HUDSON VALLEY HOCKEY COMPANY: Dakota Catucci and Frank Vazquez, Yorktown Heights, NY
No worries about skating on thin ice for these two young entrepreneurs. Dakota Catucci, 22, of Mahopac, and Frank Vazquez, 26, of Mohegan Lake, believe in miracles (their own, the 1980 Winter Olympic hockey team’s and the 2014 New York Rangers). With its aggressive fore-checking, lightning fast breakaways and sanctioned on-ice boxing matches, hockey is three periods of pure adrenaline, and roller hockey, which the two also played as kids, are blade runners as well. Thanks to a $50,000 small business loan from Community Capital, the two friends (who met 12 years ago when Frank started dating Dakota’s sister) found a way to stick with their sports, now running a 3700-square foot emporium in a former auto parts store on Route 6, bringing new and recycled ice, roller and field hockey gear to Northern Westchester’s youth, high school and adult league teams. Now hockey Moms no longer have to face a melt-down by driving on I-95 to Connecticut for gear—the Hudson Valley Hockey Company employs the latest in technology with special heat-molded systems that in 15 minutes create blister-free new skates, and offers state-of-the-art Flat Botton V sharpening. Air-hockey and DVRs of games keep kids of all ages amused while Dakota and Frank, or one of their two employees, get their skates on—sharpening, molding, and ordering. If it’s not on the shelves, one of the benefits of patronizing these young entrepreneurs is their ability to find it online and speed it your way.
How did you get your business off the ground?
Dakota: First we drew up a business plan—I was an Entrepreneurial Studies major at Alabama. Then we went to family. We still needed a significant chuck of money. Banks looked at our age, our credit scores, and the fact that we were a total start up and said ‘No way.’ We found Community Capital’s Holly Perlowitz. She loves hockey, was a hockey Mom, and understood our business model. Location was critical. I remembered I’d been here when it was an auto parts store, right off Route 6. It’s a big space—3700 square feet—that we can grow into. We wanted a wide open space that you could literally swing a stick in. Too many sports stores are cramped.
Frank: Growing up playing hockey, and playing as adults, we knew there wasn’t another place to get gear without getting in your car for a long drive. Lakeland and Panas, Yorktown, Somers, Mahopac, Carmel, Henrik Hudson, Fox Lane, Horace Greeley, John Jay and Brewster schools are within 10 miles of our location. We did a lot of research. What really surprised me were all the hockey players not on a team, who play pick up or pond hockey. These were not the demographics we’d counted on, yet these adult players invest in quality equipment and really enjoy the sport. We also focus on roller-hockey specific sticks, blades and apparel for the recreational roller hockey player.
Dakota: Community Capital made us a $50,000 loan that made it possible for us to open. We needed inventory and working capital. The loan also gave us leverage with the landlord, who knew we were serious. He put in a new carpet and we put on a coat of white paint. The air hockey table was in my mother’s house growing up, then my uncle’s and grandfather’s, and we put the 10 year old table—and a large TV– in as something kids could play in the store while they waited. We also keep games on.
How did your business evolve?
Frank: We have multiple target clients. There are the 30-40 year olds playing in men’s and women’s hockey leagues at the Brewster ice arenas, and high school kids playing roller and ice hockey, and young kids who at 10 years old have been playing for five years. We do guerilla marketing, handing out flyers and putting up signs in local businesses to try to reach a different demographic. It’s hard for us to use traditional forms of advertising; hockey players are only .3 to .7% of the total population of the state. We’re better off targeting high school coaches, team managers, adult and youth leagues. The loan from Community Capital was critical in allowing us to buy inventory and grow our stock. We plan to carry NHL apparel for people who just want jerseys.
Dakota: Word of mouth is our best advertisement right now. We sell sticks in ways that give a new perspective on sticks because we play. We know all the intricate details. At least five new people come in every day, two of which may be for tape, but then they come back. We also sell used equipment—skate socks, elbow pads, skates, helmets—anything in good condition to encourage people to get into the game. People end up not playing hockey because of the cost. A $50 pair of used skates versus a $700 pair of skates. You grow out of your skates every half a year to two and a half years from the ages of 6 to 16. People move in and out of equipment pretty regularly.
Frank: One of our biggest money makers is our skate sharpening. We sharpened over 116 pairs of skates last month. We paid for that equipment with the loan from Community Capital. What hockey players are most discerning about is their blade. It’s critical to how they can cut and turn on the ice, and taking the time and effort to do the best possible sharpening is a big part of our business.
Dakota: There are two different types of skate sharpeners, a Flat Bottom V (www.blackstonesport.com) which shapes the skate blade in a more trapezoidal shape and helps figure skaters, and is specially designed for hockey to provide more balance, better glide, better edging and more agility. We’re the only shop in a 20-30 mile radius to offer trapezoidal skate sharpening. The Radius of Hollow (ROH) is the more traditional method of sharpening skates, a rounded arc that you’re skating on, and represents about 60% of our sharpening business.
What’s the best advice you got along the way?
Frank: From Community Capital– to keep on top of cash flow and inventory analysis. The tremendous cost of keeping a business like this up and running is figuring out what we can do to mitigate the cost of inventory, and to track how fast the equipment is moving. There are mandatory orders from sports companies, and we watch stock and order what we have to. If someone wants or needs something we don’t have, we can order anything they want. We’re willing to get any gear, any size, any brand. We’re very good at finding these things very quickly.
When did you know you’d arrived?
Dakota: We have some team sales from the Harvey School, the Bedford Bears, but need more teams. So not yet.
Frank: When I’m at the Brewster ice rink and I hear people talking about the store and our great reputation.
Dakota: In the fall we’re going to bring in more goal tending stock, all the pads and helmets, with a more expansive inventory available, and increase and expand our roller hockey gear. We’re also going to expand into field hockey and lacrosse, and carry more female apparel, like pink helmets and pelvic protectors, along with goggles, shin guards, and goalie goggles.
Contact Hudson Valley Hockey Company, 250 Mahopac Avenue, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598, 914.556.6501, www.hudsonvalleyhockey.com