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Willies Expands with 5,000sqft Ice Hockey and Figure Skating Store in Coventry

A Midlands ice sports specialist has made a five figure investment to open a new 5,000sqft superstore in Coventry as part of a major expansion.

The new Willies retail venture at Challenge Business Park will officially open with a family fun weekend on the 17th and 18th June.

The store is the result of a £60,000 investment to create a one-stop shop for everything ice hockey, inline hockey and figure skating, including skates, sticks, clothing and protective equipment.

The opening marks a major expansion for the company, which was previously based in Earlsdon at a retail premises a quarter of the size of the new store, a stone’s throw from the SkyDome Arena, home to Elite Ice Hockey League side Coventry Blaze.

Inspired by the ice sports shops in Sweden and the US, the store will stock a huge range of products from leading brands, alongside demo and simulation areas.

The new Willies store will also offer a unique fitting service with pioneering 3D scanners to measure a customer’s head or feet to find the perfect equipment, while its repair shop can undertake the most complex repairs such as turning ice skates into roller boots.

Owner Luke Wilson set up the business with a friend in 2017 after being given free tickets to a Coventry Blaze game a few years earlier and falling in love with the sport.

“I hadn’t played ice hockey or anything before, but after watching that first game, I was completely and utterly hooked,” said former engineer Luke, who, for the first two years, ran the company in tandem with his own building testing firm.

Joining recreational side Coventry Spitfires and immersing himself in the game, Luke started to form relationships with clubs to ice hockey brands, propelling him to launch his new venture with friend Jonathan Hill, who also played ice hockey recreationally.

“We were chatting over a pint about the fact there was no shop for ice hockey in Coventry and Midlands teams had to travel a long way to pick up equipment,” he said.

“We saw a gap in the market and with Jonathan’s background in retail management for brands such as Aldi, we set up the shop in Earlsdon. It involved a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Even my wife, who was eight months pregnant, helped get it all ready.”

Things were ticking along nicely until the pandemic hit in 2020, effectively shutting down the sport industry. Instead of resting on their laurels, however, Luke and Jonathan ploughed their efforts into building an online shop to complement their physical store, finetune their systems and knuckle down on their marketing.

“It’s not in my nature to give up,” said Luke. “We put in the graft, re-fitting the shop and working with new brands, and when we re-opened after lockdown, it went mad.”

Hard hats to hockey helmets

From an initial investment of £15,000, Willies has gone from turning over £120,000 in 2017 to around £1.5 million in 2023. The team has also grown from two to 11, including sales assistant Calista Kou, a competition figure skater in Asia for two years who now balances her job at Willies with studying for a biosciences degree at the University of Warwick.

Swapping hard hats for hockey helmets, Luke said making the business a financial success was incredible, but running #TEAMWILLIES was also a labour of love.

“Ice hockey is my life, and my wife and kids, who are four and two, love it too,” he said.

“My little boy has a hockey stick in his hand all the time and my daughter pretty much copies everything he does. Even my mother-in-law comes to watch games with us.

“I can’t wait to continue on this adventure and encourage adults and kids from the community to have a go at these amazing sports.”

Family fun launch event

The free family fun weekend takes place at the new Willies store at Unit 4 Challenge Business Park, Challenge Close, just off Fosehill Road, from 10am-5pm on Saturday 17th June and 10am-4pm on Sunday 18th June.

Families can meet professional players, while those keen to play an ice sport can find out about the Coventry Blaze and Solihull Barons ice hockey academies and the International School of Skating.

With live music, games and refreshments, the event is also the chance to see amazing figure skaters in action and have a go at shooting an ice hockey puck into a goal.

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Willies co-founder Luke Wilson with son Tommy, warehouse manager Connor and Connor's nephew Arlo

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Notes to editors

Notes to editors Popular in Europe and the US, ice hockey has become a big hit in the UK in the past few years after the national team sensationally made its way to the Ice Hockey World Championship in 2019 after taking first place in the first division tournament in 2018. building on this success, Great Britain beat Italy in the final game of World Championship Division IA in May 2023. For more information, images and interviews, contact Mel Hall at Melonpress at [email protected] or call 07852 640028.

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