The team headwear vendors try on new styles and trends in the annual Virtual Roundtable.
The team headwear vendors try on new styles and trends in the annual Virtual Roundtable.
At the table:
Headwear GM, Augusta Sportswear Brands/Pacific Headwear
National Sales Manager, Sporting Goods. Cap America
Head of Sales/Sports, Outdoor Cap
VP, Paramount Apparel/
Nike Team Headwear
VP–Sales, Richardson Sports
National Sales Manager, The Game
Let’s start by asking the question many of our readers are asking us: What is the supply chain situation for team headwear in mid-2023?
Tim Nixon: The supply chain is back to pre-COVID normal, or at least as close to normal as it will get. In fact, whereas this time last year our containers might arrive four-to-six weeks late, now they are arriving four-to-six weeks early.
Nate Currier: We have a surplus of inventory on just about all of our top-selling styles. Our custom programs (domestic and import) are on some of the best timelines we’ve seen in almost two years and although we can’t predict the future, lead times look to be holding steady right now and for the near future.
Derek Jensen: Contrary to the last several years, we find ourselves in a situation where there is an excess of product in the supply chain. Product is generally in stock and available to ship at once. It’s a relief compared to recent years, but certainly can present a challenge if not managed effectively.
Carter Newman: Supply chain is steady and the market is flush with inventory. Overall supply is outpacing current market demand, causing manufacturers to closely monitor inventory projections and capacity. It’s certainly worth noting that the headwear supply chain has rebounded nicely post-COVID and we are optimistic there will be plenty of inventory for the Spring 2024 baseball season in both stock and custom headwear.
Chad Kennedy: We are not having any supply chain issues currently and really have not had those issues over the past year.
Ryan Garrett: Our factories have recovered very well from the challenges they faced during the pandemic. Paramount is proactively partnering with key suppliers to improve the order fulfilment process with the goal of speeding up delivery. We feel our supply chain and factory partnerships are strong and ready for continued growth. Our domestic production facilities have capacity to scale to meet increased demand.
How are you handling any of these remaining challenges?
Currier: The biggest challenge is to always make certain that we have the right product at the right time. Being in a position where we have plenty of stock on most items allows us to focus more on sales and not chasing inventory.
Garrett: We are focused on forecasting and planning to reduce the production time. We are evaluating our strategies, capacity and materials weekly to ensure that we can continue to deliver products to market quickly.
Nixon: We are currently sitting on a lot of inventory — with containers arriving early, we need to make sure we’re moving that inventory to make room for incoming stock. Forecasting is different this year than it has been for the past few years, but our purchasing and sourcing team are working closely together to monitor inventory levels. We’re also offering a couple of promotions to help move inventory quickly — discounts on top-selling styles and special pricing for all domestic products.
Kennedy: To stay in front of potential challenges that could come we have just been extremely aggressive in inventory buys, especially in core styles. While supply chain has not been an issue, we have maintained the same thinking to make sure nothing does arise.
Jensen: We take a very proactive approach to inventory management. We are implementing more effective demand planning and are focused on getting the most out of our inventory management systems. We’re also constantly striving to improve communication and collaboration with our partners in the supply chain to improve efficiencies.
Newman: Supply chain stabilization has allowed Pacific Headwear to return to normal, pre-COVID on-shelf inventory levels. We are currently just over three percent OOS (out of stock) across all headwear SKUS, which is our lowest OOS rate since 2019.
How about going forward into 2024: What does delivery to your team customers look like headed into next year?
Jensen: Delivery times will continue to be faster for us than in recent years. In 2023, we segmented a portion of all three of our distribution centers to be used for team decoration only and it cut our embroidery turn times by more than half, which was a big win for us and our team dealers.
Nixon: We are confident that we will be in excellent shape when it comes to inventory on the shelves and with our quick decoration turn times we’re excited for what 2024 has to bring.
Garrett: Our team is working very hard to deliver full custom headwear on average in less than five weeks and our domestic team continues to decorate and ship stock headwear in less than five business days. We will continue to scale both businesses and will focus on delivering faster.
Newman: We are focused on continuing to keep OOS rates low to service at-once business while continuing to push new headwear programs in the market earlier in the year. Traditionally, we would wait until late fall to launch spring headwear programs, but we plan to introduce new headwear programs as early as late summer. This will allow dealers to plan and quote orders in advance and take delivery late Q4 or early Q1.
Kennedy: All of our lead times are as expected and normal. Custom caps from overseas in four-to-six weeks and in-0stock cap decoration is two weeks.
Currier: We are confident that deliveries to our customers will be on time and in full.
Are your team customers making any concessions to supply concerns, such as ordering more in advance, asking for stock rather than custom, etc.?
Kennedy: We have seen an increase in urgency to order sooner, but with early buy incentives we offer that has always been a goal. Our custom cap lead times were never really affected and lead times stayed consistent. While our stock business is strong and growing, we have not seen much change in stock versus custom.
Currier: We have seen a positive shift in getting orders from our customers earlier. We had a great Q1 this year, with a pretty abrupt slow-down starting in April. We can attribute this earlier-than-normal slowdown to customers getting orders in sooner than previous years.
Jensen: In 2021 and 2022 we saw a swing in our team dealers striving to order more in advance, especially in the fourth quarter prior to the new season. We also saw a shift away from our more custom-made product into what we carry in stock. The name of the game was delivery and in general dealers and their customers were willing to put that in front of their desire for more customization. Moving into the 2024 season, we are starting to see that shift back as we put the supply chain shortage further behind us.
Garrett: We continue to seek feedback from our team dealer customers on this topic. We are seeing the top sales pros train their customers to place orders earlier in the seasonal order windows.
Nixon: Some customers are still ordering in advance, but with the return to normalcy for our supply chain many are waiting until closer to game time to order.
Newman: We didn’t experience any significant shifts in buying patterns for Spring 2023 baseball.
Swiching gears a bit, what are the style trends for team sports in 2023 in terms of colors, types of caps, visors, etc.?
Nixon: White caps are definitely trending right now. We’re adding several white options to our line of on-field caps to meet this demand; many of these will be available in time for fall ball. Moisture management on-field caps are still a big trend as well and we’re selling more visors for girls’ fast-pitch than ever before.
Kennedy: Performance headwear is still king. One other area we are seeing is the creativity within uniforms spilling over to headwear —not just in design, but in color as well. That is where we introduced our first styles this year with the ability to sublimate colors to match any uniform. The early response on that has been great.
Jensen: Bold and vibrant colors will still make a large impact, including the neon and electric colors we’ve seen trend up over the last few years. We also continue to see a shift to retro-inspired customization — vintage logos and color schemes are on the comeback. The same can also be said for minimalist and clean designs in baseball.
Currier: We have been seeing styles with perforation continue to be popular in the team space, as well as more lightweight technical fabrics.
Garrett: Teams are looking for classic looks with advanced materials coupled with team colors for variety.
Newman: Noted trends for 2023 in the team headwear space have been solid white caps, with more requests for solid white on-field options across multiple fabrics and design lines. Snapbacks are trending across all headwear categories, but particularly team. Also trending are perforation and lightweight breathable fabrics.
Do online team stores remain an important part of the team headwear business?
Nixon: Yes, team fanwear webstores have become a big part of what the dealer sells. They don’t always just sell the same hat that the team wears on field. They sell trucker caps, unstructured caps and other trendy fashion friendly caps for the players’ family and friends to wear.
Garrett: Yes, we are partnering with our team dealer customers to support selling headwear in their online team store platforms. We expect this business to continue to grow with fans and parents driving that growth.
Jensen: Our dealers are selling caps through their web stores, but it’s a smaller category for the time being. Customized caps continue to be most efficiently produced in bulk runs since embroidery represents the vast majority of decoration in the team channel. This is an increasingly important part of our dealers’ business and will continue to be.
Kennedy: Yes we do and that has been a strong part of our stock embroidered business and growth.
Newman: All of our team headwear styles are available to load on team stores through our partners, OMG, Chipply and TUO. Given that a number of our headwear styles are fitted versus adjustable, we are still seeing more traditional trucker or dad caps being sold through online stores and expect this trend to continue.
Where are there other headwear opportunities for team dealers beyond the traditional sports teams?
Kennedy: There are a lot more fans and parents than there are players. You see a lot of dealers get that team order and walk by the fan gear. Booster clubs are a big growth opportunity.
Nixon: The opportunities are everywhere. Everyone wants to feel like part of a team, whether it’s a sports team or a workplace. There are many settings where headwear can fit — restaurants, bars and breweries either wear hats as staff or sell them in a small shop in their buildings. Corporate businesses, big and small, can buy headwear to give to customers to promote their brand or to their employees for team building purposes.
Jensen: A good number of our team dealers shifted beyond the traditional sports team market out of necessity in 2020 and many are still seeing success selling into the promotional/corporate ad specialty market.
Garrett: We see the corporate market as a large opportunity and we are evaluating other less traditional markets as well. Many team dealers are selling caps to school administrators, booster clubs and other campus activity groups.
Finally, where do you see the team headwear business headed into 2024 in terms of demand and styles?
Nixon: I see the demand staying strong for 2024. The COVID hangover is over and things are finally back to normal. There are always new teams forming and more and more tournaments to play in. The on-field styles will remain similar to what we’re seeing now and lighter moisture management fabrics will be the most sought after, while the colors of the hats and the decoration methods will follow the trends of the MLB as they do year after year.
Currier: The demand is going to continue to be there. The headwear company that provides the best customer experience and has the most widespread product assortment will win and so will the team dealer.
Garrett: In 2024 we are planning to add some new styles and build on our color palette in both our stock and custom product line.
Jensen: Additional customization will be more in demand heading into 2024. Quicker turn times for this more customized product will become an expectation again. Additionally, fabrics with performance attributes will continue to be a crucial component in headwear, even as trends and styles evolve.
Newman: We fully anticipate demand will be strong for on-field headwear styles in 2024. One thing to consider as a trend moving into 2024 is new decoration techniques outside of traditional flat and 3D embroidery. The market is full of new decoration techniques and we are looking to offer more options like 3D embroidered patches and emblems as well as large front deco placements for team on-field styles in 2024.
Kennedy: This ties back to an earlier question where we talked about sublimation and the creativity that allows in headwear. With it being a new process, we offer we see that opening up great opportunities.
What advice would you give to team dealers to do a better, even more profitable job selling team headwear?
Chad Kennedy: Get in front of your coaches and teams as earlier as possible. Take advantage of manufacturer early buy programs and incentives. They are great to help with increasing margins and in addition earlier deliveries open up other opportunities.
Tim Nixon: Don’t just go for the on-field headwear. Offer it to the fans of the team with the team store. You can get great margins when selling hats to dad, mom and grandparents who follow the teams on the weekends. Spice these up with different logos than the team wears — do some tone-on-tone decoration, use alternate colors than the team wears or utilize a trendy patch option.
Derek Jensen: Team dealers should continue to take advantage of the end user being more willing to plan ahead than in previous years and use this willingness to book headwear in the pre-season. Early programs tend to be more aggressive to help manage workloads later in the season, so there’s even an incentive to be proactive. Making the customers’ lives easier will continue to be more important than price, so if a dealer can simplify the purchasing process they’ll be able to continue to sell at a price that will generate more profit than their competitors.
Nate Currier: Getting vector art on the front end would not only save money for the team dealer, but the process goes much smoother and orders get out the door quicker.
Carter Newman: First and foremost, be sure to take advantage of booking programs that offer additional discounts or spiffs to dealer reps for securing orders in advance. This helps us plan inventory and decoration production to ensure product arrives looking awesome and on time. Second, one thing comes to mind that sets Augusta Sportswear Brands and Pacific Headwear apart from the competition is our Your School Deal program. You can earn dollars back or offer additional free product to coaches and programs at certain thresholds. We believe this is a great partnership tool to help keep business local at extremely competitive prices.
Ryan Garrett: Discount down from MSRP instead of calculating from your cost up. I see many reps leaving profit on the table because they are not building value in the product they are selling. In addition, speed adds value. We are committed to helping reps deliver on time and at the end of the day that is valuable to their customers and the trust they have built with them.
Two new CA Premium Line styles based on its i8503 Flexfit Perforated Performance Cap are planned. The i8530 Flexfit Full Fabric Performance Cap (in photo) is an on-field style similar to the i8503, but without the perforation. The second is the i8533 Flexfit 110 Perforated Performance Snap Back Cap.
Caps featuring visor ropes for both casual and active uses, unique styles with performance fabrics, and even a new, durable Workwear line are planned. The Richardson 632 (in photo) is a performance take on the classic six-panel, Mid-Pro shaped baseball cap, featuring a laser-perforated body for breathability.
Augusta Sportswear/Pacific Headwear
The 9D4 has a Major League profile for comfort and a modern fit and the AC2 performance fabric looks and feels like wool while offering moisture wicking. With the ability to customize visor, button, eyelets and piping, the Custom Series lets teams or brands come alive.
Nike Team Headwear
The Nike True Cap is available to be customized to specifications. The Nike True silhouette is available in two different Dri-FIT materials, three different closures and has many additional features for added comfort.
The PTM850 is a mid-crown, unstructured ProTech Mesh cap that features a slight pre-curved visor and a moisture-wicking polyester sweatband. It comes in adult and youth sizes.
The GP586 Sublimated Pinstripe Cap features GameChanger performance ultralight fabric with enhanced breathability.