8 min read

Pivot #11: TJ Oshie is building a juggernaut

Pivot #11: TJ Oshie is building a juggernaut

I think TJ Oshie might be secretly building a juggernaut. Oshie founded Warroad Hockey in 2018, a protective hockey equipment and apparel company aptly named after the Stanley Cup winner’s hometown. (He must've made a deal with the Mayor for that URL). I’ve known about the company for a few years, but the tragic passing of Adam Johnson from an on-ice skate laceration launched Warroad Hockey into the spotlight and brought unprecedented demand for their products.Without knowing the financials of the business, I’m guessing Oshie’s business earnings has the potential to eclipse his $60 million of NHL earnings  

With a booming business and Oshie the face of the company, it got me thinking how Oshie has time to guide the ship. After looking into Warroad Hockey a little further I developed some insights on the business. Let’s break it down.

Fantastic Product

Warroad Hockey’s primary products are base layer protection for hockey players. Oshie was in search of a product that minimizes skin irritation, holds elbow pads in place and provides cut protection for exposed areas. Oshie couldn’t find what he was looking for, so he opted to develop it himself. There’s little detail published on the web about the actual specifics of the product beginnings. I’d love to follow-up on this more. 

When you step back and think about it, it’s kind’ve crazy that this did not already exist. Under Armour, the de facto base layer king, is a generic offering, mostly for field sports and training. There was nothing specifically for hockey players. The genesis of Warroad Hockey is a great example of businesses evolving out of solving problems. “Riches are in the niches” as the cliche goes. The more specific a problem is, the more likely the problem is going unaddressed, which means opportunity for someone, especially if that someone has intimate experience with the problem, like Oshie in this case. He was fed up with skin irritations from sweaty, unsanitary hockey equipment. The base layers he previously wore probably caused his elbow pads to slip, and I’m sure he heard the horror stories of others accidentally getting cut by skate blades. 

Out of all this born Warroad Hockey’s trademarked TILO technology. TILO stands for Tight and Loose, meaning tight around the arms and loose through the mid-section. TILO brings together three pieces of technology that address all of Oshie’s issues in a single base layer. One, Warroad partnered with Cutlon, a Finnish company that produces cut resistant fabric constructed of Dyneema yarn, which is advertised to be 15x stronger than steel, but still soft and flexible. Warroad’s base layer boasts Cutlon fabric on the neck, wrists, and achilles areas. Second, the company partnered with Noble Biomaterials who own the patented Ionic+ technology, which is threading embedded with 99.9% pure natural silver fiber that creates a permanent bacteria free and odor free microclimate under equipment. The silver Ionic+ threading is woven into the entire Warroad base layer. Third, Oshie’s company included silicone grippers coupled with a patent-pending Padloc system that keeps elbow pads in-place. The entire piece of performance apparel was specifically made for hockey players, addressing a host of issues all at once. 

The product has strong reviews online, but good luck purchasing the base layer anytime soon. The original “TILO Pro Stock Padloc Top” (no neck guard) is sold out and the new TILO base layer top that includes a built-in neck guard is on back order and expected to ship in May.

Quick shoutout to Wayne who left a 3-star review complaining about the taxes and duty he had to pay to ship to Canada. That sounds like a global trade problem, Wayne, not a Warroad problem. 

Great Team

The boom in demand got me thinking about how Oshie is dealing with company operations. I assumed he wasn’t actually running the show at the company, but TJ’s involvement came across as more hands-on than passive. Not only that, but everything about the company is impressive. The branding, marketing, website, and products are all super high-end. I thought there must be a highly skilled team surrounding Osh. Sure enough, that looks to be the case, although there is little publicity and fanfare around the other founding members. I’m guessing that is on purpose with the branding centered around Oshie and his story. However, through a little digging you can see the Warroad founders bring together a unique set of skills and experiences to make a killer product. The key team members include:

TJ Oshie - Obviously. But it’s important to not skip over the fact that he has a lot of input in all the products–the protective apparel and lifestyle clothing. The products have to fit Oshie’s brand and what he stands for. Additionally, he is the subject matter expert, meaning he is providing the first-hand feedback on the products from a hockey player's perspective. Also, he is key to getting all the other NHL players to wear Warroad gear. Proof of concept starts at the top. If NHL players wear the gear, all the lower levels will adopt it too. It’s no coincidence Tom Wilson (Caps teammate) and Brock Nelson (Warroad native) are active brand ambassadors. 

Derek Block - Since 1996, Derek serves as the Founder and CEO of Touchstone Merchandise Group based out of Ohio. To quote his LinkedIn, “A revolutionary builder of brands. An experienced, self made business development leader. Founder and builder of the most aspirational brand building organization and most sought after branded merchandise expert team.” Derek knows brands. Per their website, he’s worked with everyone from Progressive, Barstool, Marsblade, and Kroger. Clearly a highly-skilled industry veteran. What stands out with Warroad Hockey is the story and narrative that the brand tells the consumer. Again, it’s impressive, and makes the customer want to affiliate with the Warroad logo. After researching Derek a bit, I am getting the sense he warrants his own case study. Derek played a couple seasons in the USHL and then played his collegiate hockey career at Miami Ohio. 

Jason Olden - The product design guru of the bunch. Olden is Principal and Chief Product Officer at SIDFACTOR, a consultant helping brands build products. Per Olden’s website bio, “Jason brings his insights in strategy, design, development, and sourcing to major client engagements.” Previously, Jason worked at The NorthFace and Reef’s global men’s footwear business. His product design expertise is perfect for Warroad. I’m guessing he’s the main man in charge of turning Oshie's concepts and ideas into reality. He has 20+ years of experience in the field and knows what the heck he’s doing. 

Specialty Insight + Branding + Product Design sounds like a winning formula to me. The takeaway for anyone is to surround yourself with a good team, especially with teammates that possess complementary skill sets and experiences. It’s no different from hockey and Oshie knows that. Oshie leveraged his network of relationships to find his business partners. It may not even been intentional by TJ to build this company, but taking action leads to serendipity. I’d love to learn more about the company and hope to follow-up on this topic. For example, I can’t find a labeled C-Suite (CEO, COO, CFO). Are the founding partners still running everything? I’d love an update on the manufacturing and supply chain given the increase in demand. More to come. 

Passion + Interests

The entire company perfectly embodies everything I associate with TJ Oshie. Authenticity, local roots, hockey culture, small town pride, athletic fits, darker clothing hues, training gear. It’s tough to summarize the company in a few words, but it’s just very TJ Oshie. The passion for hockey and his hometown are evident and adds to the brand appeal, in my opinion. Oshie found a unique way to express his name and likeness through what started out as a legitimate hockey gear problem and is now a full blown lifestyle brand. 

It’s not uncommon to find Oshie talking about the brand in interviews and a lot of the marketing material emphasizes Oshie’s product input, leaving the impression he’s passionate and involved with the company.

I think from left to right it's Jason, TJ, and Derek

He’s not taking the passive limited partner approach. Additionally, 5% of all Warroad Hockey profits are donated to 1) Warroad Youth Hockey and 2) the Alzheimer’s Association, two causes Oshie deeply cares about, further aligning his personal values and the brand. 

Recognizing things you’re passionate about and allowing that to help guide career endeavors is a great way to find your way to success, and Oshie is a great example of aligning his passions with success. Although the company clearly overlaps with hockey, I’m not sure Oshie would’ve expected to be leading technological product design and clothing manufacturing, but he’s given himself a lot to do whenever he decides to hang up the skates. 

Take time to self-reflect. What are my interests? What are my passions? Are there bottlenecks/complaints/discomforts associated with these interests? Is there a solution that lends itself to opportunity. Research and talk to experts about potential solutions.

In homage to TJ Oshie, here are my top 3 highlights…

Believe it or not after reading this piece, I have no financial affiliation with Warroad Hockey. However, I am open to receiving free swag including base layer protection for beer league, hats, t-shirts, or this parka.

Game Notes

  • Jamie Dimon warns of MAGA criticism - CNBC
  • Hockey Diehards Building NHL-Worthy Rinks in Their Backyards - WSJ
  • Pat McAfee, Aaron Rodgers and ESPN: Can This Awkward Marriage Last? - WSJ
  • CFOs Are Grabbing More CEO Jobs - Bloomberg
  • They Created a Test to Identify Star QBs (Not the Wonderlic) - WSJ
  • The No. 1 job interview phrase that will set you apart - CNBC
  • The No. 1 in-demand remote job companies are hiring for - accountants - CNBC
  • I started season 4 of True Detective. Episode 1 was fine. I'm still waiting for that season 1 magic.
  • Inflation by category:

Thanks for reading. Comment. Reach out with questions. Laugh at my jokes. Pass along to a teammate.