Back on Top
The team headwear business continues to face down supply chain disruptions and style changes.
Back on Top
The team headwear business continues to face down supply chain disruptions and style changes.
Last year’s many headaches in the team headwear business were largely due to the residual effects of lockdowns and varying state mandates as a result of COVID-19. But one problem certainly reigned supreme, causing the biggest migraines for team dealers across the country — supply chain disruptions. Shipment delays, backorders and limited stock made it very difficult for teams to get their heads into the right caps in 2022 and many team dealers could not foresee any improvements happening in 2023.
Though their prospects were grim up until just about six months ago, to many dealers’ surprise supply chain issues have started to ease as the upcoming spring baseball season approaches.
“It’s significantly improved, but teams are still ordering what’s available,” says Matt Clark, owner of Posey’s Sports Center, Natchitoches, LA. “Pacific Headwear and The Game have been great at delivering on time.”
Last year many teams had to deal with slim pickings when it came to selecting their caps, with little guarantee that they would even receive the caps they ordered. This year, it seems that there are still specific styles that are hard for teams to get their hands on, but the caps they order are much more likely to be fulfilled and delivered on time.
“A lot of companies have decreased the amount of SKUs they have in stock. You can get everything but one size sometimes,” reports Betsy Frey, owner of Holyoke Sporting Goods, Holyoke MA.
Gaps in inventory were a frequent problem in 2022, with many dealers scrambling to find other suppliers that could fill the holes in their orders, in addition to distributors who were buying up stock and selling it at a higher price, which created some concerns for coaches last season. According to Clark, companies are doing a better job this year supplying caps at all levels.
“Cap America and Pacific Headwear are doing great for youth sports,” he says.
Completing the Order
This problem with missing inventory may not be totally resolved in 2023, though it seems dealers aren’t feeling as pressed to turn to additional suppliers and distributors to complete their orders.
For Frey, this concern is definitely not as prevalent as it was at this time last year and hasn’t posed as much of an issue for the teams in her area. She, like many others, started ordering several months ahead of time to ensure they would get what they wanted. Last year, the struggle of finding matching caps and shirts to complete teams’ uniforms was paramount, with lead times taking up to a minimum of six weeks. To prepare for this year, Frey did everything in her power to avoid the stress she felt last season.
“I wasn’t putting up with that mess,” she says in reference to the number of backorders she experienced the year prior. “I only have one school missing their shipment. Everyone is getting the styles they want unless the company has discontinued it.”
This proves to be a big improvement from last season when Frey had to give teams whatever styles she could get in stock. Even the All Star teams had to sacrifice their special uniforms and swap them out for simpler styles in order to be sure they’d have caps that matched their shirts.
“Most of the experienced coaches ordered earlier,” says Clark, who took the same approach as Frey to avoid as many obstacles in outfitting teams as he could. Although for newer coaches in the game who did not order as early, they can expect to run into some minor issues with backorders, he reports.
That’s not to say that 2023 supply chain challenges have alleviated for team dealers everywhere. While those such as Clark and Frey are feeling more at ease this year, other dealers are still struggling to receive their shipments from overseas.
“I see 2023 being another challenging year. The supply chain shortages remain a constant challenge,” says Dan Cordi, owner of Zappia Athletic Products, Vestal NY. “The majority of headwear is produced in China and they continue to experience COVID shutdowns. Combined with labor shortages in domestic warehouses, customer service and transportation, it should make 2023 another difficult year.”
Like the others, Cordi says he too has been encouraging coaches to place their orders early in hopes to alleviate some of the possibility of delays due to backorders.
“We will continue to make customers aware of the ongoing delays and backorders. We encourage them to order as early as possible and to select second, third, and fourth style preferences in the event of backorders,” he says.
So while the pains of 2022 are definitely more severe for some than others, nobody is home-free and back to pre-pandemic levels with their orders. Even with ordering early, Frey reports she’s still had to push simpler styles to avoid any possibility of backorder and that because of the lingering supply chain issues there were no promotions running for this year.
The Trends Up Top
Even with simplicity, headwear trends have begun resurfacing in 2023 as teams have more flexibility in which styles they can choose.
“New stock has done very well. Perforated backs are highly sought after,” says Clark. “Sideline sales are primarily trucker caps and families are supporting teams now more than ever.”
Last year, to compensate for the uncertain availability of sideline caps, teams were bumping up the orders for their players so they would be able to hand out the extra stock to families. During most years, dealers could typically rely on selling family apparel around the holidays; however, in 2022 there was no way to be certain that these orders would arrive on time.
The good news: In 2023, it sounds like families will have more luck getting caps and other team-spirited apparel.
On the topic of trends, the prediction that the popular trucker mesh would still be unavailable by January 2023 was a concern for dealers last year, though it seems that might not actually be the case.
“Trucker mesh remains a popular option both for corporate and team,” says Cordi, who has also seen trends return despite the ongoing supply chain issues he continues to experience.
Another returning pre-pandemic design choice are those all-important, but harder to fill, custom orders. In 2021 and ’22 custom uniforms were nearly impossible for teams to get and only those like Cordi with in-house embroidery were able to accommodate customization to some degree. Now, other dealers have seen custom orders coming through their business once again.
With the 2023 spring season nearly here, it feels like COVID-19 concerns in the team sports business are in the past as far as varying state mandates, disrupted season schedules and smaller team sizes.
ADVICE FROM ABOVE
Rhyen Campbell, Communications
and Engagement Strategist
The biggest challenge in 2023: “While the supply chain will be better in 2023, it will still not be 100 percent back to the way it was before the pandemic. There will be holes in inventory and delays in filling those styles that are out of stock. Team dealers will need to work with coaches and leagues and be nimble enough to pivot to something that may not be their first or even second choice.”
Advice for team dealers: “Prepare your coaches for what lies ahead and get them to order early to have plenty of time before the season starts. Communicate inventory challenges and production times so they are aware and avoid any potential delays.”
New product focus: Cap America’s i5009 is a low-profile, six-panel unstructured cap with a standard pre-curved visor and washed chino twill with washed soft trucker mesh and an adjustable plastic snap tab closure. The 15011 is a high-profile, five-panel structured cap with a modified flat visor, poly/cotton blend with trucker mesh, a braided rope accent and adjustable plastic snap tab closure.
Derek Jensen, VP–Sales
The biggest challenge in 2023: “Customers will likely have more choices when it comes to where they spend their dollars. This means increased competition and the need to work hard to stand out in the market. One of the biggest challenges you may face will be providing excellent service in order to retain business and attract new customers. This may require using new technologies and programs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of general operations. This goes for team dealers and vendors alike. At the same time there should be a focus on building strong relationships with customers by being responsive to their needs, providing personalized service and addressing any issues or concerns in a timely and satisfactory manner.”
Advice for team dealers:“By staying attuned to the changing needs and preferences of the customer and consistently delivering exceptional service, you can position yourself as a trusted and reliable partner in the market, even in the face of increased competition.”
New product focus: The PTS50 is the evolution of Richardson’s micro-mesh fabric, built to complement the matrix mesh fabric used in its PTS Uniforms.
Ben Roberts, Head of Marketing
The biggest challenge: “Whereas inventory was a huge challenge for the team headwear business in 2022, for 2023 that the challenge lies within team dealers getting the information that they need earlier in the buying season to get their orders in sooner. The team dealer network fully understands the importance of submitting their orders further in advance based on the challenges that were encountered in 2022. However, they are in some cases at a standstill with the teams that they are working with as they may not have all of the information they need to submit their orders.”
Advice for team dealers: “Communicate with the leagues and teams as early and as frequently as possible and continue to stress the need for getting all of the information .”
New product focus: Cagemesh and Air are Outdoor Cap’s top fabrics this year and are custom priced based on quantity and design choices.
Augusta Sportswear/Pacific Headwear
Carter Newman, Business Unit Director, Headwear
The biggest challenge in 2023 … “I would note two major challenges for the team headwear business rolling into 2023 — forecasting supply as we return to and exceed pre-COVID levels and speed to market in the custom business. Without question the team headwear business continues to grow past pre-COVID levels. That is great news, but the challenge is around forecasting the growth to the appropriate levels to ensure manufacturers and distributors are stocked and ready to win for spring baseball. In many cases, core team styles from 2019 performed well below expectations in 2020-2022. As a manufacturer, placing the right bets on key styles will be paramount to service team dealers and end consumers. The Amazon effect is also impacting the custom headwear business, placing a premium on faster turn-times and efficiency across all order processes.”
Advice for team dealers: “If at all possible, order early. We are seeing a slight shift in purchasing to earlier in the season to ensure product availability when teams take the field. In some cases even a week or two could positively impact service to the consumer. Also, pay close attention to top in-stock or new styles and focus sales efforts there. Our industry has a tendency to default to previously sold styles when looking to order for the upcoming season.”
New product focus: The Pacific Headerwear ES471 is a lightweight perforated PacFlex Coolcore Cap with a full-profile, pro-model, on-field style featuring Coolcore technology and a lightweight stretch woven polyester/cotton blend. The P820 Momentum Team Cap is a mid-profile, pro-model snapback made of 100 percent cotton.