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Trevor McKenney, McKenney Custom Sports Inc. president with a sampling of Canadian-made products.

McKenney Custom Sports

Throughout small towns in Canada are 44 sports retailers stocking their stores with goalie pads, blockers, gloves and other goods.

The equipment, made in Scarborough, Ont., is also shipped to the U.S., Russia, the U.K., other European countries and as far away as Japan.

"When you think of the best of the best in hockey equipment, people refer to Canadian-made hockey equipment as the elite product. Even though the quality if improving offshore, it doesn't compare to what's made at home," says president Trevor McKenney.

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At age 25, Mr. McKenney founded the sports equipment company with long-time friend Mike McNamara in 1996. Mr. McKenney played hockey and had worked in sports retail since he was a teenager. He had learned the ins and outs of repairing goalie equipment and Mr. McNamara would design their own equipment prototypes, focusing on hockey.

Now the company has 16 employees who cut, sew and stuff each goal pad and other pieces of equipment by hand. It takes three people between a total of 12 and 14 hours to put together a pair of goal pads from synthetic leather, high-density nylons and lightweight foam.

McKenney says finding the "craftsmen" he needs isn't easy.

"It's not as simple as sewing a T-shirt," he says. "It's harder and harder to find people in these generations who go in to these types of trades... because so much of these products are made in the far east."

The business, which sells through dealers not directly to the public, has seen some up and downs since opening. One challenge has been competing with cheaper, foreign-made equipment that has brought price points down dramatically, McKenney says.

The amount of business coming from south of the border has dipped since the business opened. U.S. distributors once made up about half of the business, McKenney says, but economic changes have brought it down to about 15 per cent.

To stay in business, McKenney is trying to maintain its "grassroots" characteristics that sets his company apart from big names like Bauer and Reebok.

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"They all advertise at the NHL level and at our size, the cost associated with advertising there are not feasible," McKenney says, adding that it enables him to sell domestically-made products at a mid-price range.

"What you're paying for is the actual quality of the product, not for the advertising or the marketing behind it."

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