Going for the Goal
The Team Insight Vendor Roundtable on Goals and Nets looks at challenges and opportunities.
Sitting at the Table
Sales Manager, Bison
Co-Owner, Blazer Athletics
Director of Sales, Carron Net
Executive Vice President, Champion Sports
Laura St. George
Product Marketing Manager, Spalding
Vice President, Trigon Sports
Let’s start with the big question: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business?
Brent Ogle, Blazer: The real question is how hasn’t the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our business. The pandemic disrupted the way we do business and caused us to rethink many facets of our operational management. The good news is that 2021 and 2022 have brought heavy demand for our products and we are not seeing that demand slow down anytime soon.
Laura St. George, Gared: Gared had a very successful sales year in 2021 with a volume that surpassed pre-COVID levels. We have seen a redistribution of sales by channel focus since 2019 with hopes for rebalancing in 2023. In 2020, our product sales focused on non-traditional applications of traditional sporting products. In 2021, Gared has seen the transition of a return to normal sporting environments.
Zach Meller, Champion Sports: Over the past year, COVID-19 has impacted our business more abroad than domestically. Supply chain disruption, shipping container scarcity, steamline increased shipping rates and port and factory closures due to outbreaks have all been choppy waters to navigate.
Lisa Ebersole, Spalding: Our equipment business, which focuses on team sports, was impacted by decreases in participation and event cancellations across the country. As return-to-play has accelerated, the demand for equipment products has followed, which is really encouraging.
Russ Schirmer, Carron Net: Though the pandemic truly isn’t over, the dampening of team sports is certainly on the wane. The struggle to get imported products and the ever-growing appeal of high-quality U.S.-made nets has made us nearly the busiest we have been in the history of our company.
Chris Livingston, Bison: It’s obviously been a challenging two years for us just like everyone else, but this past year specifically, has been incredibly busy in a good way. The lack of buying from the previous year gave way to a pent-up demand that led to record sales.
Chris Bawcum, Trigon Sports: 2020 was a challenge in the beginning, that’s for sure, as it was for many companies with immediate school closings and our team dealers forced to find other avenues of selling. We did make an immediate pivot and focus on backyard-related items and pushed programs through our dealers to help sell to the backyard market, which became very popular during the safer-at-home period. This in turn led us to buy the Practice Partner company that had a huge focus on backyard training items.
Just what impact have supply chain problems had on your business?
Bawcum: We were somewhat fortunate in the fact that we bought heavy early so we did have some carryover inventory. However, we did see a slight dip in getting inventory replaced on our most popular items due in part to manufacturing delays or lack of access to certain raw materials. Aside from that, overall import and container prices are through the roof now — two years ago it would cost $9000 to move a 40-foot container. Now we are approaching $30,000 or more just in container costs. Now we are faced with rising domestic shipping costs from all lanes.
St. George: Our extensive product offerings allowed for a pivot of purchasing. If we had sold out of a particular requested product, we were able to provide an alternative play solution. The biggest impact from supply chain bottlenecks has been the material and transportation costs incurred. The cost increase allowed us to re-evaluate our position in the market and led to an overhaul of pricing structure, which simplified the process for our dealers..
Ebersole: The global supply chain seems to have impacted every business in some way or another. We’ve experienced the same raw material shortages and cost pressures as everyone else and have focused our energy on finding creative solutions.
Meller: The impact has been wide ranging. On the positive side, the demand for product is certainly there. Industry-wide stock and production issues have created an opportunity for us to service a broader customer base, as stock and availability is king. The downside of course has been the exorbitant increase in the cost of doing business on the non-domestic or service elements of our business.
Schirmer: The supply chain has certainly been a problem when it comes to nylon for netting and vinyl. Lead times for these items are exponentially longer and costs for them are much higher.
Ogle: The broken supply chain has become a real challenge for everyone. Materials are two-to-three times the price and they take two-to-three times longer to receive. We have really had to plan ahead and order way in advance. In addition, we have to babysit almost every purchase order because supply is so unreliable.
Livingston: While Bison sourcing approaches 90 percent of our inputs from domestic sources, we still suffered supply chain issues from our domestic sources who sometimes rely on offshore suppliers. Ocean freight delays did as much as a four-fold increase in costs and has had a significant impact of both availability and cost of those items that we get directly and indirectly from offshore.
How has your company dealt with that supply chain challenge?
Bawcum: We have adjusted accordingly with the rising costs. We made adjustments where we could to help mitigate the huge increase in production costs to try and help our dealers and distributors and have beefed up our inventory and maxed out container spaces and our warehouse space to make sure we have plenty of inventory on hand ahead of time. This includes working with our domestic factories to buy more now in anticipation of higher prices in the coming months.
Ebersole: We have an outstanding network of partners that support our business. A few examples that have helped in the supply chain challenge would be new materials and new designs to help us expedite production.
Meller: Our core competency features an operational heavy focus and nimble sourcing matrix. The most important aspect of our business has always been to maintain healthy and revolving stock levels. We’ve had to adjust out forward ordering outlook and stay on top of our factories, agents and international logistics on a daily basis in order to secure production space, containers and space on ships in order to service our customer base.
St. George: We are fortunate to produce 85 percent of our products in our metro Indianapolis factory. We own the tooling to produce the remaining 15 percent of imported products through internal and strategic partnership resources in the United States. While we did experience delays outside of our 24-hour ship goals, we did ship a vast majority of our orders by the required play date. By the fourth quarter we had returned to our product availability and shipping standards.
Schirmer: We have tried to buy and stock as much raw material as possible to meet current and predicted demand and to stave off price increases.
Ogle: We had had to plan ahead and follow-up constantly with suppliers in order to have our products ready and available for dealers.
Livingston: Just like everyone else, we adjusted as needed by looking for new vendors for supplies or ordering earlier with the longer lead times in mind.
Bottom line: What can dealers expect with product delivery in 2022?
St. George: By the fourth quarter of 2021 we returned to fairly normal shipping and product availability trends. In 2022, we have had a few sold-out product SKUs, but the replenishment timeline has shrunk considerably. While it is challenging to predict double-digit sales growth, we feel fairly comfortable with inventory levels heading into the summer. Our team is ready to provide options to meet the needs of the market.
Bawcum: For 2022 we bought heavy early. We are now seeing our containers shipped and delivered on time. Our domestic vendors also seem to be coming out of the weeds on production times. We are proud to say that our lead times are back to normal to include in-stock orders shipping the same day.
Ebersole: A lot of our orders are uniquely decorated and designed, so for us it’s a case-by-case basis. One area we’ve focused on is planning further ahead than usual, so communication with our customer service team is critical to make sure we can do our best to meet market needs.
Meller: The supply chain turmoil will continue through 2022 into 2023 and possibly beyond. Our advice to dealers is plan ahead, buy in-demand products early and communicate timelines to customers. Set realistic expectations based on the environment at hand.
Schirmer: With such great demand we have added production staff to make sure we can get product out to team dealers as quickly as possible. That said, lead times are longer due to the demand, but we’re hearing more and more from our customers that they are willing to wait for a quality net. They’re usually waiting longer for hardware anyway.
Livingston: At the moment, we feel like we’re in a good position to get back – or get much closer – to pre-pandemic lead times for this year even with our continued strong sales.
Were there any positives for the goals/nets business in the past year?
Livingston: It was a record year for Bison. However, that would not have happened if our entire team didn’t work together. We had accounting and office staff working overtime in production to help deal with the labor shortages. Having non-production employees building products allowed them to see how hard our production team works and what it takes to make these products every day.
Meller: Demand for goals, specifically lacrosse and backyard soccer/training goals was up significantly.
Schirmer: I’d say the rebound in demand as well as the normalization of sports schedules have been the biggest positives the past year. Since lead times are longer for products, the predictability does give team dealers and their clients time to prepare for their netting needs to be met. It really has forced people to think ahead, which to me isn’t a bad thing.
Ogle: The main positive is the strong demand for goals and nets this past year.
St. George: Basketball continues to be the leading sport played worldwide with growth in casual play in 2021. Gared’s legacy as an innovator continues to serve as the foundation of our indoor and outdoor product sales.
Bawcum: This past year with schools in all states back to normal practices and games our goal and net business did see a nice jump in sales even from pre-pandemic numbers. This includes our new backyard line of Practice Partner items.
What is some advice to dealers on how they can sell and deliver more?
St. George: I was recently speaking with a buyer for a municipality in the south. He talked in great detail on when he chooses a local team dealer versus using a national distributor of sports products. Specifically, the district would use his local team dealer when needing cloth products due to the detailed aspects of the order such as decoration and attentive to his needs. However, for goal equipment needs he chose the national distributor because he felt the local dealer wasn’t comfortable with taking the order. It was easier to place the order online.
Meller: Dealers need to sell their customers on stock and service. There’s an appetite for both organized and leisure sports consumption; however, there’s a limited or backlog of product availability. Although we will continue to adapt their ordering to accommodate, it’s best to secure stock for when customers inevitably need at the speed of now. One’s best asset in this environment is product availability.
Bawcum: I encourage any salesperson to give one of our sales team a call if they have any questions on a product. Pay attention to the competition — nine times out of 10 the products are not always the same. Be sure your customer is aware of the differences in quality first, then focus on the price.
Ebersole: For us it all starts with service. Our dealer network does a fantastic job identifying the needs of schools and programs upfront to make the purchase as seamless as possible. We offer a variety of tools to help any customer identify the best items to reach their goals.
Schirmer: Dealers should be talking to the customers about their sports schedules well in advance to make sure netting orders are placed immediately to avoid delays getting product. Also, since more spectators will be coming back, dealers should also be asking about their protection, including extending foul ball netting and overhead mesh for common concession/seating areas and mezzanines.
Livingston: I believe most of the country has lifted mask mandates and are allowing for in-person meetings, so now is a good time to get back out to the schools, churches and rec facilities to see the state of their equipment and figure out their needs. Nothing beats meeting them in person when it’s allowed.
Finally, what is your outlook for Fall?
Meller: As we transition into the next buying season we’re anticipating increased demand for organized, interscholastic and leisure consumption of football, soccer and lacrosse gear, equipment and training aids. We will continue to structure our overall strategy around allocating significant resources to having our full line of products available to all of our valued dealers year round.
Livingston: We’re cautiously optimistic right now. Our sales have stayed very strong through our typical slower season, so we’re hoping that’s a good sign as we get into spring and summer. We’re still seeing labor shortage issues, but the supply chain problems seem to be improving. We’d like to see the material costs go down as quickly as they went up, but that remains to be seen.
Ebersole: We believe the team sports category will stay in growth mode through the Fall 2022 season and are excited in looking forward to a full year of sports activities in 2023.
Bawcum: Our outlook for the year is looking great. We expect a busy fall as usual, especially now that we are seeing all sports back on the playing field. We are very excited, to say the least, to work with our dealers to tackle new projects they are working on this fall and have the inventory to support them.
Schirmer: Fall of 2022 is going to be a banner season if we all prepare for it properly.
St. George: 2022 has been a celebration of Gared’s 100 years of Activating play spaces, Elevating game play and Celebrating communities. We are excited to focus on the game of basketball this fall and planning for another record-breaking 2023 following exceptional sales growth over the past 18 months. It has been a special year for us with being named to the inaugural NRPA business council, championing ASBA sessions on building structures and my election to the SFIA board of directors. We hope that our involvement will create more championship moments in communities.
What is your new product focus for 2022?
Laura St. George, Gared: Our engineering team has developed the new Outer Limit Portable Basketball line for distribution in 2022. Additionally, we have developed our new Carbon Flare volleyball competition series of systems made of carbon composite.
Lisa Ebersole, Spalding: We are excited to have several new products in the market for 2022. Volleyball is one exciting area, where we are launching a new ceiling suspended and beach system.
Russ Schirmer, Carron Net: With the exploding popularity of Pickleball and with more people trying to adhere to the official rules, we’ve had so much demand for regulation size pickleball nets. We’ve always made them to individual or group customer spec. They are selling as fast as we can make them.
Chris Bawcum, Trigon: We have focused on expanding our baseball and our football line of training equipment. We recently added a new pro adjustable nine-hole target to add to our line of pitching targets. We also have a very cool football passing net with all-terrain wheels and adjustable top that can be used as a quarterback passing target and a long distance throw catch net.
Chris Livingston, Bison: We are focusing on how to reduce freight charges on overlength shipments. We’re doing this by redesigning some of the products to include two-piece basketball poles, soccer crossbars and bleacher planks. Freight carriers across the board have dramatically increased their charge for most product over eight-feet in length.
Zachary Meller, Champion Sports: We have been focusing on upgrading our entire line of RhinoFlex portable nets and goals.
Brent Ogle, Blazer: Our soccer goals come complete for any field and include a pair of nets, four anchors for each goal and permanently attached “S” hooks for the nets. These portable or semi-permanent goals are built to last.