Southgate v Oxted – Men’s Hockey League Division 1 South at Trent Park, London, , England on 15 March 2020. Photo by Simon Parker/SP Action Images

A new feature this week, celebrating SHC members who also run small businesses. It’s been a challenging year for many- but we wanted to celebrate our members who have got out there and found way through. To start us off this week we feature our current M1 goalkeeper Chris Rea and shine a light on his business Y1 which is one of the leading and fastest growing hockey brands. From his time on Dragons Den, to what makes a great hockey stick to sponsoring GB players as well as his passion for all things SHC. This is a fascinating interview.

Chris can you tell us a bit more about how you came into the business of making hockey sticks?

We launched Y1 as a student fashion brand in 2012 whilst myself and my co-founder Tom Carson were both playing international hockey. I represented the USA in goal and Tom was playing for Great Britain. We were making casualwear and sportswear for the first three years in business but behind the scenes we were working on our main passion, which was developing hockey sticks. We knew there was space in the market for a more fashionable hockey brand, one that had the mission to grow the game and reinvent hockey for the better. In 2015 we launched Y1 Hockey and it’s been going from strength to strength ever since. We now have five players in the Great Britain squads using Y1 sticks, who align with the brand vision and they are hugely influential in the development and testing our new sticks. 

What was your experience like on Dragons Den?

It was a bit of a whirl-wind in all honesty! We had only been in business for one year when we got asked to come on the show. I was in the middle of my university exams, but I couldn’t pass up on an amazing opportunity. The dragons seemed to like that we were young, passionate and had strong revenues. This led to Duncan Bannatyne offering us £75,000 for 40% of the business. We said yes on the show, however we later turned this down to remain as an independent brand. We went on to raise investment at a later date from the hockey community. We now have over 200 investors in our business, who are mainly hockey fanatics. We much prefer being a brand for the hockey community and owned by the community. 

Where has Y1 got to- how many people do you employ and has Lockdown affected the business?

We are now a team of eight. We have recently brought on some amazing young people into the business. We have been hiring throughout lockdown as we see this as a huge opportunity whilst some of the bigger brands have taken their foot off the gas. Lockdown has been a challenge with hockey sales dropping off, however as a young brand we are good at adapting quickly. We brought out The Skiller Mat, a product to train on at home, which has been a huge success. We also have been engaging the hockey community on social media with things like our “Design Your Own Stick Competition”. 

Can you tell us about your connection with Southgate HC?

I’ve been the first team goalkeeper for the past three seasons. I also get involved with coaching the junior goalkeepers which has been very rewarding seeing their improvements. It’s a great club and we are extremely spoiled for facilities, something that I never take for granted! I’m looking forward to the clubhouse bar reopening so we can have a massive celebration at the end of lockdown. 

Can you explain the importance of the bow on a stick- what difference will the bow on the stick make to players?

The stick shape is important as it can really enhance and compliment your game. The low bow sticks are great for drag flicking, 3D skills and aerials. Alex Hendrickx, the Belgian drag flicker and top goalscorer at the last World Cup, uses our LB X, which is perfect for his slingshot flick motion. I wouldn’t say that a low bow is suitable for everyone, so we produce a range of sticks that can meet the needs of all players. Our straighter sticks like the MB Braid are used by GB defenders, Brendan Creed and Anna Toman, as they need a solid stick for distribution and tackling.  

What should players look for when buying a stick- and what mistakes do players make when choosing a new stick?

Players often believe that more carbon = better stick. Yes, more carbon makes a stick more expensive however a 100% carbon stick is not right for everyone. More carbon does mean you can get more power from a stick but it often makes the stick slightly stiffer. A lot of top international athletes actually use a 70-90% carbon stick to allow for more control and a softer touch. Most top players are only hitting the ball when shooting, all other times on the pitch it will be slaps and pushes, so a lower carbon stick can be more suitable. We’ve created a stick quiz to help players choose the perfect stick for them:

In terms of sponsoring players- how do you go about matching the right players to Y1? What do you look for in the players who you support?

At Y1 Hockey we are building a community of players and coaches that really buy into our core values. We have 5 players using Y1 in the current GB Squads and they all play a huge role in promoting the brand on the pitch and on social media. They all are really invested into the success of the brand and we involve them in all aspects of decision making when it comes to new product development. 

We start sponsoring players at Performance Centre level and we enhance their sponsorship package as they progress to Futures Cup and to National Age Group squads. It needs to be a two way relationship, and we encourage our athletes to actively promote Y1 Hockey on social media and in return we will feature them in front of our 30,000+ Instagram followers. As not that many people watch club hockey matches, it is important that our athletes know that online promotion is just as important as promoting us on the pitch. 

Coaches are some of the most valuable people we sponsor as we appreciate they can interact with a large number of players each week and can help to let younger players test out products and be exposed to the brand. They have been a vital part of our growth as a brand. 

How are you looking to develop Y1 over the next few years?

The biggest area of growth for us is our custom team wear. We have used our time over the pandemic to produce a new range of kit that is all made using recycled materials. We also now manufacture our playing shirts in the UK from recycled plastic bottles, which has been a huge development. It allows for hockey clubs to become more sustainable, support UK manufacturing and also have a quicker lead time on products. We now produce custom kit for over 250 sport clubs in the UK and we are looking to expand this over the next two years. Sustainability is a huge issue now and we want to play our part in reducing our environmental impact.