Itís a Slam Dunk for Mr. Hoop
Boston Business Journal
by Andrew McCloy

In the summer of 1989, Eric Elofson was living with a bunch of college buddies in a big house in Waltham. One day, they all decided to pool their money to buy a basketball hoop so they could unwind after work shooting baskets.

Elofson brought the prized hoop home, where it sat in its box for several days, unopened. No one knew how to install it.

An electronic computer components salesman at the time, Elofson called around, looking for someone to install the hoop, but came up empty.

Eventually, Elofson figured out how to install the hoop himself.

Then, in an entrepreneurial moment of clarity, it dawned on him: What a great idea for a business.

"The idea hit me like a ton of bricks," said the then 34-year-old Elofson, president, owner and founder of Mr. Hoop, an installer and assembler of basketball hoops and other athletic equipment. "There was nobody doing this stuff." The company, [then] based in Millis, has been a slam dunk for Elofson, who hung up his neckties and suits to pursue Mr. Hoop full time.

Mr. Hoop is now under contract with [Decathlon, Dickís, Natick Outdoor Store, and other large sporting good stores throughout New England] to deliver and install basketball hoops and other sporting and fitness goods. The sporting goods retailers offer the service to customers; Mr. Hoop gets 100 percent of the fee.

Elofson has banked Mr. Hoop's success on the notion that people today are simply too busy to spend the tune putting together basketball hoops and other athletic equipment. And many people simply lack the mechanical skills.

"It's helped us immensely," said Ralph Lazzaro, a buyer for Decathlon Sports Stores Inc., which operates stores [all over New England.]"We're not in the service business and we don't want to be. Mr. Hoop takes care of everything after we make the sale."

Under the service arrangement, Mr. Hoop contracts directly with the customer. When you walk into an Decathlon or a Dickís Sporting Goods,you'll likely see a Mr. Hoop tag or card hanging on most basketball hoops, treadmills, ping pong tables, home gyms and other athletic equipment.

"When they ask us for delivery, we tell them that we've got the guy," Lazzaro said.

Mr. Hoop's services are particularly in demand around the holidays. "We can sell 300 ping pong tables in a week during the holidays," Lazzaro said. "There's just no way we could handle all of those."

Even [former] Massachusetts Gov. William Weld retained its services. The company [installed] a top-of-the-line hoop--at the NBA regulation height of 10 feet for the 6-foot, 4-inch governor--in the driveway of the governor's manse on Fayerweather Street in Cambridge.

Starting with a pick and shovel
Elofson started Mr. Hoop with only a couple hundred dollars, which he spent on a wheelbarrow, a pick, a shovel and some bags of cement. Everything he needed to install an in-ground pole, backboard and hoop.

His first step was to take out a classified ad in the Middlesex News in Framingham. He came home from work the first night the ad ran and found 15 messages on his answering machine.

There was only one problem, Elofson recalls. "We looked at each other and said, 'OK, how do you install a basketball hoop?'"

But Elofson, whose handyman experience amounted to building tree forts as a kid, quickly became skilled at mixing cement and working a ratchet. In the beginning, he kept his sales job, and on nights and weekends he installed hoops.

"I used to drive to jobs in my Ford Taurus, a classic salesman's car, and show up with a bag of cement and a wheelbarrow in the trunk," he said. "I was always a suit-and-tie kind of a guy; I never thought I'd be doing this."

Today, he has a fleet of three pickup trucks, five full-time employees, and a pool of part-timers.

The company also has a popular line of baseball caps, T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing the Mr. Hoop logo--the "P" in the shape of a hoop with a basketball going through it. Both the logo and the company's slogan, "We do the work . . . You have the fun"--are trade marked.

Hours are long. Elofson is usually going from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week.

Installing an in-ground basketball hoop [is] a two-day process in which a Mr. Hoop employee first sets the hoop pole into the ground with cement. Elofson comes along the second day and bolts the backboard and hoop together and attaches them to the pole.

In the winter, when the hoop business dies down, the company concentrates on assembling athletic equipment used inside the home.

Mr. Hoop does have some competitors, but none of them is aligned with a major sporting goods store, Elofson said. "I've definitely got all the big sporting goods stores lined up," he said.

The company will be getting some good exposure on September 25, when "The Discovery Channel" will air a segment on home improvements featuring his company installing a basketball hoop.

"Kind of like 'This Old Hoop,'" Elofson said, jokingly referring to public television's popular home-improvement show, '"This Old House.í"

Standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 250 pounds, Elofson played football linebacker during his four years at the University of New Hampshire, where he majored in business.

Given his line of work, it's not surprising that these days he finds himself handling a basketball more often than a pigskin.

"I tell you, the best part of the job is when the kids who have been waiting for you to finish finally get to test out their new hoop," he said. "We carry around a basketball in the truck specifically designed for that."