The 1-On-1 Project: Part 3
Q&A Sessions with Leading Executives in the Business of Team Sports.
Amy Watts’ journey in team sales began in 1995 in Wichita, KS, working for Athletic Attic Team Sales. Over a span of 10 years she sold team, licensed and corporate apparel prior to her division being sold to Nebraska Sports Industries. In 2005 Watts went to work for Nike Team and eventually became a regional sales manager for the Field Sports division in Chicago. In 2010, she became the regional sales manager for Oakley in the Midwest and from 2016-2018 worked for a number of sporting goods start-ups. In 2018 Watts landed at her former customer BSN Sports and she is currently sales manager for East Texas, managing a team of 11 field sales pros.
You have experience in many facets of team sports, but how has the past year been in dealing with the pandemic?
When schools closed last year, my team and BSN Sports as a whole pivoted quickly. We immediately saw the value – and urgency – to leverage virtual tools to connect with our teams and our customers.
How did that take shape?
It was important for us to connect with coaches, athletic directors, principals and superintendents to let them know we were here to support them. Whether we were touching base regarding an order or just to lend an ear, it was important for us to support our coaches.
How about for you personally in the past year?
Not much has changed for me and how I approach the business. I have been working from my home office for the past 14 years and, if anything, the shift to virtual has driven more communication with coaches. I am accustomed to the self-discipline required to be successful in this type of environment, but I have been able to remain positive primarily because my team and surrounding support have held the same positive mindset.
Yes, we all love working out of a home office. What is your typical day like these days?
I am an early riser and I start each day with a workout. Even when gyms were closed, I found a way to create my own home gym to make sure I start off each day getting physically focused so I can get mentally focused.
And then it’s off to work…
My workday consists first and foremost of coaching my team. Whether I’m helping develop a route plan, crafting an All School Deal, meeting with a manufacturing rep or diving into territory planning, my day is focused on delivering results.
Do you get to talk to your customers much — from a social distance, of course?
I do spend a great deal of time connecting with coaches and decision makers. We have been lucky here in Texas as school budgets were not as affected by freezes as they were in other areas of the country. However, we’ve faced seasonal sport schedule changes and have worked to support coaches through adjusted inventory needs. Lately I am having the most fun working on large-scale construction, equipment and branding projects, which we’ve seen increase as schools take advantage of limited traffic on campus.
So no slowdown?
We have not let the pandemic slow us down. I’m a highly competitive person, so I love the idea of winning. Through it all, my team has kept their foot on the gas.
Let’s shift gears a bit with this question: Do you view yourself as a woman in the team sports business, or simply as person who is in the business?
As a professional in this business, my sole focus in my career has been to create strong relationships backed with impeccable service. But naturally, I am very proud to be a female in this industry.
How have your worked with the challenges?
For years, I was one of a very few female salespeople — and even fewer managers. To best meet the needs of our coaches, I believe there is a real need to improve the balance of women in this industry with the goal of our service teams reflecting the customer base that we serve. Within my team at BSN Sports it is encouraging to know that that same viewpoint and need is recognized among our leadership. I genuinely feel that BSN Sports is making a continued effort to diversify their workforce and expand their reach.
The biggest challenge for a female is cracking into the highest levels of management. As the pool of available talent increases, I hope to see more and more females break glass ceilings.
Any biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for a female is cracking into the highest levels of management. As the pool of available talent increases, I hope to see more and more females break glass ceilings. It is encouraging to see firsts in other related industries, like female NFL referees and coaches in male-dominated sports, because it provides examples and encouragement for upcoming talent to keep raising their hand and knocking on doors for new opportunities. This visibility provides glimmers of hope and much-needed inspiration to those that want to be part of the sporting goods industry.
On the flip side, what are the advantages?
Call it blind ambition or naivety, I just believe in the power of sports and what it means to kids and communities. And the more diversity that fuels the growth of youth sports, the more our kids benefit from unique perspectives in product development, program structures, and ultimately the service of team sports sales leaders like me.
What is BSN doing in the effort to bring more diversity to its staff?
We have a Women’s Professional Development group called WERC (Women Empowering Real Change) that offers a platform to drive similar mentorship, networking and communication among all employees, not just our female professionals, and I value the dedicated effort to continue growing the confidence and drive of women within our company.
What do you think you bring to BSN Sports with a woman’s perspective?
I best contribute to BSN Sports through my experiences over the past 25 years. Having worked for a few world-class organizations, I try to approach business by leveraging all those experiences to sharpen my mindset. Given my unique experience, I’ve inherently always looked at how we can approach business from a new angle and where occasionally stagnant processes can take positive steps forward. It’s very easy to get lost in the day-to-day transactional aspect of our business; however, I have been challenging myself and my team to focus on the long-term, trickledown effects of investing in certain programs and schools.
Do you think having a woman in a position such as yours helps in the business BSN Sports does in girls’ sports?
Yes! I can’t count the number of times I have walked into a female coach’s office and had them say, “Thank goodness, we are so glad we have a female contact.” Just like our male counterparts, the female coaches and athletes want to be – and deserve to be – recognized.
Does that experience impact the way you do business?
I aim to treat all my coaches equally well, but the insights and understanding I can provide to address the specific needs of our female athletes helps fill a gap in our industry. While collectively we have gotten better about selling into the women’s sports, there is still room to grow.
What do you think the industry needs to do to increase female representation in the business of team sports — executives, store owners, road salespeople?
The industry would benefit greatly by opening their minds to different career backgrounds. I am a prime example of this. Although I played sports through high school, I was no star. I was working towards a degree in German Language and bartending part-time when I was given my opportunity to start in the team sales world — by a female peer I may add.
That is not a real common story in the world of team sports.
Too many times, this industry limits itself by thinking only those who have been involved in sports are viable candidates. The attributes of success from many realms are transferrable to this industry. If we nurture talent, by giving sufficient time and training, I believe we can have a more diverse industry standard.
Finally, what advice would you give to any young (or old) women considering following a similar career path in the team sports business?
Don’t be shy about jumping in. If possible, find a mentor who can help you navigate the waters — I am happy to add my name to that list. But without question, look for opportunities with your head held high and know your voice is needed at the table.
Bonus Question: How would you describe the advances in products made specifically for female athletes?
We are thankfully long past the days of the shrink-it-and-pink-it mentality around creating women’s sports products. Most manufacturers have gotten serious about creating meaningful assortments for female athletes; however, there are still gaps and plenty of room for continued growth. Today’s female athlete is bigger, faster and stronger and yet too often height and size thresholds are still forcing our girls to look to men’s product. My hope this that there will be continued efforts to expand offerings for these athletes.