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Keeper Goals scores with niche

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Steel fabricator turned side project for son's school into powerful division

By MARINO ECCHER

Posted: Feb. 9, 2008

 

Butler -When John Moynihan scored for his soccer team at St. Jude the Apostle school in his youth, the ball sailed through a goal built by his father.

"St. Jude's and another school knew that my dad had a steel fabrication shop and asked him to make one," said Moynihan, now 42.

James Moynihan agreed to give goal-making a try and had workers at the family's steel shop cut its first piece of sports equipment. That side job proved to be successful, led to more orders and eventually, a specialty that evolved into Keeper Goals.

Today, John Moynihan runs a company that, like the family behind it, has deep roots in the Wisconsin soccer community.

James and Laura Moynihan started Demand & Precision Parts, a steel-cutting shop, in 1974. The shop moved into sporting goods in the early 1980s as requests trickled in - first the soccer goal for St. Jude's, then another acquaintance who asked for a basketball hoop - until the Keeper Goals division became the company's mainstay.

While soccer equipment is the biggest seller, the company makes a range of products, from bleachers to hockey nets to custom orders.

Keeper Goals, 12400 W. Silver Spring Drive, does most of its business with schools, park districts and soccer clubs. Most of its customers are in the Midwest, but California, Colorado and New York also account for a sizable portion of sales, Moynihan said.

He declined to give revenue figures for the company, but said sales have grown for 14 consecutive years and that growth has been by double digits in most of those years.

Keeper Goals drew a mention from Gov. Jim Doyle last month in his "state of the state" address. Doyle used the company as an illustration of a small business that has grappled in recent years with rising health care costs.

Moynihan said his company had struggled with such costs. Keeper Goals has 11 full-time employees and re-evaluates its health care options each year. He said health insurance costs increased about 10% this year, the lowest increase he's seen in six years.

Despite the rising costs, Moynihan said providing coverage has always been part of the company's philosophy.

"If you're going to employ someone, you want to make sure you're taking care of them," he said.

Keeper Goals' employees are "basically family," Moynihan said, a description that fits with the accounts of those who know the Moynihans.

Jim Launder, director of coaching for the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association, recruited John's brother Michael in the mid-1980s as a coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"They took me in like a member of the family," Launder said. "It was like recruiting the whole family."

Launder quickly developed a rapport with James Moynihan, who used him as a sounding board for new goal designs.

"He would make one, and then he'd have me try it out," Launder said. "I'd write up notes and send them back to him. Pretty soon, we had a collection of all these kinds of goals."

Designed to be sturdy

Launder said that after dealing with goals that either fell apart too easily or threatened to tip over and flatten his players in high winds, the design of the Keeper Goals products was a welcome change.

"They engineered them so that they're counter-weighted in the back," he said. "One time we were kind of messing around and had 10 U-12 players messing around and hanging from the crossbar, and it didn't tip over. You literally have to lift the back to tip it."

While James may have been a constant tinkerer, he may have gotten it right early on: John said the company's top-selling goal - the M-83, which sells for $2,410 a pair - has remained essentially unchanged since 1983.

The business end of Keeper Goals is propped up by the family's strong background in soccer, Launder said. The late Laura Moynihan, one of the pioneers of girls soccer in Wisconsin, was the first woman to be inducted into the Wisconsin Soccer Association Hall of Fame.

John has coached at Marquette University High School, where he is an alumnus. James coached club soccer in Wauwatosa.

Outside of the family business, Michael is the head coach of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee women's soccer team. Susan Moynihan, John's and Michael's sister, coaches for FC Milwaukee, a prominent youth soccer program that evolved from the old Milwaukee Kickers, according to the club Web site.

"Their first love was soccer, not goals," Launder said.

Keeper Goals shares a building with FC Milwaukee, which leases space from the company. Pete Knezic, director of coaching at FC Milwaukee, said the company approached the club when it moved to Butler a few years ago to ask if they'd be interested in sharing the facility.

"For us, it's great, because the Moynihan family has always been very close friends with FC Milwaukee," he said.

Knezic said he met the family in the early 1990s. While James Moynihan has taken a less hands-on role with the family business, he still drops in on FC Milwaukee to say hello, Knezic said.

"It's a neat family, and the soccer to community is lucky to have them," he said.

The company's top-selling soccer goal - the M-83, which sells for $2,410 a pair - has remained essentially unchanged since 1983.

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