For more than three decades, Riedell Shoes has made skates for national, world and Olympic athletes. This year, the Red Wing-based company has custom-made skates for five figure skaters competing in the Vancouver games.
"We're extremely proud to have those athletes, wearing our product and being associated with Riedell," said Dan Riegelman vice president of Riedell Shoes.
The Winter Olympics start Friday in Vancouver. The event is more than just a competition of the world's best athletes. It's also an ideal marketing opportunity for sponsors and businesses.
During the 17-day event, athletes will use the equipment and products of at least three Minnesota-based companies. The companies hope the exposure will mean more sales and increasing their product's recognition.
Riegelman said his family has long embraced the Olympics as an opportunity to showcase its skates.
"It's a lot about visibility and getting brand exposure to our product associated with an Olympic caliber type of skater and so forth like that," Riegelman said. "Many of those skaters have purchased and continue to purchase our skates as they continue to come up through the ranks."
Riedell custom-built skates for five Olympic figure skaters this year, including Jeremy Abbott, the current U.S. National Men's Champion, and Johnny Weir, the third place U.S. Senior Men's Champ.
The company does not sponsor these athletes with financial contributions, but it does provide them with the skates they'll use during the Olympic competitions.
The Olympics will air on NBC. Network officials estimate 200 million people will watch at least part of the Games. That number is more than the 184 million who tuned in for the last winter games in Turin, Italy.
For Riegelman, getting his product in front of that many television viewers is quite an opportunity. He says recreational sports like skating have seen a huge dip in sales during the recession and the Olympics always offer a bit of a boost.
"It piques a lot of people's interest. And that results in increased business for us as well," Riegelman said.
Another Minnesota company hoping to see an uptick is Wayzeta-based Hart Skis. The company is counting on Patrick Deneem, a freestyle mogul skier, to help with that push.
Deneen is known as "The Rocket". He's currently the World Cup Champion for mogul freestyle skiing. He and and and six other top freestyle skiers will wear Hart Skis during the Vancouver Games.
Hart was once one of the leading American ski manufacturers. But it fell out of favor in the '80s and '90s when it was bought out by a food company.
The company is back under family control and it's working aggressively to regain its footing in the market.
By the mid-60s, Hart Skis had about 40 percent of the market share, filling about 144,000 skis a year.
Julie Farnie, the company's chief administrative officer, said Hart's gaining ground again, especially with the help of top athletes like Deneen.
"Selfishly, we hope that the visibility of our athletes will show people that Hart is back," Farnie said."Because...we cannot go anywhere without somebody over 30 saying 'My first skis were Hart skis,' "I love Hart skis,' or 'I'm so glad you're back.'"
Hart is based in Minnesota, but produces its skis in Colorado, Italy and China.
"It's a thrill to have something you put your blood sweat, and tears into popping up on NBC and for the world to see," Farni said. "It's a thrill. It's part of the fun of the business."
Maplewood-based 3M will also get a slice of Olympic marketing. 3M is an example of how a company's approach and attitude toward Olympics can change.
In the 80s, 3M developed coating for the U.S. Luge team, both for the sleds and for the athletes' bodysuits. This year, it's worked with a clothing manufacturer to make the U.S. Ski Team Jackets for roughly 40 athletes. The jackets incorporate a variation of Thinsulate, the synthetic fiber insulation used in clothing.
"To be seen on world-class athletes is incredibly important to us. We definitely don't take that lightly," said 3M's Jeff Gunia.
Gunia and the other Minnesota manufacturers say the exact benefits of brand exposure may be impossible to calculate. But recreational sports have taken a huge hit because of the economy. And officials with these three companies hope any exposure will help their bottom line.