McMurray brothers hit target with online hockey sales business
Co Down brothers Alan and Steven McMurray have their sights on world domination with their online hockey business. Total Hockey started in 2001 as a corner in a drapery shop in Banbridge, but is now one of the UK's leading retailers of hockey gear.
Today, the shop is Ireland's largest specialist hockey store and now ships as far as North America and Japan through www.total-hockey.com.
Steven started the business selling a few hockey sticks in the corner of the drapery store, but early investment in the decision to put the business online meant the business grew quickly.
Alan said: "We just knew we needed to be online to push the business forward even in the early days. Even if we sold a hockey stick to everyone in Banbridge we would have eventually run out of people to sell to.
"At the start we just had a page online with basic information and people would have had to call the shop to place an order. It also helped that we picked a good domain 'total-hockey.com' which made it easier for people to find us. But things have come on a lot since then."
Eventually Alan left his job as the officer for hockey on the Ulster Sports Council to help his brother with the rapidly growing business.
"My father was a bit sceptical at first but we were selling ribbon, button and bits and bobs maybe only worth a few pence. There was no margin on it," Alan said.
"Every time we wanted more space for the hockey stuff we used to say, 'Think how many buttons you'd need to sell to make the same money'.
"We went from selling buttons from 2p to 3p to hockey equipment for £200-£300 and that really helped the case for giving more space to the hockey business."
Today the business makes around 48% of its sales online, and ships 95% of its online orders outside Northern Ireland. The firm specialises in goalkeeping equipment.
"We try to be a bit different," Alan said. "The goalkeepers are the ones who are nearly always forgotten about in the sport so we wanted to change that and to make them feel special. We brought in lots of brightly coloured kits to make them stand out on the pitch. You used to only be able to get goalkeeping equipment in two or three different colours but we have over 30 in the shop now.
"We decided to focus on Facebook and we realised that some of the 'likes' we paid for were not hockey fans - so we decided to focus on building really good engagement with real hockey people."
The pair invest in providing quality content for their 33,000 Facebook fans.
Alan manages most of the company's online presence.
He said: "I spend a day every week planning what will go online, but some campaigns are planned much further in advance.
"We started our Rio Olympics plan in December 2015 and decided to make 10 videos.
"It wasn't based on making sales - we just wanted to increase our brand awareness. And because we made the videos ourselves the cost was minimal.
"We try to build online interaction with our customers and not make everything about sales - we'll ask what everyone did for Valentine's Day or what we should name a new kit.
"After our Olympics programme we saw a 60% increase in sales, so it is worthwhile."
The videos received thousands of hits and featured 'Rio' - a goalkeeper who hadn't made it on to the Olympic hockey team and instead had decided to try his hand at other sports.
Alan explained it can be hard to stay competitive online and added that, although the logistics of running an online business in Northern Ireland was an added challenge, he remains keen to expand the business.
Last year the brothers acquired a Lisburn rival, Sports Dock, and they have also just bought a 49% share in a London-based sports retailer - HockeyCentre - in Woking.
Steven (left) and Alan McMurray of Total Hockey, the largest specialist hockey store in Ireland