Delayed seasons, cancelled games, sick players, unavailable fields and, capping it all off, supply chain disruptions all made for a unique past year for the team headwear business. So while the first four of those challenges have been mostly put in the past, that last item – supply chain issues – remained a headache this spring season and into the all-important summer and fall ball campaigns.
Team dealers are not hesitant to address the issue.
“All I can say is that the hat suppliers are all having problems, it’s very hard to get them and if they do have them, it takes a long time to get them printed,” says Jeffrey Reynolds, owner of Reynolds & Sons, Grand Rapids, MI. Exacerbating the problem: “No one orders early — it’s as needed per season and they don’t get extras.”
These supply chain issues make it much harder for team dealers to respond to those last-minute orders or changes than in the past. A return to pre-pandemic level sales with lead times taking up to a minimum of six weeks makes it difficult to tell when hats will come back in stock. Even when they do, it’s impossible for dealers to tell how many backorders have already been placed for the styles teams want, which means they’ll sell out again in the blink of an eye.
“It was terrible this year trying to get hats. This year was harder than last year,” reports Betsy Frey, owner of Holyoke Sporting Goods, Holyoke, MA. “We’re still not up to full strength. We are probably close to 70 percent of what our sales were before the pandemic.”
For Frey, part of the challenge for this season was matching caps with shirts to provide teams with the proper uniforms.
“There were shortages on shirts this year, too,” she says. This affected not only her regular team orders, but her All Star League orders, too. Typically All Star teams get fancier uniforms, but this year Frey reports that they had no choice but to settle for the basics and sacrifice the upgraded styles they’re used to.
Finding Solutions to Supply Problems
Since caps are essential for any uniform, dealers report that they are working with more manufacturers than ever to compensate for the shortages.
“The biggest issue is availability. Cap manufacturers that weren’t big before are now more popular because they have caps in stock,” says Jerry Luna, owner of First String Sports, Fresno, CA.
One solution is to spread the orders around to whatever company has the inventory. Where Luna used to work with two to three cap manufacturers at a time, he now works with five or six.
“You have to have several sources ready,” he says.
More manufacturers means more work for team dealers. Luna reports he used to get a lot more done during the day working with less cap companies to place orders.
“It used to be simple. Now the process takes a lot longer,” he says.
Another common issue has to do with sizing. Half the battle is placing and receiving the orders, but the larger issue at hand is gaps in orders. Team dealers are now finding themselves in a position where they order caps but are missing specific sizes, causing them to spend a lot of time and resources trying to locate the compatible styles and colors to substitute the missing sizes.
“There are still a lot of holes in inventory,” says Isaac Reyna in the Team Sales Department at Mira’s Sporting Goods, Corpus Christi, TX. “Whatever can complete an order is what teams are getting.”
Filling the gaps is understandably hard. It’s become common for orders to only come in two sizes, which means locating a match in the rest of the sizes makes ordering that much more complicated. Reyna reports he has to move from brand to brand or from style to style in order to get teams a complete cap order. As a result, they have to be willing to sacrifice the colors they want and may have to accept that they’ll be wearing new colors for the upcoming season.
“A lot of teams are having a hard time with this,” he says.
Luna says this is common with the teams he sells to as well. “Teams have to resort to other colors and they’ve got to be more flexible,” he says.
However, the supply chain issues have created a wave of complications that weren’t as prevalent last year. While shipping times, inventory and style requests are still at the top of the list of obstacles stressing both teams and dealers out, a new challenge has resulted from the supply chain issues they saw last year — distributors.
This year, many independent distributors have been able to gain access to caps from the manufacturers before dealers do. As a result, they are buying them in bulk and marking up the prices because they get better rates from the manufacturers.
Dealers like Luna are reluctantly turning to distributors to fill the cap orders they need, but it comes at a price to the teams they are outfitting.
“The suppliers are cutting off the distributors from getting so many caps,” says Luna. “Now customers are saying, ‘Why are caps so expensive?’”
With so much work being put in to fulfill a complete order, team dealers report that styles and trends are non-existent once again this year. However, many teams try to go after the trucker style cap, if they can get their hands on them.
“For the popular styles, you can’t expect to see any come in until January 2023,” says Luna, although he also reports that the traditional trucker mesh will likely still be unavailable by that time.
Since caps are difficult enough for team dealers to get, another question arises: Will families be able to support their teams by placing orders of their own?
“Inventory for family styles is way down. We are ordering inventory for Christmas and hoping it comes by the fall,” says Frey.
Luna recommends teams get extra caps and give them to the parents, since they won’t be able to order any more at a later date.
“A lot of people have been bumping up their orders for that reason,” he says.
It’s safe to say that teams have moved past some of the challenges associated with the pandemic that they faced the past two years. Trying to obtain a positive outlook, team dealers hope that supply chain issues will begin to disappear in 2023. However, the jury is still out for now.
“Shipping is expected to be bad until at least 2024,” says Luna.
Cap America’s i8522 Premium Athletic Cap is a low-profile, soft-structured, full-fabric cap with a standard pre-curved visor. It is made of 100 percent polyester fabric that has been treated to include UV protection and moisture wicking capabilities. The closure is a stretchable hook-and-loop for a comfortable fit.
Advice for Dealers: “Look for inventory that’s in and go with styles that are in stock. Don’t wait on the arrival of inventory as it’s still unreliable for now. Steer the customer to what is available. Cap America has lots of inventory right now and we’re ready to partner with team dealers to help them. If coaches still aren’t sure, free spec samples can go a really long way in convincing them they’ll love the style, even if it’s different from what they normally go with.”
— Grace Schettler, VP–Sales
Outdoor Cap’s TGS1930X comes in more than 50 colors with a curved or flat visor. The cap is available in five ProFlex sizes and can be fully customized.
Advice For Dealers: “Headwear is the perfect accessory for any day. Whether you are playing ball on the field, coaching the game on the sidelines or watching your favorite player, a great cap becomes part of you. Outdoor Cap is proud to work with our partners and we know the demand for caps continues to remain strong.”
— Nathan Currier, National Account Manager
Pukka’s Plumeria style features floral and camouflage patterns with TriTech fabric to allow teams to capture the stylish look of their choosing.
Advice For Dealers: “We are seeing massive growth beyond on-field options — knits, specialty silhouettes and fabrics are driving new business for team dealers in 2022. We have been able to capture this business because we cater to lots of different industries and also our business model being fully custom product.”
— Mike Hiskey, Creative Director
Richardson’s PTS50 Matrix is new this fall for on-field headwear. The PTS50 was designed to complement the Matrix mesh fabric used in Richardson’s PTS Signature and Pro Select uniforms. It also features Richardson’s Full-Pro shape and R-Flex sizing.
The Game’s GP920 hat features F3 performance technology to provide an enhanced fit, function and feel.
Advice For Dealers: “Try to get in orders as early as possible to take advantage of early buying incentives and programs. With discounts and other incentives it will allow you to upsell. While there are still going to be supply chain challenges in 2022, ordering early will in most cases get orders produced and delivered before that peak time of last-minute orders.”
— Chad Kennedy, National Sales Manager