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New owners, fresh start for Play It Again Sports

Jeff Melby, owner of Play It Again Sports, sharpens the blades on an ice skate Friday morning in the sharpening room at the store. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- Sure, many people think it's expensive to outfit a youngster to play hockey.

But it doesn't have to be that way, says Jeff Melby.

"I could put someone into hockey equipment for under a hundred dollars, including skates," he said.

Melby and his wife, Kina, are the new owners of Play It Again Sports, picking up where Doug Quick, who owned the local franchise for the past 17 years, left off.

New or used, buy, sell or trade, Play It Again Sports is one of the region's key resources for helping equip athletes to pursue their chosen sport.

"We really want to reach out to the community and get involved," Melby said. "We want to be the local resource. Whatever the community needs, we want to cater to that need."

With youth, high school and adult hockey going full blast right now, this means all things hockey: skates, sticks, helmets, pads, mouthguards and more.

Hockey, football and baseball make up the store's core business, Melby said.

But Play It Again Sports also stocks snowboards and skateboards. It has boxing gloves, inline skates, tennis rackets, golf clubs, sport discs and weight benches. The clientele ranges all the way from 5- and 6-year-olds just getting started in a sport to serious high school and college-level athletes and adults.

"We carry and stock everything year round just in case," Melby said.

Under the direction of Kina Melby, the store is expanding its fitness section. The Melbys have brought in more treadmills and elliptical trainers. They've added yoga mats, power sleds, medicine balls and other fitness gear.

"We're always looking for new things," Melby said. "We've had some requests for swimming apparel. We invite the community to come in and let us know what they want."

The store and its crew of 12 employees provide extra services as well, such as sharpening skates, relacing baseball gloves and restringing tennis rackets.

Over the whine of a skate blade being sharpened, Melby recounted a lifetime devoted to sports. A 1988 graduate of Willmar High School, he played high school hockey as well as college tennis. For a time he ran hockey and sports camps in Massachusetts, then became a sales representative in Florida for Bauer Hockey, later Bauer Nike Hockey.

For the past eight years he was a medical equipment sales rep. He moved to Spicer and began coaching the River Lakes boys' hockey team.

About a year ago he was contacted by Quick, whom he'd met during his hockey equipment sales days. Quick was looking for a successor to the business and thought Melby would be a good fit.

"We started talking. It just kind of progressed," Melby said.

The transfer of ownership officially took place in November.

As part of a national franchise of more than 450 Play It Again Sports outlets, the local store's prices are competitive, Melby said. "We'll meet or beat any price anywhere."

Its unique niche, however, is in trading used sports equipment. Customers can bring in good-quality gear they no longer need or want, and trade it for a discount on something new. The savings then get passed on in the form of bargains for other customers on secondhand equipment.

A high-end golf driver, for instance, can be bought slightly used for around $200 -- about half the cost of a new one, Melby said.

There's a definite market for recycled sports equipment, he said. "When we get nice-quality used stuff, it sells right away. We try to sell good-quality used products at half or a little bit more than what it sells for new."

The economy has had an impact on the sale of sports equipment, he acknowledged. Consumers can leverage their buying power, however, by trading or buying secondhand, he said. "What we'd like to have our customers know is they can bring in their items and create their own discount. ... They can come in and they can save money and pass the discount on to someone else."

A grand reopening that runs through Jan. 17 is giving the Melbys a chance to introduce themselves as the new owners of Play It Again Sports and meet their customers.

"It's an established business. We've got the established clientele. We know what people want," Melby said. "We now want to take it to a fresh look and a new level."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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