Case Study #1
Swannys makes custom sports accessories, including braided necklaces, bracelets, lanyards and key chains. In less than five years, the Minnesota-based company has gone from inception in a local ice rink to the national arena.
Swannys products are popular with hockey, football, baseball and lacrosse players of all ages, from school age kids to retirees, from amateurs to professional hockey players. Personalization is a big part of Swannys appeal; customers can customize Swannys accessories with their favorite colors and sports team logos.
The idea for Swannys dates back to 1999 when Pete Swanson, nicknamed “Swanny” by his friends, was in high school. A hockey player and enthusiast, Pete wanted to do something with his old skate laces after one of his high school hockey games. He ended up creating the prototype of the braided necklace that is now being sold all over the country.
After his friends and teammates saw what he had made, they asked “Swanny” to make one for them so that they, too, could display their love of the game. Hand crafting hockey lace necklaces quickly became a time-consuming hobby for the busy high school student, but the young entrepreneur realized he was onto something highly marketable.
Ownership and Mentorship
What was once a word-of-mouth business quickly blossomed into a fast-paced company with a growing product line and an expanding distributor list. But like any start-up business, there were many challenges that had to be addressed along the way.
Pete sold his first Swannys braided hockey skate necklaces at the Midwest hockey tradeshow in 2008. In the first couple of years, Swannys only offered necklaces made with premium hockey skate lace and polyester athletic lace. In 2010, Swannys expanded its product line to include braided bracelets, lanyards and key chains, made from these same materials.
Like many young entrepreneurs, Pete needed some expert advice and encouragement to help his fledgling business grow. In 2011, Pete asked Rylee Meek to help him take Swannys production out of his basement and into the national arena.
First, Rylee and his team helped secure a manufacturing partner for Swannys products, enabling Pete to concentrate on other aspects of his growing business.
Next, Rylee and his team helped Pete organize the back end of his business, creating an electronic filing system with SKU numbers and UPC codes for every style and size of Swannys products. Rylee also helped Pete create a more professional image for Swannys website and online store as well as the brochures and product tags.
In addition to this tangible support, Rylee also offered Pete the encouragement and motivation he needed to make the transition from a basement-based cottage industry to the “big ice.”
The next big step was to secure a national distribution partner for Swannys in the U.S. and Canada. Their targets were small specialty stores – “mom and pop” stores, but they also set their sights on major retail hockey outlets.
Their retail strategy paid off big-time in January 2013, when Swannys was awarded the official license contract for the National Hockey League (NHL).
Now, hundreds of retailers all across the U.S. and Canada, including NHL team pro shops and hockey arenas, carry Swannys products. Distribution of Swannys products continues to grow rapidly; at the last count, there were about 450 distributors.
Pete says he would have never guessed his pastime would evolve into a successful business. “I’ve always believed in hard work, following my dreams and never giving up,” he said. “I believe in these values more than ever after celebrating five years in business. It’s a dream come true.”
Pete is dedicated to giving back to his community and donates Swannys products for silent auctions held by Twin Cities area youth hockey programs and associations including the Jack Lablonski Fund, Hope Chest for Breast Cancer, and Defending the Blue Line.