The 1-On-1 Project: Talking Team Sports Challenges and Experiences
We go 1-on-1 with Mary Dolan, Owner/CEO, Pro-Am Team Sports, Schererville, IN.
Mary Dolan’s initial career was as an employment and domestic relations lawyer, but after she took some time off when her fifth child was born and she was ready to go back to work she decided to pivot away from the law into business. So she launched Pro-Am Team Sports with a partner, Dave Glenn, who unexpectedly died two years into their partnership. She went from investor and operational partner to a wholly women-owned business overnight. Here she goes 1-on-1 with Team Insight to talk about her experiences as a woman in the world of team sports, the challenges of operating in a pandemic and where her business goes from here.
There’s a lawyer in the team sports business!
Yes, and since I took over the business it’s been a huge learning experience in almost every aspect of running the company, except for employment issues.
So, how has the past year been for you, personally and professionally, in dealing with the pandemic?
This last year was challenging and in many ways more complicated than 2020. You worry about your staff’s safety and health, deal with supply chain delays and struggle to fill employment vacancies. In addition, it’s been very stressful worrying about not meeting your customer’s expectations and your staff’s frustration with that as well.
What is your “typical” day like in 2022?
There is no typical day. I am focused on setting us up for growth in 2022 and often work on projects geared to development like leading the rollout of new software, checking commissions, working on sales, developing a marketing plan and meeting with my leadership team.
Do you view yourself as a woman in the team sports business or simply a person who is in the industry?
That’s an interesting question. I consider myself a person in the industry, but am also very proud to be operating a women-owned business.
It is very important to be a role model for young women and show a “we can do it” attitude. Occasionally, I remind myself that there aren’t many female owners in this industry who are not part of a husband-and-wife team. But mainly, I deal with company issues that everyone faces regardless of gender.
The team business has historically been male dominated. So what are your unique challenges of being a woman in this business?
I don’t feel especially challenged because I am a woman. My challenges are mostly related to growing a branded apparel and team uniform business. As a trained lawyer, I wasn’t as familiar with running a company, so I find myself learning and seeking new opportunities for growth every day.
On the flip side, what are any advantages?
Fortunately, many customers like supporting women, provided they also get high-quality apparel and excellent customer service. Since we can lean into being a woman-owned business where many consumers are women, we can stand out. We are innovative, creative and open to new ideas.
What do you think you bring to your business with a woman’s perspective as compared to your male colleagues?
As a working mom with five kids, I know that flexibility in the workplace is essential for employees with children.
(Editor’s Note: Five kids!!!)
That’s probably the most apparent sensibility I bring to Pro-Am. I also support developing female leaders in our office. If you want to lean into stereotypes, women are better communicators than men and I think a lot about how we are communicating in the workplace.
Do you think being a woman helps in the business your company does in girls’ sports?
We have a diverse staff, including many women in sales. Indeed, their own experience as players or moms of players helps them understand the needs of female players. Also, as more athletic directors and coaches are women, they like to support women-owned businesses. That’s crucial to our company. We’re creating our network, which is great provided you meet their needs.
It is very important to be a role model for young women and show a “we can do it” attitude. I deal with company issues that everyone faces regardless of gender.
How would you describe the advances in products made specifically for female athletes in the time you have been in the team sports business?
There are more and more opportunities for female athletes than ever before, and vendors are responding to that growth. Female apparel is no longer an afterthought. There are more style and color options than ever before.
What advice would you give to other team dealers about reaching out and selling to female athletes?
You need to listen to your female customers and know what is available to meet their needs. They have definite opinions on what they want to wear and many times they want different options in apparel or equipment than are currently available.
Also, what advice would you give to any young women considering following a similar career path in the team sports business?
My advice is not gender-specific. To survive in this business, you have to be an excellent problem-solver and not get flustered when problems arise — because they always do. You also have to be curious and explore areas outside your comfort zone because, at least initially, you won’t be able to afford all the experts you need to run a business successfully.
Finally, what are you expecting for you and your business out of 2022 and what is it going to take to achieve that?
This is going to be a great year. Our focus is on creating production efficiencies, identifying the staff we need and improving our equipment and software needs. I’m excited to put all these pieces together to reach our goals finally.