The 1-On-1 Project: Part 4
Q&A Sessions with Leading Executives in the Business of Team Sports.
Matt Carlson, president and CEO of the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), has been with the association for more than 13 years. Prior to joining NSGA, he had a career in local government leadership for more than 20 years and served on the board of directors for a community hospital, YMCA and law enforcement accreditation board. He received innovations awards from the Public Policy Forum and the International City Managers’ Association, where he also earned the Credentialed City Manager designation. Carlson earned his Masters’ Degree from Northern Illinois University. Here he shares some insight and observations with Team Insight about the important work NSGA is doing, with specific attention to the annual leadership event hosted by the group.
Let’s start out talking about the NSGA Management Conference and Team Dealer Summit. What is its role in the world of sporting goods?
The NSGA Management Conference has evolved significantly since it started in 1965. It is the one place where team dealers who are from different buying groups, retailers from full-line to specialty hockey and ski and snowboarding, manufacturers big and small and sales agents can get together for a few days and connect in a relaxed setting. The face-to-face contact has been invaluable for exchanging ideas, finding solutions and sharing experiences with others in the industry.
So why is it still an important part of the industry?
In some respects, the Conference is a mixture of the present, past and future. The networking offers opportunities to find out what’s happening right now in the industry across the country and in Canada. The speakers and education sessions look at ways to make sure your business stays in position to be successful. The Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame is always a great way to cap the event by recognizing those who have done so much to make this industry great. Overall, it’s a fun way to get away from the daily business grind for a few days and gain some new perspectives for success.
How are things looking for this year’s Management Conference and Team Dealer Summit?
NSGA is excited about the response of people who have committed to attend. The attendees really want to get back to meeting with their friends and peers in the relaxed atmosphere the Conference provides.
Has the pandemic changed the role of the Conference?
NSGA’s ability to facilitate those discussions is crucial this year because of the challenges coming out of COVID-19 regarding product availability, supply chain issues, price increases, labor shortages and what’s happening with sports participation.
What will be familiar with the Conference this year?
The Speed Networking session will be back and is another great networking opportunity in a structured format. NSGA really likes bringing together retailers and dealers for short meetings with manufacturers. It is a chance to grow existing relationships, troubleshoot issues, make new connections, or learn about new business opportunities.
How about the speaker lineup?
Fortunately, some of the speakers who were scheduled for the 2020 Conference will be here in September. Ross Bernstein and Jeff Butler bring excellent insight into developing a successful workplace culture at a time when small businesses everywhere have struggled to fill openings. Ross is a Hall of Fame business speaker and successful writer who connects the DNA of sports champions and how it translates to the business success. Jeff is also a successful author who will help attendees handle the challenge of managing the different generations in the workplace.
And what about Gary McCord speaking?
Yes, Gary McCord will be there. He is one of the big names in golf from his work as a television analyst, author, speaker and player. He will entertain our attendees with his trademark wit and candor and will continue a tradition of top-level speakers from NSGA.
One of the highlights of the event is always the Hall of Fame ceremony, which will be a bit different this year.
The Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame Class of 2020 induction ceremony that was postponed because of COVID will also be held. Seeing Peter Capolino (Mitchell & Ness), Robert Greenberg (Skechers) and Klaus Obermeyer (Sport Obermeyer) finally have their opportunity to be honored for what they have done for this industry will be a memorable moment for everyone in attendance. The 2021 Hall of Fame inductee is Eric Bezanson.
How difficult was it not to have the event because of COVID-19 in 2020?
It was very tough because the Management Conference was only two months away when COVID became a pandemic in the United States and government shutdowns and travel restrictions went into place. The Management Conference is an event the NSGA staff really enjoys planning for and hosting every year so it was truly unfortunate that we could not produce the event in 2020. Everyone missed not seeing so many familiar faces and catching up on how they are doing as well as meeting others in the industry for the first time. There is always something special about the buzz in the room at the Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit. It was particularly difficult that we could not have the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
NSGA held its first virtual event, The Sporting Goods Rebound, in May during the time the Conference was originally scheduled. How did you feel it turned out?
We wanted to fill the void with some programming that covered important issues impacting retailers and dealers sooner than later and provide a bridge to the Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit. When the NSGA staff put together The Sporting Goods Rebound, it was important to be cognizant of people’s time and the fact that sitting in front of a computer screen for a virtual meeting or conference is not the same as being there in person.
What issues were addressed at that event?
Learning more about Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness was important with so many members preparing for that process. Surveys with members indicated the future of youth and team sports is a big area of concern so it was good to get the national perspective of what’s ahead with three great executive directors in the world of high school sports.
There was a real emphasis on supply chain issues as well.
One of the biggest concerns the industry continues to face is distribution issues. The Sporting Goods Rebound provided the opportunity to share insights in this area for those from three segments of NSGA membership who have their own unique concerns. It presented a look at how to prepare for the challenges the industry will face in this area for a while. Hopefully conversations during the Management Conference will update our knowledge base regarding supply chain and inventory challenges.
How was the response to the virtual event?
The interest level and response for our first virtual event was very positive. We also learned from the experience, especially that it is not a substitute for in-person interaction, but the format can be used as a medium to address hot topics in the future.
What were the challenges of getting the event together for 2021?
A huge challenge was dealing with the uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic. The NSGA staff determined the ability to hold the Management Conference this year would be connected to when vaccines would be readily available for people to feel safe and comfortable about traveling and gathering again. Holding it at the traditional time in May still had a lot of uncertainty, so the late September dates were chosen to make sure it did not interfere with the start of fall sports and football, when team dealers are extremely busy, or with the buying group shows that typically occur in November.
How does the Management Conference help NSGA staff fulfill its mission and goals?
Our mission is to help our members grow the business and to advocate on their behalf. From a staff perspective, the Conference gives us the chance to have in-person interactions with members and attendees to get a pulse on industry issues. NSGA can find out about concerns that need to be on the radar screen or potential programs to develop. It also helps reinforce NSGA’s belief that the dealer and retail network continue to be the best way of distributing products to customers. From a member standpoint, the event creates the opportunity and environment to grow our business by finding new ideas.
What would you tell someone who has not attended the Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit before?
Come join everyone on September 26 through 28 in Naples, FL, to see the benefits of face-to-face learning in action! There is still time to register and our regular attendees would tell you this is a great opportunity to share ideas and concerns and make important new connections with other retailers, dealers and manufacturers in the industry. If you invest in this unique sports industry event, you will arrive home a better version of yourself.
Any final pitch to attendees?
If you are the business owner or leader, it is an excellent chance to hear the good, the bad and the ugly directly from your business partners rather than having messages filtered. As an organizational leader, we need to have that direct communication sometimes, and this event gives you that opportunity.