The company manufactures, markets and distributes a trendy beach ball game that, with 95% of sales online, is building a following among some 1,500 tournament teams at high schools, colleges and camps across the United States, according to Scott Palmer, chief operating officer.
The game, officially known as “roundnet” but commonly called Spikeball because of the popularity of the Spikeball brand, is a distant cousin to volleyball played on beaches or lawns. The game is played with four players, two on each opposing team. Instead of there being a net stretched across the court, as in volleball, Spikeball features a bouncy round surface, like a tiny trampoline, that sits about a foot off the ground and is parallel to it. A player starts a point by serving the ball onto the trampoline-like circle and the other team has to return it by hitting the ball onto that same surface, and the point continues until the ball hits the ground.
Spikeball sells the game equipment—softball-sized volleyballs and the net—and in the process has been building its brand and sales as it works to transform the round net game into a tournament sport played throughout the United States. The company said last year it was on track to do $6 million in sales. Its reach into the tournament market is defined by a search on Google for “Spikeball tournament,” which produces numerous pages of results featuring tournaments by college and independent sports clubs with references to Spikeball’s products.
The company launched in 2008, when founder and CEO Chris Ruder, who had played an earlier version of round net as a teenager, acquired the Spikeball trademark. The trademark had gone unused for years after a prior company had sold the game’s equipment during the 1980s through retail chain Toys ‘R’ Us, Palmer says.
Ruder received a publicity boost along with venture capital last year when he appeared on ABC-TV’s Shark Tank investment reality program, winning a $500,000 investment from investor Draymond John, who noted that Spikeball’s online operation would support its continued growth as a sport activity among organized groups. Spikeball is also building its reputation in social media, with more than 35,400 Likes on Facebook and more than 8,600 followers on Twiter.
Spikeball sells its products through several websites: Spikeball.com, which is meant for consumer purchases; and separate sites dedicated to retailers, schools and camps. Once business customers from each vertical send Spikeball a form requesting access to the online ordering portal, the distributor sends each business customer the appropriate link. The sites all operate on e-commerce software from Shopify Inc., which charges monthly fees ranging from $79 to $179 to host its e-commerce software, depending on the number of features.
Spikeball sells to more than 3,000 business customers, including retail chains Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc., where a set a three balls and a net sell for $59.99, and Recreational Equipment Inc. as well as smaller merchants and thousands of school physical education programs and camps, Palmer says. 90% of orders leave Spikeball’s warehouse within 24 hours of being placed, he adds. “This way our smaller retail customers don’t have to dedicate $2,000 toward inventory,” he says. “They can buy it today and sell it this week, and then buy more and sell it next week. It allows them to avoid overstocking.” The majority of Spikeball’s large retailer customers also process orders through electronic data interchange, or EDI.
The company also hosts USASpikeball.com, a site where organizations can set up tournaments and share tournament details and results with other Spikeball participants. Spikeball sells “Baller” memberships to individuals for an annual $20 fee, which comes with discounts on Spikeball products and other benefits. For organizations that schedule tournaments,
Spikeball helps out with arrangements and equipment for a share of funds collected in tournament registration fees. Each team registered in a tournaments pays a fee—on average $30, Ruder says. He said tournament organizers keep about 75% of those fees, and Spikeball gets the rest.
USASpikeball.com was developed by web development firm TopScore, which specializes in building sites for sports organizations.
By branding the back-and-forth ball game as a sport, rather than some backyard children’s game, Spikeball distinguishes itself from knockoffs and drives larger volume orders from business customers, Palmer says. “There’s been three or four knockoffs, most of them selling at a lower price point,” he says. “But it’s about the brand. Our biggest marketing expense is events helping to facilitate tournaments, and donating equipment to communities that are interested in playing it together.”
Last year, Spikeball hosted more than 250 events nationwide as a way to ramp up interest in the sport at colleges and other communities. It also launched a mobile app that nearby players can use to connect with one another and organize group games.
In addition to using e-commerce software from Shopify Inc., Spikeball employs inventory management and other business software as part of an enterprise resource planning system from Brightpearl Inc., and order fulfillment and shipping technology from Shipstation. “By using platforms like Brightpearl and Shipstation and Shopify and integrating all of them, we have a clear snapshot of what inventory on hand looks like,” Palmer says. “We’re a small organization that’s able to run with just nine employees. That’s due to the interconnectivity of our tools.”
This year Spikeball will focus on building sales to educational institutions by marketing the sport at trade shows, Palmer says. To let its sales reps take orders on tablet computers from trade show visitors, Spikeball is planning to begin testing later this month a Brightpearl mobile point-of-sale system. Orders taken over the tablets will automatically update customer and inventory records in Spikeball’s Brightpearl enterprise resource planning, or ERP, system.
“We need a better system in how we process those orders and how we track those orders to reduce overall shipping costs and the process for pushing that order through,” Palmer says. “I’m planning on using a new point-of-sale system on multiple iPads at these trade shows, so customers can place orders themselves.”
Pricing for the Brightpearl mobile point-of-sale system starts around $5,000 per year, and increases based on the number of users, orders and functionality required, the company says.
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