May 12. 2013 3:57PM

Blade change

NH native leads Bauer's surge to hockey supremacy

Union Leader Correspondent

EXETER — Kevin Davis is humble when he talks about his role in the re-emergence of Bauer Performance Sports from an underperforming division of Nike to the number one brand in hockey equipment.

He became the fourth chief executive officer in eight years when he took the position in 2008, just after Nike sold the brand and at a time when morale and staff levels were low.

Since then, Bauer Performance Sports has gone from a private business to a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It has doubled growth and tripled profitability.

This year, it will generate close to $400 million in revenue, up from about $200 million in 2008, and is ranked number one in every hockey equipment category.

In a recent survey conducted by Bauer of more than 650 players on active National Hockey Leauge rosters as of April 15, 71 percent used Bauer skates, 41 percent use Bauer helmets and 34 percent use Bauer sticks.

In addition to a focus on quality hockey equipment, acquisitions have also been a big part of the company's growth. In the last two years alone, it has acquired five other companies, including top brands in lacrosse and diamond sports. Davis said acquisitions will continue to be a big part of the company's growth strategy moving forward.

Core "category" teams stay focused on individual products, including goalie gear, hockey sticks, skates and performance apparel, allowing them to act as small, productive businesses under the larger umbrella of Bauer.

"If there is a company out there that makes just goalie equipment, we can compete with that," Davis said.

Bauer is the only company able to market DuPont's Kevlar material in its neck protectors and socks and continues to create innovations in equipment that were never thought possible, Davis said.

"We have always been about performance. People investing in high quality sports equipment don't want gimmicks," Davis said.

Even in the lower price points, quality is key.

"We were the first company to make an entry-level $65 composite hockey stick," he said.

Bauer Hockey has been innovating since it was founded in Kitchener, Ontario in 1927 and developed the first skate with a blade attached to a boot.

Davis joined Bauer as the New Hampshire controller in 2002, shortly after the company moved its global headquarters from Montreal, Canada, to Greenland.

In 2011, the company moved operations to Exeter, where it employs about 140 people and continues to grow. Globally, the company employs more than 600 people.

Previous management had reduced research and development staff by 10 percent. Davis soon reinvigorated the department as evidenced by some of Bauer's new products, including the Vapor APX 2 skate released in April with easily changeable skate blades. The boot is made with a thermo-formable material that can be customized to a skater's foot, while also being lightweight and durable enough to take a puck.

Historically, "swapping steel" was a lengthy process that could put a player on the bench for a full period. The new skate now allows steel to be swapped in a matter of seconds right on the bench and is available not just in elite skates, but entry-level skates as well.

"It is a great innovation for us," Davis said.

Davis said it is the category-specific model that has allowed Bauer to regain dominance in the hockey equipment arena after losing its focus. Now that the company has re-established its position as the leader in all hockey categories, it is looking to become the number one lacrosse brand and dominate roller hockey equipment categories as well.

Bauer is also helping to grow the sport of ice hockey through a new initiative with Hockey Canada and USA Hockey called "Grow the Game," with a goal of adding an additional 1 million players in 10 years.

Right now, the company is surveying families to find out the barriers that prevent more youth from participating in the sport and will take that data to find out what barriers Bauer can help remove.

The company is also doing more to support the community more visibly, including a recent $100,000 donation to the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth toward a capital campaign to renovate park facilities.

Bauer also is the number one sponsor of the Christmas Hockey Classic Tournament in Manchester.

Davis, a New Hampshire native and Pinkerton Academy graduate, said there was no question the company wanted to keep its global headquarters in New Hampshire due to the quality of the employee base.

And as a native, this is also where Davis wants to be.

"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I'm incredibly proud to be part of this organization and to be given such a unique opportunity to lead such a talented group of people," he said.