Santa Ana, California
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Bowling gloves and accessories
GM Cathy Kay is guiding the longstanding bowling brand to continued relevance with new products and a close eye on quality.
"All we do is [bowling] accessories," says Kay. "Gloves, insert tapes, and pro shop accessories."
It all started in the 1960s when founder Bill Norman was a traveling salesman in a totally different industry. "He sold Ecclesiastes items to Catholic churches," says Kay.
As the story goes, Norman's car broke down in Ohio and he came across a flyer for a bowling glove. In short order, he bought the rights to sell that glove, the Wrist Master II. "By the time he got back home to California, he had an order for 10,000 gloves," says Kay.
Norman had to scramble to fill the order and got the company rolling. It soon inhabited a 25,000-square-foot facility, but has since "downsized" to a 10,000-square-foot space in Santa Ana, says Kay.
Master grew by working with some of the biggest names in the sport. "There was one king of bowling: Dick Weber," says Kay. "He partnered with Mr. Norman to start out. Originally, our Wrist Master was known as the Dick Weber Wrist Master. "
It basically created a new category. "It stood out," says Kay. "The big bowling ball companies have their own accessories now."
To that end, Storm Bowling acquired Master in 2012; Norman retired in 2016.
Master's domesting manufacturing provides an advantage in quality. "Most of them outsource them or get them from China," says Kay. Master maintains its own brand, but Kay says that future branding might utilize the name of parent company Storm Bowling, which has a fierce customer following. "They're considering rebranding many of our products as Storm because that's what people want."
The company today has a sewing department of five employees who make gloves, puff balls, and rosin bags. A production crew handles cutting, screenprinting, bottle and ball filling, and other tasks.
As much as things change, Master Industries remains very much the same as it did in Norman's heyday.
Kay laughs and says the company's machines "are ancient. Our filling machine is actually a cardboard box with a funnel. It's worked for 50-some years."
The longevity carries over to the company's employees. "I have two sewers that have been here for more than 40 years and one who has been here for more than 20, and I only have five sewers," says Kay.
Some products and materials are provided by outside suppliers; others are assembled in-house. Kay says about 90 percent of Master's products are made in the U.S. and largely sold through distributors.
"We pretty much remain steady," says Kay. "Sales have remained steady since Storm bought us." She adds, "I think there are going to be changes soon."
Challenges: "Staying ahead of the competition," says Kay. "It's staying up with the hip things."
The subsequent challenge is weathering the copycats. She points to Master's Wipe-It-Dry Pad. "Within three years, all the bowling companies were selling them."
That catalyzes a third challenge: "We're getting pushed out of some of the shops because the big ball companies are going in there," notes Kay. "We are loyal to our distributors but it turns out they're not so loyal back."
Opportunities: New products. "Each year, there are new gadgets coming out," says Kay, highlighting compression sleeves, Perfect Fit Tools, and other Master-branded items.
Potential growth of bowling as a sport is a broader market driver, she adds, a recent rejection by the Olympics notwithstanding. "I think it's on its way back up."
Needs: A youth movement in bowling. "I think we need to build it from the young people up," says Kay. "It's too bad more high schools don't have more programs. As long as we can keep current with the young bowlers, it'll grow."