will make progress towards your goals.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!