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The Right Click

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Team dealers have always prided themselves on their ability to create and maintain personal relationships with coaches, schools, athletic directors and other clients. But when the pandemic hit in early 2020, face-to-face and one-on-one meetings were quickly abandoned and sports seasons were immediately cancelled. 

No more seeing and touching new products, and forget about handshakes. Isolation and quarantine became the norm for everyone. Supply chain issues (which continue today) just added to the growing frustrations of trying to do business in an atmosphere fraught with fear and uncertainty. Against this backdrop, the solution quickly became obvious: technology. 

The early adopters in the team market immediately began to implement or expand the use of online team stores, computerized graphics for printing and lettering, as well as inventory, POS, CMS and other business management systems. Because consumers were already enamored with online shopping, the pandemic simply accelerated the transition away from brick-and-mortar. Although the majority of team dealers have embraced technology in varying degrees over the past couple of years, there still remains a dwindling number of skeptics and holdouts. But in reality, there is no going back. Tech is here to stay. 

Today, with the pandemic finally receding, how is the growing use of technology affecting the team market? Are dealers convinced that the benefits are worth the pain of changing longstanding processes and practices? And how will these advances impact the ever-important personal relationships that, in some cases, have been forged over generations and decades? 

Here, we check in with five team dealers to get their thoughts on the topic. Back in our September/October 2020 issue, we spoke about the rise of tech with two of these dealers – Dakota Lettering in Sioux Falls, SD; and Medford, NJ-based Sports Paradise – and we now present a follow-up. 

The other three dealers featured here ­– Holyoke Sporting Goods in Holyoke, MA; Garretson’s Sport Center in Greely, CO; and Prostock Athletic Supply in Bellingham, WA – offer their take on the subject for the first time. 

Scott Treiber, Owner, Sports Paradise, Medford, NJ

Tech’s Impact During the Past Two Years:  I’m 100 percent into tech. I’m a tech guy, so anything that will help the process move along, I want to use. We’re doing more web stores than ever — and the number is growing every day. We’ve partnered with Chipply and they’re always thinking ahead.

Current and Future Tech: We’re using webstores, retail POS systems (inventory control for our team business as well as our retail store) and iPads as much tech as possible. The pros are that tech allows faster order placing, saving a lot of time. There’s also broader communication and orders can be placed directly from the webstore, meaning there’s less room for error. The cons are that tech requires an adjustment period and the staff has a learning curve. Sometimes you don’t know if there’s a problem until it’s too late, such as accidentally ordering a wrong size — but this can happen when you’re putting in orders manually, too. 

Tech’s Role in the Team Market: Every day I’m looking at technology and I’m a firm believer that tech will help our company grow. We need a good PO system in this industry — I’m still looking for one. We want to automate more on our production side. On the manufacturers’ side, there’s more tech across the board and this can help turn product around faster. Technology helps the entire market.

Tech’s Impact on Relationships: I think the one-on-one with coaches will be digital in the future. Coaches don’t need to touch and feel [products] anymore. 

Has Your Opinion About Tech Changed Since the Start of COVID-19: I’m always for the next thing. In 2020 tech was there, but now it has advanced. The overall spectrum of technology is endless. As soon as there’s new tech, we’re going to use it. We want to stay one step ahead of the competition and technology is key to this. I don’t know what the next thing will be that will advance the business, but I’m eager to find out. 

Todd Garretson, Owner, Garretson’s Sport Center, Greely, CO

Tech’s Impact During the Past Two Years: Technology has changed in every aspect — and it starts and finishes with orders. We get more orders via text and email now. Order taking, processing and delivery are now more efficient with technology. Also, we have more automated printing and use the computer for art. We’re constantly upgrading our systems and equipment.

Current and Future Tech: We do a lot of OrderMyGear orders, mostly online. Also, our graphics are computer-generated rather than done by hand. On the positive side, everything is in the system so there are fewer mistakes. However, we still have to print orders on paper because it’s easier to work with. And sometimes it’s difficult to locate a particular file on the computer because you don’t remember where it’s stored. We’re trying to get more streamlined and efficient and have better communication about orders.

Tech’s Role in the Team Market: It will be a big factor, especially as it gets more refined and streamlined. But it still comes down to people taking and printing orders. Printwise, we’re always upgrading our digital printing machines, but it still involves the human element so there’s only so far you can go.

Tech’s Impact on Relationships:  Technology is creating higher and quicker demand and there’s more texting and emailing. Eventually I think [the market] will revert back a little bit to a personal touch. The younger generation is more tech-savvy. The process will become more impersonal, but the pendulum will eventually swing back a little bit. There’s a lot of good that comes out of technology, but you can’t replace one-on-one contact and hard work with tech alone. 

Has Your Opinion About Tech Changed Since the Start of COVID-19: Even I probably embrace technology a little more now than I used to. Get with it or get left behind. I’ve embraced it out of necessity.

Eric Ericsson, Owner, Prostock Athletic Supply, Bellingham, WA

Tech’s Impact During the Past Two Years:  Technology shifted a burden of order entry from vendors to dealers. For schools, tech (namely online team stores) has resulted in us taking more individual orders rather than a single order from a coach or a school. I think the vendors would like to push as much onto dealers as possible and schools want to push as much onto parents as possible because schools don’t want to have to handle the money.

Current and Future Tech: We use the StoreManager platform by Stoneware Software and we operate online team stores with OrderMyGear. It’s a normal burden — you have to train staff and implement the technology. When technology works, it’s great. But vendors have different platforms, so dealers have to manage a lot of data. It can be a lot of work to interact with 25 different vendor platforms. 

Tech’s Role in the Team Market: Looking ahead, there are a lot of unknowns. It depends on what tech companies develop.

Tech’s Impact on Relationships:  Technology affects business relationships. In some things, personal contact works best. In other instances, such as a simple order for a dozen baseballs, tech is very efficient and doesn’t need to be personalized.

Has Your Opinion About Tech Changed Since the Start of COVID-19: We used technology before the pandemic, we use it now and will continue to use it. 

Betsy Frye, Owner, Holyoke Sporting Goods, Holyoke, MA

Tech’s Impact During the Past Two Years: We don’t have an online store, but we do have online team stores for schools. We mostly use technology to work while away from the [physical] store, but other than that the pandemic didn’t really change anything — we were computer-savvy to start with. We did do online sales during the pandemic and sales were strong, but that has slowed now that the pandemic is ending. In-person sales are good, but sports in general are not what they were before the pandemic — we don’t even have a youth football team in town this year. Shortages, such as cleats, are ongoing. Eventually we’ll have to create a new online business, but now we’re still playing catch-up with COVID-19. 

Current and Future Tech: We use inventory software and a POS system, but the tech is only as good as the user. We will embrace changes, especially online team stores because we’re making money when we’re not even open. But it’s very time-consuming to set up, so it’s a trade-off.

Tech’s Role in the Team Market: Unfortunately, more people are getting into online ordering, so we’re competing against far more [businesses]. That’s a negative for small dealers.

Tech’s Impact on Relationships:  Relationships are still very important in the team sports business. Nothing beats direct conversations and being able to put names with faces. In-person meetings and speaking to people make a big difference.

Has Your Opinion About Tech Changed Since the Start of COVID-19: Tech is important — you have to have it. But it’s also nice to reach people. We will continue to evolve with technology.

Curt Hauff, Owner, Dakota Lettering, Sioux Falls, SD

Tech’s Impact During the Past Two Years: For us, it has simplified communications, improved flexibility with staffing and has saved us time. We are continuing to find ways to expand these functions and keep advancing processes and technologies.

Current and Future Tech: We currently use online stores and are integrating them into our operating software. We also utilize remote workers and we use developers and coders to add automation to our communication processes, such as customer communications. I don’t know what we’ll add later on, but we’re expanding the amount of functionality, such as automated correspondence and order processing, that we already use. 

Tech’s Role in the Team Market:: It will play the role of helping you survive. A number of dealers are behind the curve with technology, but it’s crucial to utilize the tech that’s available, even if it’s basic technology. It’s important to most organizations, even outside the industry.

Tech’s Impact on Relationships: Relationships are still important to people and they won’t go away. However, they’ll become more specialized or localized and they’ll also become completely impersonal, like Amazon. Both will happen. We’ll see smaller and mid-sized companies focus on local business because they can’t compete with big companies on things like product range and inventory. But smaller companies can make it easier for customers to work with them by using the internet and email to enhance relationships. We’ve gotten customers because we’re quick to respond and it’s easy to work with us.

Some dealers fear automation and think that technology will detract from relationships. Actually, the opposite is true — tech helps strengthen relationships and provides more information in a timely manner. In fact, we use tech to form relationships with people we haven’t served before because they value time and ease of use. If you use tech, you have the ability to give customers answers on the spot. 

Has Your Opinion About Tech Changed Since the Start of COVID-19: Nobody really likes change, but you’re going to have to embrace it or you’ll have to retire. The same goes for manufacturers, some of whom are slow to adopt tech, too.

Also in the 

Oct 3, 2022

 Newsletter

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Sep/Oct

 

2022

 Issue

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High School Sports are Special
Special Menu
A New Retail Opportunity
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