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Market gaps, resilience, roller blades and hockey sticks

In 2013 a young University student walked into an op shop and noticed a 2nd hand hockey stick for sale for just $5. Like most people he couldn’t resist the bargain and along with a mate who also bought one, started playing ice hockey on rollers blades on any vacant basket ball court or hard surface court they could. Jump forward to 2016 and Street Roller Hockey League (SRHL) now boasts over 117 teams.

It’s a wonderful story demonstrating some very important not negotiable things about building and growing a business. The importance of finding a gap, having a strong vision, and being resilient. Let’s start with the gap.

Find the Gap.

Finding a gap in the market is the first rule of business because if people don’t want what you have to offer you are going to go broke. When Eamon handed over his $5 he had no concept of many people wanted what he had to offer, but very quickly others wanted to join in and an informal league of four teams was soon in place.

Nothing official at first, just a group of like minded people who wanted to keep active in team sport without having the burden of committing to set times in set locations week after week. They wanted their sport just to be social and fun but flexible as well. They wanted the freedom of their sport to work around their Uni or work commitments, not the other way round. That’s exactly what Eamon offered. The opportunity of getting involved in a social sport, to stay fit and healthy, but have the freedom to work around their lifestyle and their time commitments. As more people joined an official league was created and an organisation put in place to support it and it’s members.

Although he didn’t know it at the time Eamon Lourey found a gap. And that gap fulfilled not just the market but also Eamon’s core values and purpose.

Which leads to another important thing obvious to any successful organisation, business, individual or start up. Having a clear purpose and knowing why you do what you do.

Know why.

As a sporting league the purpose is simple. To offer a social sport with flexibility and freedom. Eamon has another purpose on top of that which overrides and influences everything he and the league does.

One of the reasons I wanted to interview him was because when I met Eamon at a conference I was speaking at, I could see in his eyes, hear in his voice and get from every word he spoke that he had a strong a sense of purpose.

Eamon is all about serving the community, of helping people be connected and getting involved, having a sense or worth and of being part of something other than just themselves. When you watch the video interview you’ll pick it up.

An example of this is when SRHL built it’s own hockey rink at a local bowling club which was in financial trouble. The deal was that SRHl would concrete one green which they could use. In return they supplied the bowling club with a steady flow of patrons and business. The kicker though is it created cross generational diversity within the club. The players in SRHL are mostly young University students who all of a sudden were mixing with the more elderly members of the bowling club. SRHL had created an environment for all generations to socialise.

Point is having that purpose drives and determines their every move. It helps them make the right decisions. It helps them get through roadblock and challenges. And it makes them resilient.

Resilience. major hurdle for SRHL was the fact early on they have their own venue. The captains of each team would call each other and say ‘hey we are set to play against each other this week, what day suits you and where do you want to play?’ It’s what gave the league it’s freedom.

However it also presented a potential problem because often when they found and adopted a vacant basketball or tennis court they were often asked to leave by the local council who owned the pace. It would have been easy at that point to limit the size of the league, or find a venue to rent on restricted hours but neither of those would serve the purpose of the League.

The solution was a fund raiser for the $50000.00 needed to build the concrete rink at the bowling club mentioned earlier. Being resilient leads to opportunity. But there’s more.

After a while at their new home at the bowling club the council received a couple of complaints from nearby neighbours regarding noise and the league is now unable to effectively operate there, without limiting the hours (which goes against one of their main values of flexible playing hours) or unless they invest heavily to sound proof the rink. As I write this, Eamon is searching for solutions. With media coverage a number of offers have floated in from other similar bowling clubs and venues and although that would work for SRHL it doesn’t help a struggling bowling club.

With a strong sense of community purpose, Eamon and the league may have taken the easy out. Perhaps leased more expensive venue, (which for a not for profit doesn’t serve it’s members, say thanks to their exiting club but that hurts the clubs members, it could restrict playing days and playing hours but that doesn’t serve the purpose of the league.

It’s knowing why you do what you do and having a clear purpose that’s isn’t negotiable that will drive you when the going gets tough and get you finding solutions in places you may never have found them.

One thing I am certain of. Eamon and the SRHL will find a solution that keeps serving community and at the same time stay true to the uniqueness of the freedom the league offers it’s players.

I just love this story because I love the vision and tenacity of Eamon Lourey. To pick up on a gap in the market and run with it takes courage and determination. To genuinely help a struggling community club while solving your own problem and at the same time create a cross generational interaction is awesome. And to demonstrate a growth mindset when faced with a major challenge is the stuff good organisations are made of.

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