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October 5, 1998

3 Min Read
Market Focus:  Sports and recreation

Unlike most markets served by injection molders, sports and recreation defies easy categorization. For many molders, the markets they serve can say a lot about their operations. Whether it is automotive, medical, or electrical and electronic, the market dictates, to a degree, what kind of equipment you have, what your specialty is, and what processes you favor. But, says Chuck Hoar, business development manager for consumer products at AlliedSignal (Elizabeth, NJ), sports and recreation tends to be more fragmented. "One minute you're working on golf balls, the next minute you're working on football cleats," he says. "It's hard really to say you're a sporting goods molder like you can for medical or thin-wall or automotive."

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Polypropylene leads the way again in this list of material most commonly used to mold products for the sports and recreation market. The Plastic Buyer Profiles database, a department of Phillip Townsend & Assoc. Inc. (Houston), provides the data for this monthly column on end use markets.

Still, for molders who can find a niche, sports and recreation in the U.S. is a monster business that is still finding new and interesting applications for injection molding. Hoar reports 1997 sales in this market were up about 3 percent from 1996, although gross margins dropped from 39 percent in 1996 to 31 percent in 1997. The National Sporting Goods Association reports U.S. sales for sports equipment and recreational transport hit $38.86 billion in 1997; the industry group expects 1998 totals to increase about 3.8 percent to $40.40 billion.

Hoar says the manufacturers are, as usual, constantly searching for cheaper, lighter, stronger, more durable injection molded products to replace metal in parts. More recently, Hoar says he has had manufacturers coming to him with molded products they want to update thermoplastically with new and better grades of resin. Popular or high-impact products in this market include helmets (hockey, lacrosse), in-line skates, and skiing equipment. Cold-weather gear, he says, continues to use thermoplastics more as new grades show better resilience to temperature fluctuations.

A notable product hitting this market as IMM went to press is the Thug bicycle wheel, manufactured by Innovations and Composites Inc. (Vista, CA). Molded from AlliedSignal's Ultratough nylon-glass-filled and impact modified-the 20-inch wheel is made via the lost core process and is reportedly stronger than comparable aluminum competitors. Kirk Jones, president of the company, says the first target for the wheel is the "street thrashing, dirt jumping kids" market. He hopes to roll out a mountain bike version soon. Thug, by the way, is an acronym for thermoplastic urban gear.

Table 1

This data comes from the National
Sporting Goods Assoc.
(www.nsga.org). Transport products
include bikes, pleasure boats,
recreational vehicles, and
snowmobiles. Footwear and clothing
totals were omitted. Figures are
millions of dollars.

Category

1991

Equipment

13,441

Recreational
Transport

12,524

Total

25,965

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