New IDeas
Technology

Secrets Of Their Success

Seven dealers reveal how and why technology has become a driving force in their business.

While it’s true that the team market hasn’t always been comprised of early adopters, an increasing number of dealers have overcome their tech fears by investing in platforms that are helping them thrive by boosting efficiency, accuracy, reliability and, of course, profits. Moreover, all of this new technology is, somewhat counter-intuitively, allowing relationships – the most sacred and traditional aspect of the business – to flourish. Everybody wins.

Here, seven team dealers offer their insights into how technology has changed the way they do business, and why there’s no going back.

Blythe’s Athletics, Valparaiso, IN

Mike Blythe, Owner

Why Tech: “We had to make a change in what we did — the times demanded it. We’re part of the NBS buying group and we got on board with OrderMyGear about five years ago. We got a chance to use the platform for free for five stores and as we learned how to use it, we pushed forward with it. We’ve taken a $100,000 business with OMG to $1.5 million in about four years.”

Changing the Game: “Blythe’s now does about one-third of its business through OMG, with our retail store and institutional sales comprising the other portions of our business. Although we have our own website, we like to run our sales through OMG and our inventory is connected to the platform. The technology makes the process faster and simpler and eliminates a lot of paperwork. We can have 70, 80 or 90 online stores all going on at one time. It’s becoming a very tech-oriented world. The average team sales person is 57-years old, so we have to be able to communicate with younger consumers.”

Pros and Cons: “The platform provides an easy way to connect with our customers and communication is fast. In addition, we can easily find out our top sales items, we can be informed of sizes that sell well, we can find out national price averages and we can get mailing lists that provide warm leads. The technology can also generate commission sales reports and can figure out profit margins for each store. Our business used to be evenly divided between team and retail, but within a five-year time period it has become 90 percent team and 10 percent retail. Store traffic is decreasing and online sales are growing because consumers are using technology more.

“We order 95 percent of the product that’s sold in our online stores and we also handle screenprinting, logo transfers, sewing and twill work — about 95 percent of our decoration orders are done in-house. But customers expect things quickly. It’s an instant society and as a custom maker it’s hard to keep up. But custom work is where we have the advantage because experts are still needed for that. Also, with all of this technology, sometimes the sales guys get lazy. They need face-to-face time and to go out and see accounts. Communication skills among the younger generation are sometimes lacking — you can’t hide behind phones and computer screens.”

The Learning Curve: “This really depends on your age. Technology is what it takes for older businesses to remain strong. We’re now learning to isolate jobs from building online stores and bagging and tagging product. There is now more job specificity because one person can’t do a good job with everything.”

The Future: “One day, no one’s going to be coming into our store. This older generation has to get with the times to keep the business profitable and up-to-date. The old guy sitting behind the counter waiting for customers to walk in will be out of luck. Technology is changing so rapidly that if you don’t keep up you’re going to be gone.”

Scoreboard Sports, Bountiful, UT

Sean Macklyn, Owner

Why Tech: “Being in this industry used to be like owning a restaurant that didn’t allow customers to order online. Now technology is a necessity — it’s expected and you’re in the dark ages if you don’t have a tech platform like this. We started using TeamUniformOrders in 2015. TUO makes it so smaller guys can have a platform that handles reporting, fulfillment and back-end functions. Back-end reporting is where these platforms really shine. It’s the only way to manage a sports group and we need the info to know exactly what’s going on with each order. We also have a complete DataNinja inventory management system that allows us to control inventory and connects to TUO. Technology is critical to our business, and we’ve tied together TUO, DataNinja and Quickbooks Online.”

Changing the Game: “The technology has drastically changed the way we do business. It’s what’s expected. But at the same time, it makes doing business a little more challenging. The technology is better for the consumer.

Pros and Cons: “The platform lets us manage and execute on orders. In 60 days this past June/July, we shipped 10,000 orders. These orders contained multiple colors, numbers and sizes and had to be put together accurately.

“The number one con is peoples’ expectations of how quickly they’ll receive an order — they now want products faster than ever. We have to set and meet expectations and this is an additional customer service challenge.

“Also, the technology isn’t manufacturing-conducive. We had to change the way we organized our warehouse, which also meant changing the workflow — the picking, packing and pulling of product is now different. From a fulfillment standpoint, we’re like little manufacturers. We now have to ship 500 boxes to individuals rather than a few boxes to a team administrator. The process to complete orders now has more moving parts and requires better processes. There is more room for potential errors, so we have to be very organized — we don’t want a ‘bin of death’ filled with misnumbered jerseys and other mistakes.”

The Learning Curve: “TUO’s technology is fairly dummy-proof and can be up and running in a couple of days. It comes down to how many stores you have, how many products and how many orders are coming through. We started with one spiritwear store containing a half-dozen products and had it up and running in hours. And it’s even easier to use the platform now than it was four years ago. My recommendation is to not adopt this technology during the busy season because you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. Do a simple, small test during a quiet time and then ramp up.”

The Future: “We’re internally developing software for soccer clubs that will give them more control in the fulfillment of orders. The technology will increase order accuracy and provide more customization options.”

We use two different platforms for online stores.   Both have unique pros and cons, so we’ve continued to offer both.

Sandlot Sports, Saginaw, MI

Adam McCauley, co-owner

Why Tech: “We look at technology as another tool in the shop. The main reason that we decided to look into adding different types of team-oriented tech was to find something that could set us apart from other dealers in our area and make our job easier.

“We use a few different things that we feel help our customers and set us apart from other dealers. We use two different platforms for online stores. Both have unique pros and cons, so we’ve continued to offer both. Coaches and team managers have been using apps to communicate with their teams for a while and we’ve partnered with TeamLinkt to give local teams another option for their management. The bonus for us is that we’re allowed direct contact with teams using the app so that we can link team stores and advertising directly to the teams. We also use Teamworks as a fundraising platform. It’s not our main focus, but what it does is offer a way for teams to fundraise easily and then use those funds at Sandlot Sports. We’re also using an email marketing platform, promotional products platform and an online design tool to help capture orders and interact with our customers.”

Changing the Game: “Online team store platforms have made a huge impact on the industry over the past few years and we’ve been using them for nearly all of our team or spiritwear orders. This is one of our favorite tools. Not only do they make it easy for customers to purchase orders from us around the clock, it also makes it easy for dealers to get paid.”

Pros and Cons: “The pros are that you increase visibility with customers and clients. You show your customers that you are constantly upgrading and improving to stay relevant in the industry. It should also set you apart from other dealers. Using technology should not only make the customer interaction easier, it should also make your side easier. In terms of online stores, you no longer have to tally order forms and hope the money matches up. The platform back end does it for you and gives you more time to work in another area of your business.

“The cons are simple: Just don’t overdo it. You don’t have to use every piece of technology that pops up. The goal is to make your interaction with your customers easier so that you can increase sales with those customers. Use what fits within your business.”

The Learning Curve: “If it’s important to your business, you’ll learn it quickly. The one thing to remember is that not only are you learning a new tool, but your clients are being taught to use a new tool as well.”

The Future: “I see our use of technology increasing. If we can find options that make our job easier and allow a better customer interaction, we will always explore them. We may not implement them all, but we will welcome them all.”

David Bowen Sporting Goods, Pensacola, FL

Traci Badertscher, Secretary for the mobile location of David Bowen Sporting Goods

Why Tech: “We started using the Chipply platform in January 2019. We previously were using another company, but trying to set up the online store was more work and hassle than it was worth. Our salesmen can go meet with a coach and roughly set up an online store on a laptop or tablet, come back to the office and finish it, and then send it to the coach for ordering.”

Changing the Game: “The platform is helping us expand our business for the future. We can now meet with just one person, but numerous people can order from us without having to meet face to face.”

Pros and Cons: “From start to finish, the online store is easy peezy. We can put a group of items on a website, share that link [numerous] times, have the link open for orders for a set time and when the link closes we get all of the paperwork and receipts necessary to complete the orders. Customers love it because it’s like their own personal website specific to them. I honestly can’t think of any cons. This is replacing so much paperwork, time and effort for us.”

The Learning Curve: “What learning curve? ”

The Future: “I know for sure that we will continue to use the Chipply platform for online stores. If a small store in Alabama [such as ours] finds the platform useful, others will, too.”

Johnson-Lambe, Raleigh, NC

Rhett Johnson, President

Why Tech: “We started with OrderMyGear in 2010 and this was my real first venture into the technology world with my business. I knew extremely little about the subject, but knew we had to start down this road if we were going to grow and survive. I loved the idea of accessing the parents to make purchases and the huge cash flow advantages with the OMG platform.

“Our crew all work from laptops and phones now — we used to work a lot on iPads but have found the laptops to be a better overall fit for what we do. Team stores are daily life now in the team department, constantly being set up, closed and processed.”

Changing the Game: “It has moved us from functioning as a bulk (for lack of a better word) sales company to an individual sales company. We used to sell 50 sets of shirts, shorts, etc., to the school or coach and now will sell one or two sets of shirts, shorts, etc., to 50 individuals. We had to become much better at what we do, as every piece can represent a separate order. Our touch points per order have increased significantly so we have had to move personnel around and completely change our inside business flow. Every change can be a challenge, but it has forced us to improve and made us a better company. It also helped – I may say forced – us to evolve from an older generation company to a much younger company. A very hard and costly change, but one that had to happen and now we are better for it.”

Pros and Cons: “The pros are cash flow, increased sales in amount and size, increased customer access, increased territory coverage, ease in ordering by the customer, change and [the technology] fits the younger-generation customer.

“The cons are increased touch points to an order, small problems are now large problems and increased customer service responsibility.”

The Learning Curve: “Not bad for us as we grew and learned as OMG grew. Starting now from scratch would be a shock to the system, as you would need to get up to speed at a rapid pace.”

The Future: “I only see our use of technology increasing in ways to make the sales team’s life easier. At this point, this is still a relationship business and it is very important for the team dealer that it remains so.”

We did it to become more diversified in our offerings in the team business. It allows coaches, parents and players to give their ideas and help create a brand for their specific sport while it alleviates them from having to collect money.

Hauff Sports/Dakota Sports/Dakota Lettering, Sioux Falls, SD

Curt Hauff, Secretary/Treasurer

Why Tech: “We have always tried to find new and better ways to improve how we do things. We have offered online selling tools for about 12 years. We initially tried it because we felt there was demand for it from our customers. We continued to look for faster, easier and smoother solutions, which included building our own platform a couple different times, and using several third-party platforms. We are currently using Chipply, which has provided the easiest, smoothest online solution for us so far. They are focused, like we are, on automating the process as much as possible.  

“We are currently using team/group stores to help facilitate sales. We also have a third-party platform that allows us to sell products in our showroom as well as online, without duplicating entry and inventory. All of our online equipment orders export to a text file that we can import into our operating software, saving time and errors. We are currently working with a developer to build an online order entry form so our sales staff can enter an order online, which will then import directly into our operating software and begin the process of being purchased and shipped.”

Changing the Game: “With competition increasing and wages increasing, we are constantly feeling pressure to work between those two forces and continue to find a way to be profitable. So, for us, technology has allowed us to do more, with fewer people, by automating some of the sales, order entry, purchasing and processing functions. By the end of the year, our goal is to be able to set up and open an online shopping cart and enter the order, once the store closes, in less than 30 minutes.”

Pros and Cons: “Technology saves a lot of time, which allows us to operate with fewer people, saving money as well. It also makes purchasing from us very easy, which makes it more difficult for our competition to get their foot in the door. The biggest negative with technology is when it doesn’t work properly. When you rely on technology as much as we do, when it stops functioning you’re dead in the water.”

The Future: “As long as we are running the company, we will continue to look for new, better technology. So for us, I would say our use of technology will continue along the same path as it has been, which has been a gradual increase over time. We will look to add new technology as well as expand on what we already have.”

All Seasons Sports, Delano, MN

Shawn Lynch, Owner

Why Tech: “We did it to become more diversified in our offerings in the team business. It allows coaches, parents and players to give their ideas and help create a brand for their specific sport while it alleviates them from having to collect money or keep track of sizing and such.

“We currently use [Chipply’s] team store platform as our go-to in the uniform world, but we still do quite a bit of walk-in business as we are a true family-owned sporting goods store and people still like coming in and discussing orders and such as well.”

Changing the Game: “Mostly it helps on inventory levels. By running stores such as these we don’t have to have near the amount of inventory in the store and try to guess what size and style kids and parents prefer. We can put as much or as little on the [online] store and order in and decorate after the product has already been sold.”

Pros and Cons: “The pros are for sure inventory control — knowing what is sold, what has been the most popular, and understanding sizing as it stays fairly consistent from year to year. It becomes a go-to tool. Another big one is that you get paid before you order.

“The cons are back orders. The only other thing is sizing — it is the one challenge in clothing today, period.”

The Learning Curve: “Honestly, easier than I thought it would be. There are always a few things you will forget, but that is the importance of going with a company you feel comfortable with, knowing that they have the same customer service as you.”

Tech Issues: “It would be great to see credit card processing fees go down even more, as we are all aware of the amount of money that is given away at the end of each month. It can or would add employees to our business to alleviate the countless hours we all put in as retailers. There will always be some sort of hiccups along the way, but as far as I can tell, the technology seems to be getting better all the time.”

The Future: “I don’t see technology stopping anytime soon. If [dealers] don’t keep moving forward with it or refuse to use it, they will simply get left behind. I think things like this will help improve hard goods sales again as customers come through your door to pick up products, and when they do it becomes habit to stop by to see what’s new or just to say hi. People do appreciate what small businesses do and it is up to us to be happy to help them, or even just to see how things are going in their lives. It becomes a true community atmosphere.”

View the full print issue here.