By Patrick Kennedy
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Emily Plahn is a rare combination in the sporting goods industry: a female engineer who also coaches and played lacrosse.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Epoch Lacrosse is still a relatively small player in the overall market for sports equipment.
But the Roseville manufacturer’s sales have grown 52 percent in the last year, concentrating on high-end equipment for the game.
This year, Epoch decided to expand into the women’s market and immediately selected its “unicorn” product engineer Emily Plahn to co-lead the development of a new head for women’s sticks with industrial designer Evan McDonell.
The new head, called “the Purpose,” had to suit the evolving skills of the women’s game.
“The women’s game has a lot more constraints on their equipment,” Plahn said. “To design within that has been a big challenge.”
Plahn is a rare combination in the sporting goods industry: a female engineer who also coaches and played lacrosse.
Epoch founder and co-owner James Miceli suspects she is the only female product engineer in the lacrosse industry.
Plahn graduated from Centennial High School, where she picked up the game as a junior. She played club lacrosse at the University of Minnesota, serving as team captain and club president in the 2012-13 school year.
Now, she coaches at the youth and high school levels.
“Through coaching and playing I’ve noticed the women’s game is changing, but equipment hasn’t been evolving with it,” Plahn said.
Plahn interned at Epoch in college and joined the company full-time in 2015.
Epoch has been an aspirational brand for lacrosse players, emphasizing that it is “lacrosse gear made by lacrosse players.” From designers to managers and sales professionals, all employees are former or current lacrosse players.
The Purpose is marketed for high-end women’s players and costs $250.
Plahn said women are playing at a faster pace, being more physical and cradling the ball more aggressively, dodging more and shooting more quickly and from more angles — all of which put more demands on women’s equipment.
“It’s become a lot more dynamic and fun,” Plahn says.
While men’s and women’s lacrosse shafts are similar, the heads have different specifications tailored to men’s and women’s games. The Purpose head was designed with a 15-degree angle to the shaft that gives the head a new contour but meets all the requirements of governing bodies in high school and college lacrosse.
The new Purpose, developed using the latest CAD and 3-D printing technology, officially launched to consumers on Nov. 17 and has been one of the most successful launches in Epoch’s five-year history, Miceli said.
Plahn says staying active in the sport has helped her as a designer. “You can easily get stuck in the game you left behind,” Plahn said. Epoch also reached out to top women’s players, and the company adjusted the Purpose based on their feedback.
Plahn said Epoch has heard from college coaches from around the country since the launch — a good sign. Female players, she said, tend to trust their coaches more on equipment advice and prefer more factory setups. More men are likely to take the DIY approach to constructing their lacrosse shaft heads.
Epoch is still an upstart in the industry competing against bigger, more established names in the sporting goods industry.
Miceli cited market-share data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association that calculates the total lacrosse market as $92 million a year. Epoch primarily competes in the high-end lacrosse stick market, a smaller portion of that total. Miceli estimates Epoch has 30 percent of the market in sticks priced over $100.
“We are going to have 52 percent increase over last year — from ’16 to ’17,” Miceli said. “From ’17 to ’18 we are going to have 67 percent growth” in revenue, with the goal of reaching $10 million in annual sales soon after that.
With Epoch’s share in the high-end stick market fairly secure, Miceli said the company is now looking at expanding in the overall market with equipment at different price points. For example, the company has started making protective gear and now has several options for female players.
Epoch’s goal in 2018 is to introduce eight to 12 new products and to pursue ISO 9001 certification for its manufacturing operations.
Miceli said moving down in the price range in sticks increases the design and production constraints, and the company will likely rely even more on Plahn.
The prospect is OK with her.
“It’s a dream job,” Plahn said. “I really enjoy working at a company that is taking technology first, where nothing is really off the table.”
To her, that company ethos “means sourcing better materials and cool technology from our industry and other industries and applying that to the game.”