Tech & the Team Dealer
A fast-moving marketplace is compelling team dealers to score with tech.
The usual methods of doing business have been upended since the start of the pandemic in early 2020 and the old ways of doing things are long gone. The “way-we-always-did-it” strategy no longer works, even in traditional bastions such as the team market.
While the world nearly came to a standstill due to lockdowns, supply chain issues and inventory shortages, a colossal consumer shift to online purchasing accelerated the use of all sorts of retail technologies that continue to rapidly transform the business landscape. Limiting physical contact while ensuring business continuity became a top priority for dealers.
There is another wrinkle in the current economy to consider as well — and it is one that lends itself to retail tech solutions. As the pandemic drags on, so do those supply chain headaches.
“Leaders of some of the busiest U.S. ports expect congestion snarling maritime gateways to continue deep into 2022, as the crush of goods from manufacturers and retailers looking to replenish depleted inventories pushes past shipping’s seasonal lulls,” reported the Wall Street Journal in a September 5, 2021, article. At present, hundreds of thousands of containers are stuck aboard container ships and shortages of truck drivers and warehouse workers are exacerbating the problem. The logjam may only break when the COVID-19 pandemic winds down.
On a brighter note, this crush is partly caused by increased demand for goods. U.S. retail e-commerce sales will increase 13.7 percent to reach $908.73 billion in 2021, according to eMarketer’s Insider Intelligence forecast. Prior to the pandemic, sales were expected to grow just 12.8 percent. The upshot is that new B2B e-commerce trends are allowing companies to lower marketing expenses, better manage suppliers and customers and boost sales engagement.
The team sports business, as tradition-bound as it is, has proven to be no exception.
“In the team business, dealers are going more to B2B sites for ordering and checking inventory,” says Todd Garretson, owner of Greeley, CO-based Garretson’s Sports Center, who also points out that vendors have less staff and are going more online and tech is being used more to track orders.” He claims that a reliance on technology is now more important than ever for his company.
Simplifying the Process
“Our shipping and receiving system is becoming more computerized, we’re doing more lettering and are buying newer and better machines, or are upgrading our existing machines,” Garretson explains. “We have all of our people on the same page regarding ordering via computer, which avoids lost papers and order forms and eliminates having to guess at illegible numbers.
“Our technology also allows us to coordinate pricing, ordering and lettering, and we use computers and iPads,” he adds. “It’s all a matter of trying to simplify things.”
Garretson believes that technology is having a positive impact on the team business and its importance will only grow. For example, when dealing with sublimated uniforms, technology saves time by letting the customer help with the design process, it allows for more details on uniforms and it speeds up the entire timeframe. He is particularly enthusiastic about the use of technology in machines for lettering.
“The use of technology will increase regarding more ordering and inventory control and there will be more lettering orders placed online,” he says. Nevertheless, the team market is built on relationships and, he points out, “we need efficient technology, but we also need to have people involved.”
Like Garretson, Teddy Walton, retail and operations manager at Team Gear International, a soccer specialty dealer in Midvale, UT, is a big fan of technology.
“We use technology a lot and in this day and age, tech is on the upswing,” Walton says. “We have online team stores, POS and back office software and we also use the miTeam uniform builder on the Adidas website.”
The use of the available technology helps efficiencies, cuts back on human errors and is user-friendly for Team Gear and its customers, Walton says, noting that miTeam allows more personalization than typical online catalogs. However, he also believes that tech has its downsides, among them Internet outages, the fact that some websites are more user-friendly than others and the lack of human-to-human interactions.
Adapting To Tech
Other dealers are a bit more reserved in their passion for tech. Bob Fawley, owner of Oxford, OH-based Capitol Varsity Sports, understands the necessity of technology, but is still trying to adapt.
“I get what they’re saying, but our business is still face-to face,” he explains, admitting that the pandemic has changed access to its customers and his sales force works more electronically with their customers. “Relationships with vendors are now more online than ever and the biggest challenge is the supply chain.”
Fawley is working on developing his company’s website and he operates team stores with group e-commerce platform OrderMyGear. Nevertheless, he says, “I still think it’s imperative to stay face-to-face with customers. We’re a large football dealer, so it’s important to be hands-on with fitting helmets, but it’s been difficult during COVID.” Capitol Varsity is a big football helmet reconditioner and it embraces NOCSAE technology such as the bar coding of helmets, which is important for helmet recertification.
In Fawley’s view, although he prefers the personal side of the team business tech is here to stay and will continue to grow. “If you don’t embrace it or make changes with it, you’re going to be left behind,” he says.
Meanwhile, at Cascade Athletic Supply in Medford, OR, owner Jim Gregg has relied on technology for Zoom calls and meetings and says his online business suffered in 2020 because schools were closed and there were no organized sports going on in the state.
“Things are coming back now. Most of our suppliers use technology, but for us things will stay about the same,” he says.
At present, Cascade utilizes online team stores as well as iPads for sales staff.
“The online team stores are a positive because they allow us to reach more customers,” he says, adding that customers can share their creative visions with the dealer, meaning that they assume more of the design burden, which saves time.
Gregg lauds technology “because it helps us look at inventories, see what’s available and plan ahead. This helps protect against future shortfalls.” Even so, tech isn’t the end-all and be-all. “Technology is a good aid, but it can’t replace relationships and the personal touch,” he remarks.
A Vote for Technology
At Carey’s Sporting Goods in Fort Worth, TX, owner Dan Carey believes that technology has impacted the business in a positive way, particularly in setting up online stores, but it will never replace the human touch.
“We’re still an in-person company, so service is important. Texas is a very open state [regarding pandemic restrictions] so product availability is the biggest issue now,” he says. “In-person will outdo technology every time. You can’t duplicate that on a computer. After 42 years, I’ve learned that it’s important to take the time to communicate person-to-person.”
Carey uses OrderMyGear and has found that the technology “is great for inventory management.” He thinks online stores are helpful, but can sometimes be difficult and labor-intensive to manage. “We’re happy with the technology we’ve got and we want to be more visible in the schools. But we don’t anticipate adding a lot of new technologies — they’re very expensive and you need an IT person to handle it; we’re just not ready to do that right now.”
Similarly, Jerry Lavender, owner of Columbus, MS-based Sports Specialty, says his online store business is very good, but he has no immediate plans to make any tech changes.
“There’s no doubt that technology will become more important as time goes on and people want technology,” he admits. “Communication has changed a lot, but the team business is very personal. You can’t do it completely with tech. You need hands-on to get the business right.”