The 1-On-1 Project

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Team Insight has been the voice of America’s team dealers ever since our first issue 15 years ago. There have been some significant changes in the world of team sports since then – even before a pandemic changed the entire world – and we have always been there to document it in the words of team dealers across the country. Now we decided to really let these leaders speak in their own voices — to address the challenges and opportunities in team sports and how they and their businesses are addressing them. We are calling it The 1ON1 Project and we kick it off in this issue with a series of interviews with a diverse collection of team dealers, association and buying group executives and even an independent sales rep. These are their insights into the world of team sports in their own words.


Evan Baumgarten

Owner, Sportstime, Norwood, NJ, Independent Team Dealer

First, in five words or less how would you describe the year 2020?

I only need one word: Challenging.

What were the high and low points of this Year Like No Other?

The low was that we lost one of our long-time employees – Suzanne Murphy –¬ from COVID in April. She’d been with us for 21 years, was 62-years old, had no underlying issues and she had never missed a day, she was all-in with us.

Were there any high points at all?

If I had to pick a high point I guess it was when things did pick up at the end of the summer, when they went ahead with school sports here in New Jersey. It helped us to have a good fall. Thank goodness.

Did anything good come out of the last nine months for you and Sportstime?

It did allow us to take a closer look at our own business and how we operate. The situation allowed us to really solidify our relationships, with our employees and with our customer base.

How about with your vendors?

Without a doubt. All of them were real good through all of this. I felt that a lot of the vendors realized we are all in this together and everybody wanted to help each other.

The past year did allow us to take a closer look at our own business and how we operate. The situation allowed us to really solidify our relationships.
How’s has the winter season shaped up?

This winter and spring are going to be real challenging here in the tri-state area. We’ll have to see what happens with winter sports. They are saying yes now, but things change daily. We’ll see.

Will Spring ’21 be any better?

The trouble with this spring is with the baseball and lacrosse leagues that we shipped last year, but they didn’t have seasons. I have a bunch of town orders still here in the building — a lot of towns asked us to just hold on to it. One of the biggest leagues in our county didn’t have a season and that hurt. That means they won’t be ordering again this year because we did the business with them last year. That will be something we will have to overcome. We will figure out ways to thrive.

What role did technology play for you guys this year?

The online team stores and player packs helped tremendously and OrderMyGear has been a good partner.

How else do you keep in touch with your schools and clubs?

With a lot of phone calls. I’m a big believer in verbal communication. We have had in-person meetings once things opened up a bit, but who knows how long that is going to last.

Tell us about your high school soccer season as a coach.

From a coaching standpoint, it was great. The student-athletes were great to deal with. They always are, but they took on a lot of things in this pandemic. A lot of coaches say the same thing. It was a special season in that regard. (Note: In addition to a two-week mid-season shutdown due to COVID, Baumgarten’s boys’ soccer team, Ramapo High School, had its season cut short just two games short of a berth in the state sectional finals when the school was closed suddenly because of the pandemic.)

So what you as a team dealer and your vendors need to do to adapt to this new business environment?

We have all got to work together. That’s the key in order to go forward. Everybody has to realize they are on the same team.

And what about 2021 g0ing forward?

I think 2021 will be slow moving. We just have to adapt to what’s happening and do our best to service the customers. We have to stay on top of all of the details, keep in touch with our vendors to make sure product is out there and be able to react.

Evan Baumgarten is the owner of Sportstime, an independent team dealer founded in 1986 and located in Norwood, NJ. He is also the head boys’ soccer coach at Ramapo High School, Franklin Lakes, NJ, and is one of the winningest soccer coaches in the state.


Travis Elam

Director, Team Sports Division, Sports, Inc., Team Buying Group

First, in five words or less how would you describe the year 2020 for Sports Inc. and your dealers?

Resilient.

What were the high and low points of this Year Like No Other?

I wouldn’t say there were defined high points or low points. It was more like a rolling wave of ups and downs.

Can you describe some of them?

In the early stages of shutdowns back in March and April, we were making decisions in four-hour blocks. So much changed every few hours, every day, that we had to be flexible and not remain fixed on any prior course of action. As the summer went on and non-school sports started to surface in some areas, optimism started to grow within our members. There were times in the summer when we had a lot of dealers picking up business to the point where things were starting to feel somewhat normal. Obviously that wasn’t true in every area of the country, but our numbers from June through the end of the year were far better than we anticipated.

Did anything good come out of the past nine months at all?

We found out that our team dealers are warriors. For them to weather the last 10 months the way they have speaks volumes about the men and women running Sports, Inc. dealers and about the men and women working for them. When we look back on it in a few years, it is going to be one of the amazing stories that comes out of this time. Small businesses were faced with challenges unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Watching our team dealers continue to fight and find a way to keep moving forward has been humbling.

Now looking ahead, what does Sports Inc. plan to do differently as we head into 2021 in light of what we are calling this “next normal”?

I hate the phrases “next normal” or “new normal.” I heard someone analogize this time to sports, saying, “It doesn’t matter how we got to third and 10. It’s just third and 10.” In other words, we can’t view our world in terms of “old normal” and “new normal.” We are here now and it doesn’t do any good to look back.

That’s a good way of looking at it. So what does that mean for your members?

I won’t go into specifics about what we plan to do differently in 2021. All I’ll say is, we have already been doing many of those things in the last handful of months. Sports, Inc. and Sports, Inc. dealers are adapting every day and the calendar changing to ’21 doesn’t affect that.

What technology applications that you relied on in 2020 because of COVID-19 are you be carrying into 2021?

We have to continue to get more efficient in our processes so we can help our dealers be more efficient in their businesses. They are going to need all the time they can get to service customers when sports return. Some of what COVID pushed us to do will contribute to that.

Whatever gets printed here will have changed by the time the ink dries. That’s the nature of our world from now on.
How does that relate to your vendors?

We have to keep improving efficiencies so we can be an ally to our suppliers who are struggling with their own staffing and supply chain challenges. It’s one of the sad parts of the last year, but many of our suppliers had to reduce payroll and it may take a long time to reverse that. Our ability to help fix problems they are having, particularly with invoicing, will contribute to them being better service providers for our members.

Out of necessity Sports Inc. and the other buying groups cancelled their in-person meetings and went virtual. How did your virtual trade show concept work out and are there aspects of it that worked better than others?

We ran two virtual shows this year, one in June and one in December. Our members and our vendors supported both shows amazingly well and each time we were able to get over 2000 people in our industry together online. It was encouraging to have SI dealers participate in those numbers and we are extremely appreciative of the effort our suppliers put into supporting the two shows.  

Were there any unforeseen benefits of the virtual format?

One of the biggest benefits was the attendance of so many of our dealers’ support and inside staff who were able to participate. They are the ones who don’t normally get to travel to shows and we were able to connect many more of those people with our industry than we could at an in-person event.

But we are all hoping to go back to in-person meetings in 2021.

With all that said, we are looking forward to getting back to in-person shows. We have some members who prefer the online format — it is an efficient way to gather a lot of information and get a lot of work done without getting on an airplane. But the majority of Sports, Inc. members are ready to get face-to-face with vendors and with other members again. We are hopeful that will start with our Summer 2021 show.

What do Sports Inc. members and your vendors need to do to adapt to this new business environment?

I imagine many answers to this question are going to center on technology. However, what we learned in the last 10 months is the people matter the most. There’s no way dealers would have been taken care of by customers like they were if they didn’t have strong relationships with them. There’s no way Sports, Inc. would have been taken care of by dealers the way we were without those same foundational relationships in place. And all that added up to Sports, Inc. paying 100 percent of our suppliers 100 percent of what they were owed throughout the pandemic. I think Sports, Inc. dealers are proud to be part of that because they know it wasn’t the case throughout the industry.

So are they adapting?

Most are. Most dealers and most manufacturers are doing the best they can to take care of their people, improve relationships and trying to make sure as many people as possible are still standing on the other side of this.

What is your prediction for the business of team sports in 2021?

Whatever gets printed here will have changed by the time the ink dries. That’s the nature of our world from now on. Sports, Inc. dealers who can change when necessary and whoever focuses on taking care of their people and customers will make it through this. We believe sports are going to return this spring. Our country needs it and our kids need it. When sports do return to full speed, there are going to be a lot of Sports, Inc. dealers ready and able to help kids get on the fields and courts again.


Matt Carlson

President & CEO, National Sporting Goods Association, Retail/Team Trade Association

In five words or less how would you describe the year 2020 for NSGA and its members?

That is an impossible mission! But here are five words that come to mind: Challenge, Historic, Acceleration, Uncertainty and Flexibility.

Challenge: In some locations, business is booming and our retailer/dealer members are meeting the challenge. In other areas, seasons have shifted and unfortunately, athletes may have to select participating in one sport rather than multi-sport participation spread out over a historically “traditional” season. Does that mean other kids now have a chance to participate at a higher level? We hope that is the case. But smaller schools and areas with fewer athletes may face big challenges to field teams in circumstances where football and basketball or volleyball and softball are played at the same time.

Historic: The pandemic, social justice struggles, economic downturn and political conflict have contributed to making this a historically challenging time for not only our industry, but our country. The historic governmental investments in advancing vaccine development, unemployment support and business assistance is still required so our country can continue to recover. Providing temporary emergency assistance does not have to fundamentally change our economic system — short-term pain for long-term gain.

Acceleration: Business owners were faced with accelerating use of technology, considering capital investments in facilities and fixtures, and cost-containment strategies this year more than ever. Quick decision-making was a critical component to survival and those business owners who were nimble, quick to adapt to the new reality and willing to take a bit of risk with inventory seemed to navigate this year most successfully.

Uncertainty: As events unfolded throughout the year, rapid change in direction for sports seasons increased uncertainty. In some regions, football was started, then stopped, then started again. In others, the seasons were pushed to the spring and now those seasons are threatened again. Clearly the caseload growth contributes to both the duration and depth of the uncertainty, but further vaccine and treatment development will help reduce the uncertainty.

Flexibility: The pandemic definitely disrupted customer interactions, employment patterns and supply chains. As a result, NSGA developed information and resources to help owners navigate through the return to play, product availability and offering alternatives to their customers and economic tools available. Those resources are featured in NSGA’s biweekly electronic newsletter, NSGA Scoreboard, our bimonthly magazine, NSGA Now and in other email communications. Business owners who remained flexible, opportunistic, creative and nimble are best equipped to expand 2021 business.

What were the high points of the past year? Were there any?

The determination we saw among front-line workers battling the pandemic and the character our members and those throughout the industry have shown to adapt and succeed. Innovation, including products such as protective masks that can be used in athletic competition and protective shields for football and hockey helmets, continued to fuel success.

An easier question: How about the low points?

There are several obvious low points, including the pandemic’s deadly impact; significant personal, societal and economic stress; civil unrest that led to the destruction of businesses and the political divides that delayed members of the industry from getting timely, ongoing and comprehensive support they need.

And in the world of sporting goods?

The shutdown and disruption of sports – especially at the high school and youth levels – that could have adverse long-term effects on participation and the sporting goods industry were certainly low points.

The team sports industry will continue to face challenges in 2021 related to uncertainty with COVID.
Did anything good come out of the past nine months at all?

The retailer and dealer community adapting quickly to the uncertain environment, offering services such as curbside pickup and COVID-related products, were definitely bright spots. In addition, the resurgence of outdoor activities such as biking, fishing and running, along with indoor training and personal fitness activities, serve as pathways to growing participation. Those trends bode well for the sports industry.

Now looking ahead, what does NSGA plan to do differently as we head into 2021 in light of what we are calling this “next normal”?

One of the biggest changes NSGA made was to focus on distributing resources and information related to COVID-19 and its effects on our industry. We communicated early and often and in different ways than we had previously. Social media information distribution became a key component of our strategy.

How does that carry over into this year?

A big challenge in 2021 is continuing to keep an eye on the impacts of COVID while moving ahead with the latest information and services to support our members and to effectively represent the retailer and dealer community.

What technology applications that you relied on in 2020 because of COVID-19 are you carrying into 2021?

Similar to many organizations, NSGA was definitely more reliant on applications such as Microsoft Teams Meeting for virtual meetings since our staff has been working remotely since mid-March. NSGA has also used Teams Meeting for virtual interviews with members of the industry on a variety of topics from working with vendors to a Q&A on the impact of COVID on football helmet reconditioning.

And your social media efforts?

NSGA has also increased its emphasis on distributing information via social media, from rule changes and news about equipment to updates on the Paycheck Protection Program. We will continue to use social media to communicate quickly with people in the industry and to be a resource for athletic programs, administrators, coaches, athletes and parents with vital information on sporting goods products.

What do team dealers and their vendors need to do to adapt to this new business environment? And are they doing it?

Collaboration and communication between team dealers and vendors is more important than ever. Suppliers have exhibited flexibility on terms and making sure dealers are not forced to take on more product than they are capable of moving because of uncertainties with sports throughout the country.

How about team dealers?

Independent team dealers need to be up front with vendors about what type of financial or product challenges they face. This type of understanding seems to be taking place in many instances.

What would you say to your suppliers if you were a dealer or small retailer?

We would suggest that the supplier community view their distribution practices much like they do their financial investments. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; don’t distribute your product through one exclusive channel. The retailer and dealer community adds significant value to building stronger brands and are experts at providing the top-quality customer service.  That reflects well on brands they carry.

Finally, what is your prediction for the business of team sports in 2021?

The team sports industry will continue to face challenges in 2021 related to uncertainty with COVID. How much of a spring sports market will there be since most programs from college to high school to youth were shut down and may not have used the uniforms or gear purchased for last year? There are states where high school sports will be played at untraditional times, such as football in the spring, and that will pose big challenges for equipment and apparel.

And on the bright side?

There may be a significant pent-up demand for products, services and new ideas. Given potential supply chain stress, it will be important to offer different colors, styles or materials that can be delivered in a timely fashion. We also believe there is a segment of customers who want to support their local businesses. It creates opportunities for retailers and dealers to cement lifelong relationships with those neighbors.

Any final thoughts?

The retailers and dealers who are reliable business partners, prepare contingency plans, offer customers product alternatives and continue to provide great service will survive and grow their business.


Terry Babilla

President and Chief Operating Officer, BSN Sports, Team Dealer

First, in five words or less how would you describe the year 2020 for your BSN Sports?

Demonstrating resiliency, adaptability and innovation.

What were the high and low points of this Year Like No Other?

We began the year out of the gate running with record sales in both January and February, heading toward record sales in March. Our business was running like a fine-tuned machine. Then, the pandemic hit. Due to the uncertainty, we quickly realized we had to make several difficult decisions for the greater good of our employees, customers and overall business. These decisions included everyone making shared sacrifices.

What were some of those?

In my 25 years of leading BSN Sports I have never witnessed such sacrifice and selflessness among our team. We had employees working reduced hours, working from home while juggling children’s remote learning and in-person school schedules, and others working in our distribution facilities while adapting to new safety measures. My low point was having to ask these employees to make these sacrifices, through no fault of their own, without being able to answer the question “when will things get back to normal”.

Any specific examples?

These employees have developed innovative solutions that will remain with our business well into the future. Such solutions include rolling out virtual coaching resources like customized Zoom backgrounds and digital e-cards for their student-athletes, setting up free weekly product and coaching webinars headed by recognized coaches, like Matt Rhule and Tubby Smith, to keep our customers educated and engaged and  introducing a campus branding initiative to celebrate the return of the students to the school campus. Our teams sought to keep customers healthy by creating Social and Emotional Learning Resources for Physical Educators through our OPEN Program and developing new lines of PPE product, like sublimated facemasks and Social Distancing Signage, customized with each school’s colors, mascot and logos. These are just a few of the many new initiatives that we have developed as a result of this pandemic.

Did anything good come out of the past nine months at all?

Absolutely. There are valuable silver linings that resulted from the pandemic, some of which I already mentioned. It’s years like this one that highlight areas for improvement, leaving you with a choice as to whether simply survive or continue driving growth.

Team dealers and vendors are going to have to become adept at doing business in a virtual world, solve for fast delivery and provide transparency for customers while navigating their B2C capabilities.
How did BSN internally improve?

Over the past nine months, each one of our departments has come together more cohesively and in sync than ever before. As a result, we were able to get leaner while simultaneously executing a realistic strategy to not only carry us through 2020, but set ourselves up for success in 2021 and beyond. With each twist and turn of this year, our team continued to ideate and embrace new ways to support coaches and students. I believe that our willingness to remain flexible while still finding ways to improve and innovate will continue to have positive impacts on our business well beyond this pandemic.  

Looking ahead, what do you and BSN plan to do differently as we head into 2021 in light of what we are calling the “next normal?”

We plan on building upon the lessons we learned in 2020. The pandemic has forced us to transact business differently. Prior to the pandemic, the team business was principally conducted on a face-to-face basis. It has always been a personal relationship business and these relationships are very important. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced B2B buyers and sellers to go digital in a massive way. What started out as a crisis response has now become the next normal, with big implications for how buyers and sellers will do business in the future.

How has that benefitted both BSN Sports and your customers?

Self-serve and remote interactions have made it easier for buyers to get information, place orders and arrange service in a more expeditious manner. The dramatic increase in digital adoption presents a seminal opportunity. The shift to virtual sales will extend the reach of our sales pros and provide them more selling time and less windshield time, and significantly improve sales force effectiveness while delighting customers who are demanding these new ways of interacting.

How do you plan to capitalize on that?

We will be investing in digital tools as well as education and training resources to equip our sales professionals to better service our customers, whether virtually or in-person. By making sure our team is better armed to service coaches effectively in this virtual environment, we can strengthen relationships while helping coaches focus on their athletes and communities.

What systems/protocols/efforts that started in 2020 because of COVID-19 is BSN carrying into 2021?

When this pandemic began, keeping our employees safe, healthy and informed was our priority and remains our priority today. Our HR team has led the way in ensuring that all facilities and workflows meet CDC guidelines while making sure employees regularly receive transparent and effective communication. While employees that can work from home have been transitioned out of the office, we still have a large population of teammates working in our warehouses and decoration facilities. Each facility is maintaining strict protocol for social distancing, PPE requirements and daily cleaning practices that we anticipate continuing well into 2021.

There are valuable silver linings that resulted from the pandemic. It’s years like this one that highlight areas for improvement, leaving you with a choice as to whether simply survive or continue driving growth.
What do all team dealers and their vendors need to do to adapt to this new business environment?

Team dealers and vendors are going to have to become adept at doing business in a virtual world, solve for fast delivery and provide transparency for customers while navigating their B2C capabilities. We have seen a significant increase in demand to ship products to customer’s homes, especially in our My Team Shops. This is a very different – costly and more labor intensive – model than the traditional B2B Team model with one customer point of contact. With B2C, customers want you to deliver like Amazon and they don’t care that the product has to be decorated.  Like it or not, the pandemic has accelerated our customers’ desires to be serviced quickly, effectively and transparently. It’s our job to do whatever it takes to meet those expectations, no matter what the cost.

Is the team market doing this successfully?

I don’t know what other team dealers are doing to adapt to this new business environment.  BSN Sports is not focused on our competitors. We are focused on our customers and servicing them better than anyone else. We want to impress our customers at every touch point. I wake up every day wondering what can we do to make the customer say “Wow, BSN is awesome and I only want to do business with them because they provide me with peace of mind and an experience that I can’t get anywhere else.”

Finally, what is your prediction for the business of team sports and for BSN Sports in 2021?

Our expectation is that once coaches and athletes can return to the field or the court, there will be an unbridled passion for team sports. Kids and athletes are itching to return to the activities they love — as parents and coaches ourselves, we are equally as anxious. When this pandemic is in the rearview mirror, we anticipate a spike in participation and an eagerness to reclaim the memories that may have been missed in 2020.

So how is BSN Sports preparing for all that?

We are heavily investing in our digital assets, inventory, warehouse and manufacturing systems, product lines and education and training to make sure we are ready meet the renewed demand in athletics.


Kendall Whitley

Vice President–Team/Retail Athletics, Nation’s Best Sports, Team Buying Group

First, in five words or less how would you describe the year 2020 for your business?

Challenging, disruptive, refocusing, determined.

What were the high and low points of this Year Like No Other?

The high point would be our ability to provide our members with support and finding ways to be successful within the pandemic. The low would be simply seeing sports canceled, delayed and/or disrupted for the student-athletes across the country.

Do you think anything good came out of the past nine months at all?

I do. It made all of refocus on our strengths but also learn to diversify and get more creative in business.

It will be important to find partners willing to support you. That goes for the dealers’ customers as well — relationships will be a critical component even more in the future.
Now looking ahead, what do you and NBS plan to do differently as we head into 2021 in light of what we are calling this “next normal?”

We have a lot of exciting things planned for 2021, but you’ll have to wait and see. Our industry has shown it has value and is an important part of providing a service to our schools and communities and that will continue in 2021. The new normal will include some form of expanded virtual support and service, but the core of our business won’t change that much.

You have a slightly different perspective having just joined NBS and now having a chance to work with both dealers and manufacturers. How do you think those relationships have changed in the past year and into 2021?

That’s a good question. I started in this industry as a team dealer and spent the last 25 years on the vendor/manufacturer side and what has risen to the top in this crazy year is that so many vendors have shown empathy for their customers and a real teamwork to get through this crisis together. That has allowed those vendors to separate themselves from the others.

What do team dealers and their vendors need to do to adapt to this new business environment? And are they doing it?

It’s too early to tell, but it will be important to find partners willing to support you. That goes for the dealers’ customers as well — relationships will be a critical component even more in the future.

Finally, here’s a tough one: What is your prediction for the busines of team sports in 2021?

Honestly, I couldn’t be more proud of the team industry for the resolve and hard work team dealers did to survive this global crisis in this first place. I believe this will make them stronger and more appreciated in their local communities moving into 2021. Go Team!


Don Leonard

Owner, Crown Sport Sales, Winston-Salem, NC, Independent Sales Rep Agency

First, in five words or less how would you describe the year 2020 for your business?

Disruptive, costly, learn to adapt.

What were the high point of this Year Like No Other?

Our high points were capturing some uniform business for new schools in coordination with team dealers. School name changes created the need for new uniforms and also created new branding opportunities in schools. Many schools did capital projects such as wall padding and stadium upgrades. Plus, the introduction of PPE for schools, businesses and individuals created business opportunities.

How about the low point?

That would be losing my biggest line two weeks before the holidays after representing them for 30 years. In addition to that, some states postponed fall sports until the spring so there was no money generated for school’s sports programs. This could affect future spending.

Do you think the closing and cancellations and all that went with the pandemic have been particularly hard on independent reps such as yourself?

Well, I would say some reps’ businesses are down 20-40 percent and since independent agents are on commission, this negatively effects their income. But on the flip side, travel and show expenses were down as well.

Have you seen any of your customers in person since this all started?

Yes, I have had meetings this past year but all of them have been by appointment only. Most have been with team salesmen with schools for wall padding, digital graphics projects and uniform projects. There were typically three or four people in the meetings and we physically distanced and wore masks.

Team sports will always be around. People will pay to play. We need to get back to sports in schools in a safe manner. The socialization is so important to the kids.
Did anything good come out of the past nine months at all?

Well, I was able to spend more time with my family since my travels were cut.

Now looking ahead, what do you and your company plan to do differently as we head into 2021 in light of what we are calling this “next normal?”

We all have to think outside of the box going forward. New products, like an electronic whistle for schools and officials, have been developed. We all have to be comfortable with the Internet and social media to stay in touch and promote the companies and products we represent.

What do you think of the role of team sports during such a challenging time?

Team sports will always be around. People will pay to play. We need to get back to sports in schools in a safe manner. The socialization is so important to the kids. Some kids stay in school just to have the opportunity to play sports and be on a team and those opportunities and experiences can lead to a better life for them in the future.

What do team dealers and their vendors need to do to adapt to this new business environment?

It is important to stay in touch with their customers via phone, text and email. Zoom meetings can be beneficial when presenting to a larger group. Some dealers are creating opportunities for themselves and others are waiting for the opportunities to come along. The tag line on my email is “Be proactive, be creative.” This is especially important during these trying times.

Finally, here’s a tough one: What is your prediction for the business of team sports?

2021 will still be a struggle, particularly if games are played without fans or with limited fan attendance. Gate receipts will be down, which will affect purchasing. I see team dealers trying to carry less inventory and rely on manufacturers to have product on the shelf. This has been coming on for the past few years, but it will be even more important for manufacturers to have product available to ship in a timely manner.

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