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The Team Dealer As Educator

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It was recently reported that Stanford University will be reinstating all 11 sports it rashly considered eliminating during the pandemic. At the same time both William and Mary and Dartmouth reported they intended to remove planned cuts to varsity sports programs. This is all excellent news for the world of team sports as we get back to business in the summer of 2021.

That some of our most esteemed higher education institutions have recognized that the student population wants an academic advancement from their chosen school is a step in the right direction after a year of uncertainty and, dare I say, panicked decision making.

Education at all levels is about a full-life experience and that is what is expected from these schools. That experience is most certainly enhanced by participation in extracurricular activities. We all know that sports provides competition that life also throws at us — we learn from sports just as we learn in the classroom. More importantly, we learn to trust in our ability to make decisions spontaneously and to work with others to “achieve.” What we learn by participating in a sport benefits us throughout our lives.

In the past 18 months many of us in the business of team sports feared the demise of, or at least the diminishment of, some sports due to financial constraints at every level. Now as most schools plan to reopen to normal operation this Fall – a reopening that includes most sports as part of the curriculum – there is a golden opportunity for team dealers to play a vital role.

The Importance of Expertise

During the pandemic we were all told to wear masks, not congregate beyond our immediate families, don’t go out to eat at restaurants — and don’t play team sports. These weren’t suggestions, they were orders. If we didn’t follow them we became outcasts, deviant citizens. All of this was imposed on us to conquer this foe that was attacking our very lives.  

We learned for ourselves who to believe because they relied on facts versus opinions. The real educators stood out. And we learned that not all who tried to educate us were actually qualified to do so.

What does all of this have to do with the team dealer? Simple, it means that educators can be more than titled professors in front of students in the classroom. It means that we are all educators, particularly now. If we have an expertise that is supported by facts, then we are qualified and have a responsibility to share that information.

We learned in the last year that we don’t want to be told what to do. We want to hear the facts and make decision that are good for us and others based on those facts. Because science moved quickly and vaccines became available and people used common sense, a level of normalcy is now near.

We have also heard over the last many months about those things that need to be “reimagined.” That’s where the opportunity for team dealers who are willing and able to remain flexible – to reimagine their roles – comes in.

The Business of Educating

Reimagine that the team dealer is not simply the guy who delivers the uniforms on time or recertifies football helmets each season. Think about the team dealer as an educator.

If you are not already doing so, in a post-pandemic world you must approach the “business” of serving your base with an expanded thought process.

Think of it this way: Your vendors research and develop products intended to set them apart from their competition. But in reality, they are in the business of developing products that serve the needs of eventual users — your customer. The responsibility of the vendor is to teach and educate the team dealer about the product.

So what, then, is the dealer’s responsibility? It is to use what they have learned from the vendor and evaluate whether or not that product can fit the need of their customer. You make a variety of products available to your customers to satisfy the same need, but they differ in that some users have different abilities and thus, different needs. The team dealer has to pass that information on to the coach, whose responsibility is to recognize what products are best for his or her team.

Approaching your customers this way assures that the school, coach and athlete will turn to you as their team dealer, their professor of sports. I like the sound of that.

Do you think the big-box retailers with team departments can fill that role as educator? Can they possibly count on their employees to “reimagine” their approach to serving the customer? Or, will they just do what they do best — sell product?  That answer is fairly obvious.

This is another instance where the small ship that is the independent team dealer can outmaneuver the big battleship.

Learning a Lesson

The lesson here is that “selling” is less effective that “advising.”  While the short-term end result of the two may be the same,  advising puts the team dealer in a much different long-term position.

Again, we learned during the pandemic that no one wants to be told what they need — we want to make that decision for ourselves based on our belief and trust in the person advising us. Thus, the team dealer becomes an educated consultant for their client, allowing them to make their choice. This is surely something we all learned during the past many months.  

The approach of educating versus selling allows for the team dealer to approach the potential client more softly. Try this sales pitch on for size:

“Coach based on our experience, knowledge of the products and recent events, we have some suggestion for you. Let’s get together to review these so that you can find the right solution for your needs. We’re here to guide you in that process and then we can talk about ordering uniforms.”  

For all of the pain and suffering, personally and professionally, we have all gone through this past year-and-a-half, this period has offered a rare opportunity for a new beginning.

There is an entire population of people who want their lives back. And we have hopefully all have learned a better way to go about those lives. Personally, I am more confident now to share my expertise and I also am more confident in knowing whose expertise I can trust.

Learn as much as you can about your products and share it. That is the new role for team dealers who are now educators.


Looking for a fresh viewpoint on the team business in these challenging times, Team Insight reached out to industry veteran Jim Hoff for his thoughts on where the team business is today and what it needs to do to get back to business in a post-pandemic world.

Hoff has been a sporting good salesperson, manager and executive for more than
45 years. He has worked in retail and manufacturing as well as with corporations such as Spalding, Huffy, DP, Bollinger Industries,
Avia, Asics and BSN Sports. He now operates JMH Consulting, teaching best business practices for business operation, sales and marketing. He can be reached at 949-697-6436; hoff.james19@gmail.com

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Jul 27, 2021

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