Cracking the Code


While advances in technology are usually exciting and nearly inescapable, they’re not always easy to understand or implement — especially among team dealers steeped in “that’s the way we always did it.” Technology adoption – the successful integration of new technology into a business – is challenging for companies of all sizes and has become even more so over the past couple of years following the start of the pandemic when so much has been happening so fast.

Some of the buzziest tech conversations revolve around the surge of artificial intelligence, the ramping up of 5G, tech-assisted shopping via mobile and social media platforms, cybersecurity and automation. While large enterprises are usually the first to utilize new tech, there is a trickle-down effect to smaller businesses such as team dealers as the advances become more widespread and cheaper to implement. But just how useful are today’s technologies to team dealers — and how do those dealers approach the proliferation of options?

One more important factor: In the team market it is vital to take into account the ever-important personal relationships that in some cases have been forged over generations. While most dealers have by now embraced technology in varying degrees, there are still a few doubting Thomases who want as little to do with tech as possible. Here, six dealers offer their thoughts on the subject.

Frank Ashcroft, owner, B&B Sporting Goods, Tallahassee, FL

Current tech usage: We use a wide range of technologies, including online team stores, inventory control, POS and tech for our sales people. We just got a new system, the Clover POS system, that includes inventory control and credit card sales.

Tech’s impact on your business: The tech we use, such as inventory control and bar code scanning, has had a positive effect on our business. We sell in bulk and that inventory gets tracked at the end of the year. The inventory control helps with POS and makes it easier to serve walk-in customers. I’ve been a team dealer for 42 years and technology has definitely improved. Inventory control technology keeps getting faster — it’s important to know what’s out there and how quick I can get it.

Use of tech going forward: Technology changes every day. Being part of Sports, Inc. helps, particularly in areas such as accounts payable.

The pros and cons of tech: The main pros are speed and knowledge — we can get orders done faster. The biggest con is that if the electricity goes off, you’re dead in the water. You’re at the mercy of the electric grid and the Internet. In any case, we still go to buying shows because it helps with our vendor relationships.

Zeke Garretson, co-owner, Garretson’s Sport Center, Greeley, CO

Current tech usage: We do a lot with OrderMyGear and we use POS registers and online team stores.

Tech’s impact on your business: We’re especially high tech in our lettering department. The technology lets us build uniforms easily and sublimation is a big deal — it’s cost-effective and there’s lots of leeway with designs and colors. Digital designing is important. Team lettering is 60 to 70 percent of our business.

Use of tech going forward: Technology will continue to play a big role in our business — it continues to amaze me. Tech is a very big part of the team business because it’s a highly special-order business.

The pros and cons of tech: On the positive side, from a selling point of view the ability to bring up product on-screen and see what the item will look like is important. It satisfies the need of customers more quickly than ever before. On the downside, 35 to 40 years ago everyone thought computers would come in and save the day. But it can be very time-consuming and there’s still paperwork to do.

Michael Bodart, owner, Hoosier Sporting Goods, Columbus, IN

Current tech usage: Within the store we use Windows-based POS and we also utilize online sites and stores and computerized and digitized artwork and printing.

Tech’s impact on your business: We’ve always been on the tech side. There are still some old codgers out there using pencils and paper, but using technology puts information right at your fingertips. It offers up-to-the-minute pricing and inventory information.

Use of tech going forward: We’ll always try to find the latest and greatest technologies. Tech is becoming more reliable than complicated, especially for younger employees who have had tech in their lives from the start.

The pros and cons of tech: The biggest pro is availability of information. But the downside is when technology doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

John Coffman, Coffman’s Sporting Goods, Louisville, KY

Current tech usage: I use technology as little as I have to.

Tech’s impact on your business: We shut down our online team stores after COVID-19 because they got too complicated to manage. Now we only take orders over the phone and we do our inventory on paper.

Use of tech going forward: It’s hard to say. Technology means more fees and we have to put up with more people trying to interfere with the business.

The pros and cons of tech: Right now, there’s so much fraud in technology – such as hacking, phishing and malware – it’s hard to keep up with everything. I try to stay offline as much as possible.

Betsy Frye, Holyoke Sporting Goods, Holyoke, MA

Current tech usage: We use online stores but we don’t have an e-commerce website. We also have POS and inventory systems.

Tech’s impact on your business: Online stores have really taken off and have been fantastic. We’ve been doing team stores for more than 10 years — we launched our first one in December, 2011. We have eight stores open now. It’s a much more organized way to do business and it provides an easy payment system.

Use of tech going forward: We plan to update our POS systems, but it’s too cost-prohibitive right now.

The pros and cons of tech: The best thing about technology is speed. No more hand-written, snail-mailed orders. I can go online and track packages so I always know where my orders are. It gives the business great flexibility. The bad thing is that people think they know too much; even though there’s a lot of information out there, simply going online doesn’t make you an expert. Most customers don’t know which companies to trust and which ones are the most reliable — they’re on their computers checking prices, but they don’t have the background knowledge of dealers.

Curt Hauff, owner, Dakota Lettering, Sioux Falls, SD

Current tech usage: We use online stores and they’ve accounted for 20 to 25 percent of our business for the past year or two. We also utilize ShopWorks business software for the reporting of sales info and we use websites, social media and third party software to communicate with customers.

Tech’s impact on your business: Technology has allowed us to do more with fewer people and it helps generate sales online quickly and affordably.

Use of tech going forward: We’re looking a little bit at AI apps, but this is fairly new and still in the experimental stage for us. Right now, we use AI to put text over video for social media. We still need to have people in production and we still need sales people. But tech will continue to evolve and we’ll find areas in which it will improve the customer experience.

The pros and cons of tech: Technology does a lot for us and it allows for extensive automation. But when it doesn’t work, it feels like you’re back in the 1980s.

Four Tech Trends to Come

Many tech experts opine that this year is set to further trends that had emerged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some key advances that businesses should watch, according to a recent report from Business News Daily.

1. Artificial intelligence will become more widespread.

Technology company NVIDIA found that AI deployments in retail stores caught 98 percent of instances of theft, fraud or human error, which led to a quick return on investment. Additionally, implementation of AI could include voice assistants, personalized customer experiences and e-commerce chatbot services.

2. There will be an increased focus on cybersecurity.

The shift to new working practices has spawned new forms of fraud and malware is evolving due to greater virtual communication and the rising domestic use of workplace hardware. However, research firm BullGuard reports that nearly 60 percent of small businesses think it’s unlikely they’ll be targeted in a cyberattack. In fact, cloud security company Barracuda found small businesses were three times more likely to be targeted in phishing attacks than enterprise-sized companies.

3.  Tech-assisted retail shopping will expand.

Mobile payments have grown to include QR codes, mobile terminals and mobile wallets. Shoppers are increasingly comfortable with these ways to shop and pay, making them viable investments for small businesses with limited staff.

4.  Businesses will place a greater emphasis on automation.

Many business owners are now looking seriously at workplace automation as a way to save money and cover problem areas. “With continued shortages of workers within select domains, automation investments will continue to increase,” says Omri Traub, co-founder and CEO of e-commerce company Popcart.