How America’s team dealers are turning to specialty sports in a post-pandemic world.
How America’s team dealers are turning to specialty sports in a post-pandemic world.
Man cannot live on bread alone. That is a tried-and-true belief passed down through the centuries.
Now, in 2022, as everyone attempts to return to some sort of post-pandemic normalcy, in the world of team sports, that maxim can be expanded to say that team dealers cannot live on football, baseball/softball and basketball alone. Just like man needs those veggies, fruits and grains to survive, the team business needs the nutrition provided by the so-called “specialty” sports — you know, lacrosse, volleyball, soccer, wrestling and track and field, with a little cheerleading or rugby thrown in to liven things up.
It is this overall specialty category that often makes or breaks the bottom lines of team dealers across America as they expand beyond the bread-and-butter sports of the so-called Big Four. They approach these sports as a category with the same sets of challenges and opportunities – school budgets, booster club fundraising, declining/increasing participation, coaching shortages and, of course, those continuing supply chain disruptions.
Yes, team dealers could not thrive and survive by just selling the four major sports.
Treating Every Sport Equally
While all sports are certainly not the same, or offer the same opportunities, savvy team dealers know that every sport, athlete, coach, athletic director and parent needs to be treated equally. That’s the approach taken by Doc Claussen, manager of Coaches Corner in Terre Haute, IN, who points out that wrestling parents are spending money just like basketball parents — so every sport is a major sport for this dealer.
Claussen has a unique perspective on the professional and personal life of a team dealer. Not only does he work at least 50 hours a week in the team sports business, he also spends much of his free time on the front lines as a game official for three high school sports — football, basketball and wrestling. So if he’s not making a product delivery to a school, then he’s often showing up to be a referee that afternoon or night. And, sometimes, he does both.
“There are days when I make a delivery to a school for one sport and then walk across campus to officiate another sport,” he says. (As an aside, this will be Claussen’s 23rd year of being a high school wrestling official.)
“I use my downtime to officiate games,” he continues. “I use games to decompress from my day-to-day responsibilities in the sporting goods business. And, I get a little bit of exercise, too.”
As he gets older, he’s realizing that the life of a wrestling official is a little less taxing on the body than being a whistle blower in football or basketball.
“There’s less running around on a wrestling mat than on a football field or basketball court,” said Claussen.
While wrestling sales for Coaches Corner are often limited to singlets, headgear, compression shirts and fight shorts, a major source of the wrestling sales is from wrestling parents who buy fan gear in support of their son or daughter’s school wrestling team.
Yes, in the state of Indiana – and many other states, for that matter – high school girls are now wrestling as well.
“This past winter, we had the first Indiana High School Girls Wrestling State Championship, so girls in Indiana now have their own state wrestling tournament,” Claussen explains.
In volleyball, Coaches Corner has been selling a greater number of knee pads and elbow pads to its high school and travel volleyball clientele, according to Claussen.
Unfortunately, when it comes to selling shoes for wrestling, volleyball and soccer, Coaches Corner is not part of the sales equation anymore.
“Sales of volleyball shoes and soccer cleats are all purchased through the Internet,” says Claussen. “Online purchases of footwear are the best option because manufacturers can’t deliver footwear orders to us in a timely manner. Supply chain delays remain an issue.”
Meanwhile, the soccer business for Coaches Corner is limited to uniforms, socks and soccer balls, while in track and field sales are limited to singlets, shorts and shoes. “We have roughly a three-week window to sell track cleats,” says Claussen.
And, like the wrestling scene, while track and field doesn’t have a large amount of annual equipment demand, significant sales do come from family members who buy fan wear. “Because we have both boys and girls running track in high school, our fan wear sales can be bigger than what a football team generates, so track and field is an important category for us,” says Claussen.
Even though Claussen started his career in the team sports business using paper to complete orders, he and his colleagues are not averse to using technology to help service customers and generate revenue. “We use OrderMyGear to take care of fan gear sales to parents and fans for all sports,” says Claussen.
While not every sport for Coaches Corner delivers the same amount of revenue, every sport, team, parents and fans deserve the same amount of respect and attention, according to Claussen.
“It’s critical to our well-being as a team dealer to help deliver whatever a team needs in to order to play its sport and complete the season,” adds Claussen. “Wrestling, soccer, volleyball and track and field parents are spending money just like basketball parents, so every sport for me is a major sport.”
Same Story Elsewhere in Indiana
Meanwhile, over in Clarksville, IN, football, basketball, baseball and softball remain major parts of the sales portfolio for Kratz Sporting Goods, but orders for volleyball, soccer, wrestling, lacrosse and track and field keep increasing every year.
“Volleyball is big for us,” says Kratz president Allen Krebs. “High school and club teams are buying uniforms, shoes, nets and net systems, but getting enough volleyballs to sell has been tough.”
In Indiana, high school soccer is a fall sport, where it competes with football for attention and players. But demand for soccer remains strong for Kratz.
“We sell lots of soccer, too,” says Krebs. “We are selling soccer balls and custom uniforms. We also sells cleats, but not many are available.”
Participation in wrestling in Krebs’ market in Indiana and Kentucky is steady, which means demand for mat cleaner and mat tape is solid, although wrestling mat sales are infrequent.
“Wrestling mats last a long time and only get replaced every 10 to 15 years,” says Krebs. The much bigger market is for custom uniforms.
Lacrosse is not a big sport for Kratz, but interest is growing, especially in the neighboring Bluegrass State.
“Lacrosse is new for us, but we are selling some uniforms and gear to local clubs, universities and high schools in Kentucky,” he says.
When the temperatures rise in the spring, track athletes in the Hoosier state are buying their track and field uniforms and accessories from Kratz.
“We are selling singlets, starting blocks, cross bars, pole vault landing pits, hurdles, shot puts and relay batons,” reports Krebs, although he is not selling track shoes since teams and athletes are buying them online.
Also in the Midwest, at Iowa Sports Supply in Cedar Falls, IA, business is brisk for soccer, wrestling, volleyball and track and field.
“The majority of our soccer sales are soccer balls, jerseys, nets and goals,” says president Jake Koch. “Our wrestling business is mainly mat cleaner, mat tape, singlets and headgear from Cliff Keen and we don’t sell any shoes.”
In volleyball, local teams are buying new volleyball systems, all brands of volleyballs, uniforms, warmups, scorecards and flags.
In Whitehouse Station, NJ, soccer, volleyball, and lacrosse generate strong sales for Darrow’s Sporting Edge. “In soccer right now, there’s a high demand for soccer cleats and shin guards,” says Vinnie Iaione, custom order manager, adding that they also sell a lot of balls, uniforms, goalie gloves and socks, primarily to local recreational leagues and travel teams.
“We don’t sell much soccer to high schools in this part of New Jersey,” adds Iaione.
He calls volleyball the dealer’s “secret seller” and one of the most popular volleyball categories is the knee pads, especially black sets of knee pads.
Local lacrosse players and teams also shop at Darrow’s Sporting Edge.
“In lacrosse, we sell jerseys, shooting shirts, shoes, uniforms for younger athletes, some helmets and shoulder pads, which now must be made to a NOCSAE standard,” says Iaione. “For boys, they buy their shoes for lacrosse elsewhere because they are looking for a specific look. And, girls like to buy lacrosse sticks from us, but only the low- to mid-range price points.”
At Al’s Sporting Goods in Wilmington, DE, owner Bob Hart and his associates are as busy selling soccer, volleyball and lacrosse as they are selling the Big 4. The majority of the soccer business is on the team side with high schools.
“We sell more soccer through our team sales than we do with individuals buying in our retail store,” says Hart.
In volleyball, the biggest demand is for the Tachikara Voloy Light All White ball, according to Hart, but he is reporting that demand is larger than supply due to supply chain delays.
“I thought these supply chain issues would be over by now, but they are not,” says Hart.
Lacrosse has been a very popular sport in the greater Wilmington area, but sales of lacrosse merchandise remain somewhat lackluster.
“Our lacrosse business is not big enough,” adds Hart, pointing out that it is limited to uniforms and some footwear.
Special Growth in Florida
While football continues to rule the roost in Florida, Joel Dunn says Baker’s Sporting Goods, in Jacksonville, FL, has a growing number of participants in lacrosse, soccer and volleyball, especially at the high school level. And while lacrosse is expanding its footprint in Florida, veteran sales reps like Dunn are not as well versed in lacrosse and its terminology as they are with other sports. To that end, Baker’s Sporting Goods has a solution.
“We are hiring a lacrosse coach to teach us how to speak the language of lacrosse and more efficiently communicate with coaches,” says Dunn. “That will help us to grow the lacrosse business.”
In soccer, Dunn’s bread and butter business is selling uniforms.
“We are getting orders for more custom and sublimated uniforms for soccer,” he says. “But, our biggest issue in soccer continues to be getting shipments of cleats. As I understand the situation, prior to COVID, most of the cleats were produced in Vietnam. But, when those factories closed because of COVID and then opened up again, many of the workers had left for other jobs. As a result, fewer pairs of cleats are being produced in Vietnam.”
In track and field, sales for Baker’s Sporting Goods can be hit or miss. “Track uniforms seem to last forever, sometimes as long as 10 years,” says Dunn. “And when it comes to ordering items like a shot put or a discuss, the shipping can cost more than the actual item.”
For Dunn, the volleyball business continues to grow in south Florida. “Because volleyball games are held indoors, it’s a sport that runs according to schedule,” notes Dunn. “For many girls, interest in volleyball remains strong because there’s a lack of body-to-body contact like you have in basketball and soccer. There’s also a strong fashion element to volleyball that you don’t have in other sports.”
Wrestling, Running For Sales in Missouri
In Columbia, MO, Red Weir Sporting Goods has a strong wrestling and track and field business.
“In wrestling, schools are buying workout gear, mat tape, and singlets,” reports owner Mike Weir, adding that inn track they are selling hurdles, relay batons, spikes, singlets and performance medals.
Red Weir’s volleyball business would be better if it could get more deliveries of volleyballs. And, its soccer business has faded in recent years. “We can’t get any volleyballs,” Weir laments. “And local soccer teams are now buying European brands.”
Over in Fort Worth, TX, Carey’s Sporting Goods caters to an avid number of athletes who serve, kick and run in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
“Volleyball is big in Texas — for both schools and clubs,” reports owner Dan Carey. “But we cater to more junior high and high school volleyball teams.”
In soccer, most of Carey’s sales are uniforms and soccer balls and in track it sells whatever is needed — hurdles, uniforms, spikes, pole vaulting pits, a discus or a shot put.
Lacrosse has yet to catch on big-time in Louisiana, but they are certainly running track in large numbers and, they are buying what they need from D & H Sporting Goods, based in Bastrop, LA.
“In track and field, I’m selling track shoes, uniforms, hurdles and relay batons,” reports owner Glenn Hendrix.
Meanwhile, out west in El Cajun, CA, Kevin Davis, owner of Sportland Team Sports, sells to local cheerleading teams as well as to parents. “I sell socks and T-shirts to some local cheerleading teams and clubs,” says Davis. “And I’m selling sublimated apparel to parents.”
In Louisville, CO, one of the strongest sales items for Dark Horse Denim Shop is the track suit. “Track suits are very hot’ with athletes, coaches, parents and grandparents,” reports owner Brandon Rayburn. “Everybody is wearing track suits.”