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One-on-One With Julia Sherman

President/Owner, Bashor’s Team Athletics, Portland, OR

Bashor’s Team Athletics, located in Portland, OR, and established in 1944, has been in Julia Sherman’s family since 1960, when her grandpa purchased it from the original owner’s widow. Since she admits she always wanted to walk in the footsteps of her dad, Joe Driggers, and grandfather, Charlie Driggers – being the third generation sitting in Grandpa Charlie’s office – she took on the responsibility of making sure all of the local teams looked good and had all the tools they needed. Since 2014, that where she has sat — except for the same office, because Bashor’s moved into a new building and her desk is now the first one you come to when you enter its retail space. 

So give us a little background on how you got to where you are.

The path to this place started like most kids growing up in a family with a small business. Back in the ’80s and ’90s my dad used to meet the salesmen at Rose’s on Saturday mornings for breakfast before the store opened. Anytime I could go get a Rose’s Cinnamon roll I was along for the ride — and in for a day of breaking down boxes and sweeping floors in return. 

That sounds like a good retail education.

By the time I was 12 or 13, I had a solid summer job from this point through most of college. In the store I worked inventory, put masks on football helmets, did shipping and receiving, ran the heat press and helped customers when we were busy. After graduating college in 2003 I remember my dad asking me what I wanted to do next. I boldly told him, “I want to be a road salesman.” 

How did he take that announcement?

I’m pretty sure he rolled his eyes at me and tried to convince me this wasn’t a great plan. I remember him telling me that this can be a hard industry to be in, that it could be hard to make a living, hard to manage and hard to sell competitively against the big boys. And the thing that I remember the most is that he said this was a hard industry to be a woman in and that really stuck with me. 

What came next?

While really trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a job, an opportunity presented itself to purchase a local screenprinting shop. I had taken one graphic design class in college, so I decided to work at the shop for a couple weeks to see if we thought I could handle it. At the end of those two weeks we pulled the trigger — and Sherman Ink was born. 

And you ran the place?

I dove in, learned how to really do graphic design, all the pre/post press duties and how to print. I ran the shop with a handful of employees from 2004 until we moved into the Bashor’s building in 2010. Once in the building, I continued to run the print shop and started to work directly with customers as well. 

The team business has historically been male dominated. So what are your unique challenges of being a woman in this business?

Coming back to the thing I remember most from that conversation with my dad… “It can be hard to be a woman in this industry.” For me, perception has been the most challenging thing that I’ve had to overcome. In the past I’ve had customers question if I really knew the product, they’d ask me a question and then turn to ask another salesman the same question and get the same response. There seemed to be this perception that I wasn’t as knowledgeable as the men I worked with. 

Is that because you were dealing in the team sports business?

I think that since we are a traditional team dealer, where over 90 percent of our business is selling to schools and youth leagues, this may have been a little more noticeable than if we were more retail based, because these were customers who historically worked with male salesman. Since I have been in the building since 2014, this isn’t something that happens much anymore. 

On the flip side, are there any advantages?

There are several advantages to being a woman when working with customers, especially as a salesman. Many of the people ordering uniforms and swag for youth leagues and summer programs are team moms or managers and not the coaches. I find it easy to relate to them, build a relationship and help guide them throughout the process. I work hard to be personable, and friendly with all of our customers and accounts and treat everyone like I would my friends and over time many of my customers become just that, friends. 

How would you describe the advances in products made specifically for female athletes in the time you have been in the business?

Overall, the industry has become so much more aware of not only women’s sports and their needs, but the purchasing power and the demand for those premier products. In the last 15 years we’ve seen a huge surge in high-end products aimed specifically at women.

Do you think being a woman helps in the business your company does in girls’ sports? 

Some would assume that because I am a woman, I’d be killing it selling women’s sports. The reality is I know I could do better. As a company we don’t advertise at all, I rarely post on social media and our business is driven solely by word of mouth. The bulk of our business is selling baseball and softball, followed by football. But baseball is probably at least triple the volume of softball. I do think that is mostly driven by participation levels, but I know there’s a ton of room for growth in this area and it’s something that we’ll be focusing on in the coming years. 

What advice would you give to any young (or older) women considering following a similar career path in the team sports business?

The most important thing is to be determined and have a thick skin. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do this. Find someone to work for, someone who wants to step up and mentor you and will help you grow. Work hard to prove yourself and know that sometimes that means working twice as hard. Soak in everything you can and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you don’t know the answer. This business is 100 percent relationship driven, so focus on cultivating those relationships with both your customers and your vendors.

Any message for your fellow team dealers out there?

My advice to other team dealers is to take a chance. Mentoring the next generation, it’s the largest contribution that we can make. Our business hires college and high school kids in the summer to help out and those who work well and show potential are invited to stay throughout the school year. Whether those kids stay with us or move on, the goal is to help shape them into capable confident adults.