At the end of the game, whether it’s the Super Bowl, Game 7 of the World Series or a Saturday morning peanut soccer game, a dirty uniform shows the effort made on the field: a great tackle, a stolen base, a goal scored. But unlike trophies and medals, grass, dirt and mud stains aren’t souvenirs; nobody wants them around for the next game.
But as coaches, equipment managers and moms and dads can attest, keeping uniforms looking their best is difficult (who orders white football and baseball pants for kids, anyway?)
Steve Dean, a father of five boys and a volunteer high school football coach, knew all about keeping up appearances on the field
“My experience as well as the experience of most sports mom that I knew was that a regular detergent was not enough to effectively remove tough stains such as red clay, grass, mud, blood, field paint, sweat stains, etc. And the pre-spot stain removers on the market, including the well-known national brands, were not able to offer much more of a solution to the problem.”
Dean, who was working as a sales manager for a company that made and distributed cleaners and protectants for the automotive and marine industry, set out to create a better solution.
“That background gave me a good understanding and insight to household cleaners and stain removers so I had a general idea of what kind of stain remover it would take to effectively tackle the athletic uniform cleaning challenge,” he told Happi.com
With the “help and blessing of his employer at the time,” Dean sought out the expertise of two chemists.
“We challenged them to help us formulate a pre-spot stain remover that would effectively remove the most difficult stains associated with rugged outdoor athletic competition.”
But Dean had three additional requirements: he wanted it to be reasonably priced, contain an effective odor-eliminator and be environmentally friendly.
The chemists hit a home run.
“It simply does what it says it will do: effectively get out the most difficult stains that plague sports uniforms,” Dean said.
The formulation contains a brightening agent to help keep the garment looking like new all season long, according to Dean. In addition, Espro can be called into the game for other issues, such as cleaning and deodorizing athletic equipment such as shoulder pads, helmets, shin guards and gloves.
But this isn’t “A Field of Dreams”—simply building a great product doesn’t mean consumers will come. In fact, Dean described the early days of selling Espro Sports Cleaner as “very difficult.”
“Taking a start-up company, single product and very limited financial resources and trying to introduce it to the marketplace is an incredibly hard thing to do,” he told Happi. “You have heard how many companies got their start in a garage or basement and that is exactly where Espro ‘cut our teeth’; in the first few years—in the corner of the Dean family garage!”
The first two to three years of selling Espro was challenging, but Dean pressed on. The brand’s big break came when sporting goods chain Hibbett Sports, which is based in Dean’s hometown of Birmingham, AL, gave it a try. The Hibbett’s buyer put Espro in a 50-store test, and she soon added another 400 stores. Today, Espro can be found in more than 650 Hibbett doors throughout the US.
Dean also called on many high school and college equipment managers, sent them samples, and attended as many trade shows and coaching clinics as possible to spread the word.
Today, Espro Sports Cleaner can say it has made the big leagues—not only is it used by more than 100 college and pro teams, the brand is currently stocked in 580 Walmart stores. And at press time, the world’s biggest retailer planned to expand Espro to more than 1,870 stores and put the cleaner in a special end cap program at more than 600 Sam’s Clubs just in time for start of spring sports.
Dean wants Espro to be more than a one-hit wonder. New products are on the drawing board that he plans to launch within the next year two.
“Our long-term goal,” Dean said, “is to offer a full-line of Espro Cleaning Products.”