Joe Rodriguez’s father started SPI Nets more than three decades ago, relying on his fishing background to launch a business making fishing nets. But today, the company’s nets don’t catch fish. They catch balls – baseballs, soccer, golf and even lacrosse balls.
“The fishing industry as far as net building is a very localized business,” Rodriguez said, meaning that fishing regions tend to have plenty of established businesses manufacturing the nets. “That side of the business has some really entrenched companies and it’s a lot more competitive. We can’t be competitive in local fishing.”
Rodriguez changed the San Benito company’s direction to become a sports-centric operation. “It’s more profitable and there’s more room for growth.” SPI Nets offers a wide variety of sports nets that include baseball backstops and batting cages, soccer goals, football goal post netting and a variety of practice nets for golf to lacrosse.
SPI Nets has moved more into custom sports netting to expand its offerings and carve out a larger niche in the market. “For example, if a customer wants a large batting cage with dividers that can be moved around, all that needs to be made to order.”
He sells as a wholesaler to distributors around the country, and acts as a distributor for field accessories like baseball pitching machines and athletic field line stripers. Rodriguez said he hopes to use his expertise in custom netting products as leverage to generate greater retail sales. “There’s a lot of other companies that sell what we sell, but not that many that do custom work.”
Eight employees work at the company’s home location in San Benito, but most of SPI Nets fabrication takes place in a maquiladora in Valle Hermoso, Mexico, where between 25 and 30 people are employed, depending on the work load.
“We are looking to get more into the retail side, and move aggressively to do so,” Rodriguez said. “We already have retail customers all over the country, primarily schools and cities.” Some of those clients are in the Rio Grande Valley, where SPI Nets has built sports netting for use in San Benito, Brownsville, Sharyland, Weslaco and others.
One of Rodriguez’s biggest challenges today is developing a marketing plan to promote and sell custom sports netting. “We cater to the custom product. Making the product is the easy part. Marketing is a different baby – that’s a learning curve.” He attends about four trade shows each year as part of that marketing effort, and is researching other avenues to reach new customers.
Expanding the company’s clientele is important for growth since many of the products produced by SPI Nets have a long life. “If they buy our product we’re not going to see them again for seven years or more for that product,” he said. “That’s when we know we did our job well.”
Rodriguez also views Mexico, where soccer and baseball are huge fan favorites, as an untapped market for SPI Nets, and he would like to get a piece of the action there. But those plans are in the very early stages. “We are barely looking to start marketing in Mexico, but we are looking at opening avenues in Mexico.”
While sports netting and accessories are the primary focus of SPI Nets, the company also handles industrial applications such as windscreen fencing, construction site barriers and landfill fences. For larger custom netting, the company website includes a feature for customers to design, price and order custom netting to meet their needs.