It seems like the newest trend in lacrosse head sales right now is to sell heads as “pro strung” instead of factory strung. Lax.com is leading the way on this front, as they offer over 20 heads now available with “pro stringing”. The idea here is that overseas factory workers (who string most factory strung heads) can look at a lacrosse head and string it up by following a set of directions, but the chances are that they’ve never played lacrosse before. So the chances are also that they don’t know what makes a good pocket versus an unusable one.
On the other hand, Pro Strung heads have been strung by people who know what they’re doing, so the theory goes that the Pro Strung heads will be better in the long run, and more ready to use right out of the box for any player. All of these heads are being strung up using hard mesh.
What I really like about Lax.com’s offer of Pro Strung heads is that the price doesn’t change from Pro strung to factory strung. It’s a strung up head, offered for sale, and WHO put the mesh in doesn’t seem to matter pricewise. And this is only fair!!!! For way too long, lacrosse companies have basically just said, “people who buy factory strung heads don’t matter. They’ll get a super crappy pocket and they can deal with it”. This was a bad attitude for the manufacturers to take on, but since they ALL did it, none of them really suffered. The only people who suffered were the players.
Well, nothing has changed from the manufacturers’ point of view. People still have extremely low expectations for factory strung heads, and yet people still continue to buy heads like crazy. They keep their costs down, and we keep buying no matter what. Not a bad position for them to be in, and I can see why they haven’t stepped up to the plate by actually offering a decent pocket in their sticks… they simply haven’t ever had to!
And now, to ensure manufacturers won’t have to improve how they string heads, retailers are stepping into the gap and doing it themselves! Lax.com must have asked itself, “how can we get more people to buy from us?”, and the answer must have been, “sell a superior product”. Since Lax.com can’t sell heads that no one else sells (retail doesn’t work that way), they had to find something else, and it’s clear Pro Strung heads are their newest idea. Of course, it’s not exclusive to Lax.com, and other retailers also offer custom or pro strung heads, but they’re well-known so I’m focusing on them.
The thing that will separate the winners from the losers here is size and scalability, and this is true both in the US, where the heads will be strung, and overseas (except Warrior who makes their heads in Canada), where the heads will continue to be produced.
For stores like Lax.com, which sell huge amounts of inventory, they can afford to try the “pro strung” approach and compare it to other approaches, like selling only factory strung heads, or selling only unstrung heads. And if they can get heads “pro strung” for the same cost as the difference between a factory strung head and an unstrung head, then they can even continue to offer all three. They’ll sell enough pro strung heads to employ another person, and they’ll continue on their merry way. But for a smaller shop, the pro strung head presents a bigger challenge. Stringing heads takes two things: time and skill. If you don’t have anyone with more time at your company, you can forget about it. If you don’t have someone who can string, it will take them time to learn. Either way, it’s an investment, and if you can’t get the pro strung head done for a low cost, it can even start to lower the margins on a sale of a head, and this can kill a smaller retailer.
The other side of the coin here is that if pro strung heads really take off, we might actually see some more head manufacturing come back to North America. If a manufacturer had to pay for 20 people to be stringing heads 24-7 stateside, it would be a large additional cost, even if they were little old ladies working for minimum wage . But if they only had to produce the plastic heads here, and then retailers would string them, it could be a very different story, because most of those plastics procedures can be automated.
In the end, the Pro Strung trend could really help lacrosse manufacturers by cutting their costs, and it could help those retailers that are able to utilize economies of scale to stay at the top of the price pack. Less kids will feel forced to restring their heads, so less kids might actually learn how to string, but I get the feeling like knowing how to string was going the way of the Dodo regardless. Sure, every team will have one or two kids who know what they’re doing, but the days of the average lacrosse player being able to string his own stick are gone, and have been for a while. This is sad, but an issue for another day.
Being able to walk into a store, buy a stick, go back outside, and then use it immediately has been long over due. And while hard mesh may take a little while to break in (OK, so it won’t be perfect right away), it’s still a massive improvement over buying a head with a tennis racket style pocket that clearly has to be re-strung.
The best part about all of this is that while quality has gone up a bit, the costs haven’t changed for the consumer! Of course, like I said earlier, when you consider the overpriced nature of lacrosse heads and the long-running production of awful factory pockets, this was only fair!!!
The only real risk I see with this trend is that if Lax.com does suffer from slightly lower margins on their “pro strung” heads, that means everyone else will too. Lax.com can overcome the lower margins by increasing sales volume, but smaller shops might not be able to do this as effectively, and they could conceivably start charging extra for “pro strung” heads. If they do start charging extra, we could see even more people head to lacrosse retail giants, like Lax.com, and that could kill some local shops. It’s not a definite risk, but it’s worth thinking about.
In the end, I’m glad to see good pockets being put into new heads. The lacrosse community has suffered through awful factory stringing for far too long. This isn’t THE answer, as it only builds another level of cost and work into retail, but it’s a good start. Stringing your own stick is still the best route, but being able to buy one in a store that you can actually play with ain’t too shabby either!