- Company: Gladiator Lacrosse
- Product: High-quality lacrosse equipment for personal use/home practice
- Asking Price: $100,000 for 15% equity
- Final Deal: No Deal
- Shark Who Took The Bait: None
- Season/Episode: Season 7, Episode 28
Are You Not Entertained, Sharks?
Our first impression of Gladiator Lacrosse founder Rachel Zietz is that she’s young, charming, nervous, and has practiced every word and gesture of her pitch – to the point of stiffness. She moves robotically at first, and speaks carefully and slowly. Her intentions come across crystal clear, however: she’s seeking $100,000 for 15% equity in her company.
Lacrosse is her passion, Rachel says, and that passion has instilled in her an innate drive to be the best at whatever she does – be it her sport, her school, or her business. Growing up, she says, her parents didn’t want her breaking windows or dirtying the side of the house with her lacrosse practice. So to get around the rules, she bought herself a lacrosse goal and rebounder, which she set up in the backyard. She spent hundreds of dollars only to watch as her new expensive lacrosse gear fell apart in no time at all.
Knowing she must not be the only lacrosse player let down by the poor quality of lacrosse practice equipment, she sensed a hole in the market, a demonstrable need for a new (and higher quality) product, and a fantastic business opportunity for players like herself.
Her company provides affordable equipment that is durable and – unlike other brands – can actually withstand the rigorous, punishing wear-and-tear of regular lacrosse practice. Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in America, she says, and her product can dominate this rapidly expanding market.
Rachel demonstrates the product – a sturdy, bouncy rebounder that throws the ball right back, and a high-quality net that catches the ball smoothly. She even invites the sharks up on stage to try out the equipment for themselves – an invitation that leads shark Daymond John to throw a practice round at the rebounder and then sit back down before his luck runs out.
“So you haven’t invented a new product. You’ve invented a better product,” says Robert.
“A better product, yes,” says Rachel. “I was really frustrated with the existing products. They would all rust and tear and be completely destroyed after a month.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Lori thinks to ask: “How old are you?”
“I’m 15, and I was 12 when I started this business,” says Rachel. She’s only a kid, but she’s already an impressive entrepreneur with a national spotlight on her business. Her parents are both entrepreneurs, which helps, and she also participated in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy. As expected, her parents helped initially, loaning her $30,000 to get the business up and running. That loan, says Rachel, is fully paid off.
Running the Numbers
Without wasting any time, the sharks dive into the nitty gritty details of Gladiator Lacrosse’s financial outlook, including sales and cost of production.
- Sales to date: $300,000
- Retail methods: Web sales, local tournament sales, and a couple of specialty lacrosse stores.
- Cost of production: Rebounder, $66; Goal, $38.50
- Retail price: Rebounder, $249.95; Goal, $149.95
- Profit margin: Rebounder, 74%; Goal, 74%
Daymond wants to know what sets her product apart. Rachel is ready with an answer right away, saying her business has established itself as a credible, high-quality brand within the lacrosse community. “Unlike my competitors, who make products for all kinds of sports, and probably don’t play lacrosse,” she adds.
Kevin digs a little deeper. How big is the lacrosse equipment market, exactly? “It’s a hundred-million dollar market,” says Rachel, adding that in time, with the expansion of her product line to include things like lacrosse socks and add-ons, she hopes to dominate that market in its entirety.
As evidenced by the fact that she’s juggling her lacrosse team responsibilities, a thriving entrepreneurial enterprise and a busy daily schedule as a full-time high school student, Rachel has excellent time management skills. Impressively, Rachel says she’s already hired a full-time employee who helps her with administrative tasks and customer calls while Rachel is in class. A typical day begins at 6 AM and doesn’t end until long after dark.
Charmingly, she fields Skype calls from Asia at night.
Bidding Like A Gladiator
So, with such a solid grasp on her business, why does she need the sharks’ help?
She needs the money, she explains, to expand her product line, add new inventory, and grow the business into a sporting goods empire.
“Let’s say you manage to capture 30% of the market. Not unreasonable for a quality brand,” says Kevin. “That’s a $30 million business. No way on earth you can do that while juggling school and dinners with your family. At the end of the day, who runs the show?”
Rachel seems caught in the headlights, and takes a moment to answer. “I’ll be the visionary,” she says after a beat. “And as I expand, I’ll hire people to handle the specifics.”
This answer doesn’t seem to satisfy Kevin. He openly admits he’s very torn on his decision. “It’s a hobby for you with great potential.” He says the fact that Rachel is a lacrosse player herself – and that she actually uses the product she sells – lends excellent credibility to her brand and gives her an undeniable, authentic edge. But her shaky long-term plan and her limited capacity for expansion prevent Kevin from jumping on the opportunity. Clearly gutted by indecision, Kevin is the first to drop out.
Mark Cuban is next to chime in. He commends Rachel for her ability to carve out a niche, saying she’s done a tremendous job so far. Unfortunately, says Mark, he knows almost nothing about lacrosse and can’t jump into a field that feels so foreign to him. Mark is the second to drop out. (He reiterates, however, that what Rachel is doing is phenomenal, that she’s set a great example, and that she deserves a ton of credit for a job well done.)
Robert pipes up next, saying that while Rachel’s presentation was fantastic, he doubts that she actually needs the money at this point in the business’s life-cycle. Robert is out fairly quickly.
Daymond John is next, and he has a dramatic question for Rachel, beneath which is a subtext very similar to Robert’s point. “What happens if you don’t get the money?” (In other words, how high are the stakes here, and who’s to say you really need our money at all?)
“I’ll work harder,” says Rachel. “If I don’t get the money, I’ll keep reinvesting so I can buy more containers.”
“I think that’s the best thing for you to do right now,” says Daymond, and drops out.
Lori, in similar fashion, pays a heartwarming compliment to Rachel. “You affirm something I’ve always known. Women are built for business. You’re doing everything right, and I don’t think I could anything of value – because it’s a space I don’t know.” Touchingly, she adds, “I’m out, but I’m super proud of you and everything you’ve done.”
The sharks wish her Happy Birthday, and the best of luck as she leaves the stage without a deal.
Fascinatingly, this is one of those shark tank episodes where most of the sharks seem to be morally opposed to investing, because to invest at this point would pose unnecessary risk to the business-owner. It’s more dangerous to invest than not to invest at this stage of the business, especially when the business is a young, promising, and fully self-sustaining operation run by a kid still in high school.
Where Are They Now?
Although Rachel walked away from Shark Tank without a deal for Gladiator Lacrosse, she has since become a remarkably successful businesswoman in her own right.
As of June 2020, Gladiator Lacrosse is a thriving business. It was the official goal of the 2018 FIL World Championships in Netanya, Israel. Rachel has stayed on as CEO, and brought on world-class brand ambassador and professional lacrosse player Casey Powell to help her promote the company.
Their Facebook page boasts thousands of likes, a five-star average review, and several recent posts from June of 2020, indicating high audience engagement and a flourishing fan base.
Their Instagram is notably less active, which makes sense given the nature of the business, and isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. (Sports businesses and equipment companies tend to do much better on fan-oriented Facebook than on visual-based Instagram.)
For Rachel and the rest of the team at Gladiator Lacrosse, it would seem that striking out on Shark Tank was not the death blow it has been for other, less strategic and less original brands (run by other, less competent and less inspiring women in business).
Despite walking away without a goal in the net, Gladiator Lacrosse has gone on to win the championships, at least for now, in the most important game of all.
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