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Sport SAQ owner prepares for growth

Curtis Medlen owns Sport SAQ which makes and sells sport-specific athletic bags. (Dan Pelle)
Curtis Medlen owns Sport SAQ which makes and sells sport-specific athletic bags. (Dan Pelle)

Used to be, Sport SAQ sold its custom athletic bags to other businesses. This summer Sport SAQ opened a retail store at 1511 N. Mullan Road in Spokane Valley to clear existing merchandise and create a storefront so it could directly serve customers, CEO Curtis Medlen said.

Previously, the company had a business-to-business model for its custom athletic bags, including the company’s first product, the Hoop SAQ, which he conceived in 1992.

In creating the company, Medlen said he thought there would be a market for sport-specific bags, rather than the general duffle bag commonly used by athletes.

“I had a dream,” Medlen said. “I sat up and wrote ‘basketball bag.’ ”

He made the first prototype for the Hoop SAQ in 1993 on his mother’s sewing machine. Medlen’s mom, Lola Emter, also provided $35,000 in startup costs to help him launch the business. The SAQ acronym in the name, he said, stands for style, attitude and quality.

The bag design, said Medlen, was patented in 1995. “We offer more features,” he said, pointing out external water bottle holders, and separate pockets for specific equipment like balls and shoes.

In addition to the Hoop SAQ, the product line includes custom bags for other sports, such as running, soccer, volleyball and baseball. The bags also come in different sizes, with backpack and duffle-like options.

With a typical retail price of $69.99, Medlen says the bags “last longer than traditional duffel bags. …We’ve had people use them 10 years.”

While the bags were made locally for the first few years, Medlen said the company moved production to China in 1999.

Now, Medlen said, he wants to raise enough capital to re-launch the company in 2013 and expand nationally and, eventually internationally. The storefront on Mullan will also serve as headquarters for a sales team, though Medlen is currently the only employee.

“I’m trying to raise $5 million during the next three years,” he said, noting that the company has already sold bags both nationally and internationally. “We’ve sold over 150,000 bags since we first started.”

Some of Sport SAQ’s notable customers, Medlen said, have included the Gonzaga men’s basketball team and NBC Camps. The company also sells to youth sports teams such as the Sting Soccer Club.

Bags can also be customized with heat pressed or embroidered team logos.

Medlen said athletes appreciate the design, not only because it’s sport specific but because the quality and look of the bags match a dedicated athlete’s commitment to their sport – which is why the company’s tagline is “Be prepared.”

“To be prepared you have to have everything in order,” he said. “If you’re going to come to the game, be prepared.”

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