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The 1-On-1 Project: Part 7

Michael Bruno and his wife, Cathleen, relax while on vacation recently in Nantucket.
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Let’s talk team sports in general first. You’ve been in this business a long time ­­— how does the current state of the business compare to “the good old days?”

In a lot of ways, our business is harder. We are dealing with fewer manufacturers, definitely fewer sales reps, obvious supply issues and a “have-it now” mentality.

How has the “fewer sales reps” impacted the way you do business?

We used to see sales reps more often, as they covered smaller territories. They knew us, we knew them and we could count on them to help us out when needed. Now, reps are spread so thin that sometimes I feel guilty reaching out to them for help. That is, if I even have a rep for a specific company.  

Any ways business is better and easier?

I love being able to use a laptop to design a uniform, order product off a b2b site or just be able to communicate with people any time I want. Having the email thread of a conversation with someone, or an earlier jersey design, has often been a life saver.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Well, aside from the challenges that COVID has created, the biggest challenge is creating and then maintaining the relationships with our athletic directors and coaches. We’ve had a lot of turnover in our schools the last five to 10 years and with that comes the task of redeveloping our relationship with that school.  

Athletic directors in particular?

I’ve always said, “I hate breaking in a new AD.” Sometimes, they come in with either prior relationships with a competitor, or come in looking to change things up from the previous regime. When I started in the team business, there was a lot more loyalty than there is now.

How about that “have-it now” mentality?

It’s hard dealing with the Amazon mentality that is everywhere in society. We’ve all dealt with people who don’t understand why they can’t have any item sent out within one or two days with free shipping.

And the COVID impact?

So, somehow we were able to get through the shutdowns. We did a lot of cleaning, painting and re-organizing within our building, which was probably overdue. We had a group of colleges and businesses that still had a few things working, so we were able to keep moving and as things opened up a little business slowly opened up as well. Because of the uncertainties in when sports were going to start up again, we found people would look to get a percentage of what they would normally do for a season, so that when things ramped up they would be ready with the core items to get started.

How’s Spring and Summer 2022 looking for Grogan-Marciano?

Typically, as spring sports ramp up here we tend to spend our days putting out fires. No matter how hard we push, we always have several schools that wait until the last minute to start ordering product. Then as the weather improves, they start realizing the additional things they need. So of course, we find ourselves grabbing product out of stock and getting it out the door right away. They never seem to understand that early is allowed.

Now let’s talk football: Are you feeling good about the upcoming Fall 2022 season?

Generally, it looks like it’s going to be a solid year. Using the supply issues as a hammer, we were able to get many of our schools to place their orders back in December and January, which is not usually the norm.  Because of that, we find a good amount of our fall booking orders are already pre-sold. Participation numbers for both high school and youth programs are still pretty solid, with only an occasional program dealing with lower numbers.

How are those supply issues impacting business?

Obviously, the biggest challenge is going to be getting delivery of all that product that’s been booked. Hopefully, the majority of it will arrive when we need it. If we do run into problems, we’ll scrounge, beg, borrow and steal to get those orders filled.

How do you prepare for any anticipated problems with delivery — specifically helmets and pads?

We’ve historically carried football product year-round, being able to service the semi-pro leagues that play here in the spring. For the first time probably ever, we’re starting the football season with next to nothing in inventory, specifically in helmets and shoulder pads. Because of the demand last fall and the inability to get fill-ins, we ended up selling anything that wasn’t nailed down. I still haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing — it’s uncharted waters for us here. Fortunately, we’ve already had some of our Schutt helmets arrive and I’m hopeful that slow and steady stream of product will continue.

How do you make sure your ADs and football coaches are prepared for these challenges as well?

In a way, all these supply issues gave us a tool in dealing with the coaches and ADs as far as educating them in how they place orders. They all experienced problems in getting what they wanted, when they wanted it, whether it was ordered through us or a competitor. By going to them and stressing that to have any chance of avoiding last fall’s problems, they had to change the way they’ve operated or risk being shut out.

Bruno poses for a selfie with Andrew Crisafulli from Dartmouth High School during the Massachusetts Athletic Director’s Conference.
Are they willing to consider other brands than they are used to because of the supply uncertainties?

That does hold true in dealing with people that have to have a specific brand. They’ve been educated that there are several quality brands out there that are only missing the name. We have found that most of our customers are stepping to the plate and working with us in that regard.  While it won’t be perfect, every little bit we can get done early allows us to easier deal with the chaos of August.

Speaking about the team business in general, what do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for team dealers in the next few years?

Obviously, the biggest issue will be getting product, both from a booking and fill-in standpoint. We still have to contend with the BSN presence, which is a factor in some of the areas we service. But I think we can build on the craziness of the last couple of years by reinforcing the idea to our ADs and coaches that we can be less of a customer/dealer relationship and more of a partnership.  

That would be one of the benefits that come out of COVID.

Yes, we had to work together and find solutions to the recent problems and we can use that as an example to them that we are looking out for their best interests. I’ve always felt our job is to try and make their job just a little easier. And hopefully, our vendors can look at us and try to make our jobs just a little easier.  

And finally, how long is Mike Bruno going to be selling balls and uniforms? What’s next for you personally?

While I can see an end of the line, I’m not in a hurry to get there. I still enjoy what I do and who I do it with. I’m blessed to work for a terrific owner in Steve Grogan.  From Day One he’s allowed us to do our job. And I like to think I have some great relationships within the team dealer world, with fellow dealers, vendors and many of my coaches. As long as I don’t start to hate what I’m doing, I’ll be at it.

Bonus Question for a New Englander from a New York-based editor: Red Sox or Yankees in the AL East this year?

Honestly, I think both teams are flawed. I’ll always go Red Sox, but I wonder about their pitching.

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May 13, 2022

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