The Evolution of Football Teamwear Dealers

Then

When the first football clubs emerged in the late 1850’s and 60’s there were no uniforms as such.

Players would turn out in whatever they had to hand and teams would be distinguished by wearing distinctively coloured caps, scarves or sashes over cricket whites (many clubs were formed by cricketers seeking a team game for the winter) or whatever else players had to hand. The first reference to “colours” comes from the rules of Sheffield FC in 1857, which stated:

“Each player must provide himself with a red and dark blue flannel cap, one colour to be worn by each side.”


The first uniform kits began to appear around 1870. In England colours were often those of the public schools and sports clubs with which the game was associated: Blackburn Rovers first wore white jerseys adorned with the blue Maltese Cross of Shrewsbury School, where several of their founders were educated. Reading first played in the salmon pink, pale blue and claret colours of the rowing club that spawned them. Caps, cowls and other headgear were de rigeur throughout the decade.

In first FA Cup final in 1872, Wanderers wore pink, black and cerise while their opponents, The Royal Engineers played in dark red and navy shirts. The game was played almost exclusively by men from the upper middle class and minor aristocracy, men who could afford to buy a shirt in their club’s colours from their tailor. That said, plain white shirts were very popular, being both relatively cheap and easily obtainable. As one might expect, given that players bought their own jerseys, there was considerable variation within a team. Early photographs of The Wednesday, for example, show players wearing hoops of varying widths.

…and now

All a far cry from today’s football teamwear market where a multitude of brands, colours and designs (both on and off field) are available.

I know the teamwear market very well and, as I reflect on 2017 and look at 2018, I’ve been thinking about the future of the teamwear dealer and what the ultimate dealership might look like.

We are all well aware of the impact that eCommerce has had on the sporting goods industry however, certainly to date, the selling of teamwear online has not seen the same explosive growth.

Sure, there are good dealers who are seeing growth, however the experience of adding sponsor logos, names, numbers, choosing embroidery, print and all of the other bespoke elements means that to order online is, perhaps, more difficult than ordering face to face.

The result is that the “offline” dealers can compete with the “online’ dealers in a way that many retailers focussing on individual sports are simply unable to do.

Likewise there is very little cross border trading in teamwear and, of course, the third party platforms are also not suitable as an environment to order embellished teamwear.

So with these factors in mind it appears that, certainly in the short term, the football teamwear dealer can grow offline. But how can the experience be improved further?

Location

It is certainly true that as High Street rents have continued to climb more and more teamwear dealers have moved to out of town sites.

Here they have the advantage of plenty of parking spaces and lower rents. A small business unit offers the flexibility of office, showroom, production and warehouse space and can provide an excellent environment for teamwear sales.

Since the nature of the product on offer is a considered purchase (rather than a passing trade opportunity) this location does not harm the proposition and, as is often the case, can provide a much more compelling environment for the end consumer to make his or her buying decision.

Showroom

A showroom is fundamental. It should be fully stocked with brand samples (both designs and colour options) in an organised and logical way.

Perhaps most logical is to group options in colour collections rather than by brand. This allows the club to see their “live” choices and options together to make an informed choice.

Embellishment

Whilst those in the trade fully familiar with embroidery machines, it always surprises me how fascinated end consumers are with these machines. So make a feature of them. I cite the example of the Barcelona FC shop at the Camp Nou where all of the embellishment machines are behind glass and the customer can see the number or name being applied.

Why not use this approach to bring some theatre to your business as well as showing the customer you investment (which I often considerable) working. This, after all, is your key selling point – the ability to offer embellishment on site.

Bar and Events

When I think of the ultimate teamwear buying environment it would be sitting on a comfy sofa, with a pint (or a coffee) in hand, viewing ranges, options and prices and with a game on in the background.

Why does nobody create this environment?

Imagine a showroom, a bar, Large TV screen on the wall and space to make choices, watch a game, make decisions.

Link into the local leagues and clubs and this environment could become a focal point for shop events – “Champions League tonight – Come and watch the game and get 5% discount off any club kit purchase”.

I see a multifaceted space that is commercial (I.e selling kits) as well being an entertaining space.

The deeper the connection with the consumer and club the more the attraction to come to a venue such as this.

Catering could add an additional element -as the cycling brand Rapha does very well in its London store.

Eat, watch, shop.

Club Shops

Of course any modern teamwear business needs to offer a comprehensive online solution for the club. An online club shop is a critical tool in gaining business in today’s competitive market making it easy for club members to purchase kit and ensuring ease of payment.

Second Tier

Alongside offering core inline products a second tier solution adds additional value to the club. Find a supplier of non branded products, get some shirt designs done using the likes of fiverr.com and offer a bespoke club specific fan range. Even small clubs would be interested in this as a proposition.

Add all these elements together, create a focal point, some theatre, a reason for clubs to visit (and not just when they are purchasing product) and one can create a destination football teamwear store that stands out against any online competition and can truly establish itself as the “go to” teamwear store in the area.

Good luck!

Black Friday

Background

For many UK consumers Black Friday is directly associated with amazon and their increasingly aggressive marketing of this busy shopping period, as well as becoming an increasing focal points for suppliers and retailers to drive end of year business.

However, in reality, Black Friday originated as the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November). Since 1952, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season with the phrase being traced back to 1960’s Philadelphia where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving due to heavy shopping activity.

By the early 2000’s Black Friday activity in the US had risen to new levels with stores opening earlier and earlier (culminating eventually in midnight opening) and with greater and greater activity around the date.

By 2014 Black Friday hysteria had finally hit the UK. More UK-based retailers adopted the Black Friday marketing scheme than ever before to the extent that during Black Friday sales in 2014, police forces were called to stores across Britain to deal with crowd control issues, assaults, threatening customers and traffic issues. After such chaos in 2015 many retailers took a step back from the activity and the pure play online dealers moved to take advantage. In 2016, total spend on online retail sites on Black Friday 2016 was £1.23bn, marking a +12.2% increase on the £1.1bn spent on the same day in 2015.

The truth is, whether you like it or not, Black Friday has become a fixture in the retail calendar and it appears to be here to stay. According to the most recent predictions from Retail Week, Black Friday is set to break the £2 billion barrier with 33.5% of consumers planning to buy something – but where, when and what is in the retailers’ hands as they take back the reigns of this pre-Christmas mega sale.

The consumer is now in control

So what impact has this huge shift had on our own industry and on shopping in general?

In the past, promotions were driven by the need to shift end of season stock, as a reaction to an unforeseen sales slowdown, or around key events such as Mother’s Day or Christmas. Mike Watkins, Head of Retailer and Business Insight at Nielsen UK, emphasised that “the challenge we have is that shoppers` no longer think in this way.”

The recession and discounting trends within the sector have fundamentally changed the consumers shop. Research from Conlumino reveals that 75% of consumers would rarely buy certain products at full price, and 62% say they wait to buy until a product is on offer or discounted.

In today’s digitally enabled world consumers can shop for anything, anytime from anywhere. No longer are retailers, distributors, or brands in control – it is the consumer that is firmly in the driving seat. “Put simply,” said Mike Watkins, Head of Retailer and Business Insight at Nielsen UK, “we should now consider ripping up the old rule books for promotional strategy.” As such, retailers need to find a way to play their cards better to make the most of this new consumer mind-set.

Of course the major activity is being driven by the major players, however Black Friday generates additional footfall in most town centres and online and there is no reason why the smaller independent sports retailer cannot take advantage of this new sales opportunity.

According to Dominic Allon, Europe vice president and managing director of Intuit QuickBooks there are five key things that owners of smaller retail organisations should consider when preparing their business for the Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending weekend.

1. Giving the right discount

Shop owners must be smart with the discounts they offer and make sure they are still able to make a profit whilst remaining competitive.

2. Buy first, return later

Smaller retail owners must think beyond the weekend and factor in the chance of returns into their finances, otherwise they could fall short when predicting their profit and loss.

3. Buying stock is a balancing act

Buying from suppliers may be costly, and on normal days when the shop isn’t as busy, having two of every item in stock may just be enough. However,more shoppers are expected on the high street during this bumper sales weekend, so having enough stock in store to cover extra sales is crucial.

Use data from previous years to understand what is likely to sell, and buy enough stock to keep customers happy. But, do bear in mind that going overboard and not selling risks problems for your cash flow.

4. Having to rely on others

Unlike larger retailers, most small business owners do not benefit from having their very own logistics service that can adapt to the demand over the busy period.

Instead, retail owners must rely on external services that are already busy with multiple other suppliers.

Small retailers must offer customers a guaranteed delivery time that aligns with what their courier service can offer.

Introducing a slightly longer delivery time over the busy period could help with the demand and keep your customers satisfied.

5. Plan, predict and manage

No matter how big a business is, the key to success over the Black Friday weekend is preparing for every eventuality.

It should not be weeks in the planning but months, and failing to have a complete overview of your finances could stop you in your tracks.

Having a holistic view of your finances that monitors all money coming in and going out is crucial to surviving the weekend of extra sales and extra returns.

If you play your cards right and plan for every outcome, your small retailing business can reap all the success of this long weekend of serious spending.

T-Commerce

The notion of consumers wanting to purchase products from their TV screen has been around for years.

TV shopping channels

Its nearly 25 years since TV shopping channel QVC first opened its doors in the UK and, after a rather shaky start, the business has continued to grow and evolve where others -most notably JJB and Argos – have failed to gain traction in the marketplace.

Of course things have changed dramatically since the mid 1990’s. We now consume our TV content in so many different ways whether it be mobile, catch up, streaming, sitting out our desk or sitting on the sofa ,giving us a almost unlimited flexibility.

The growth of Ecommerce

During that same time frame our shopping experiences have also evolved. The internet and Ecommerce came along allowing us more freedom of choice as to when, where and how we purchase products.

It was with these two thoughts in mind that I read with interest the recent announcement that Amazon had outbid Sky to win exclusive ATP tour tennis rights. The Amazon Prime streaming service will now show nearly all elite men’s tennis events, except the four grand slams.

A few weeks later Ed Woodward, Manchester United Vice-Chairman, was commenting in a call with analysts that he believes Amazon and Facebook are likely to bid for Premier League streaming rights in the future.

Its a development that, on the surface, simply underlines that our TV habits are shifting, however dig a little deeper and a vision of the future begins to materialise.

T-Commerce

For years commentators have talked about the potential to purchase goods through your TV whilst watching sport. Imagine rolling the mouse of a TV remote control over the football boots that have just scored or the shirt that a certain tennis player is wearing. The price and option to buy comes up and the transaction is made with one click.The result – TV (or T-) commerce.

T-commerce — interactive shopping integrated with programming — has been a small but growing space for the past 5 years or so. US company Delivery Agent had been at the forefront, powering the “shoppable” Katy Perry’s Super Bowl XLIX halftime show in 2015 among other projects. Customers included Discovery, NBCU, Fox, CBS, HBO, Showtime, CBS, FX, Turner, Comcast, Cablevision Systems, AT&T and Verizon, among others, along with studios such as Lionsgate, Legendary and Sony Pictures.

However, in 2016 they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Some questioned whether the filing represented a death knell for t-commerce, The Wall Street Journal however noted that the filing comes after Delivery Agent’s plans for an IPO failed, and added that a lack of a scalable platform, too much expense in its operations and overspending completed the company’s woes.

Imagine then that a huge global organisation was to embrace T-commerce and overcome such issues. A company that already has a massive Ecommerce AND TV streaming service. Imagine that this company brings these two elements together in the sports world, and imagine the impact that this might have .

In my opinion that company could be Amazon.

Amazon

We are all aware of the continued impact the company has on the sporting goods (and TV) industry. Its a small step to imagine that whilst sporting rights brings a new subscription (Amazon Prime) audience, could these same rights also be monetised through a clever T-commerce strategy?

After all there is already a huge amount of sports product for sale within Amazon. To begin to link these lines back into streaming, to evolve the amazon firestick remote control to navigate in screen purchases and to ultimately drive additional revenue seems like to logical bringing together of TV and sports.

The key point, as I see it, is that Amazon is an Ecommerce business moving into the TV space as opposed to, for example, Sky who are through and through TV/media company who do not have the expertise to really drive Ecommerce success.

This fundamental difference would allow Amazon to address the T-commerce opportunity in a way that Sky (or for that matter many other broadcasters) would be unable to.

Lets think deeper about the Amazon marketplace model. If marketplace sellers in the sporting goods industry had the chance to put their listings in a streaming environment then the ad revenue opportunity for Amazon and the additional sales opportunity for that seller looks interesting.

Not only could a marketplace seller bid to place their listing predominately within the traditional amazon listings, they may also be able to bid to place that item on screen during a sports event which was being streamed by Amazon.

In the same way the traditional wholesale/brand partners, such as Nike and adidas who sell direct to Amazon would be able to bring a deeper marketing strategy to the relationship. Launching a new product at a sporting event streamed by Amazon with the opportunity for the viewer to purchase this new item in one click certainly seems a compelling proposition and would enable a much stronger connection between sales and marketing strategies as well as the ability to clear track the P&L of such an activity.

Time will tell whether the T-commerce route is indeed one that Amazon will explore. What is however clear, in my opinion, is that, despite the Delivery Agent bankruptcy, the merger of sporting rights and the ability to retail sporting goods (and any other products) products on screen appear to be a logical development within our industry.

I will watch the space with eager anticipated.

The opportunities for own label sourcing.

Why?

In recent years the own brand, or private label, phenomenon has been making big headlines.

In grocery Aldi and Lidl continue to make huge strides with their combination of a small targeted number of branded products sitting alongside their own private label offerings.

In the outdoor sector many retailers have embraced a similar philosophy.

Consumers demand brands for the quality assurance and emotional satisfaction, however it is becoming ever more apparent in the outdoor goods market that these brands do not have to be manufacturer brands.

Indeed there are many pros and cons of undertaking your own private label strategy and perhaps this is the starting point for any discussion;

Pros & Cons

The pros of private label products:
-They are usually lower in price than branded products.
-Multiple private-label product manufacturers will compete with each other to earn a retailer’s business, giving the retailer the opportunity to provide the best balance of quality and price for their customers.
-The product quality is generally good (better than most people anticipate when thinking of private label products).

The cons of private label products:
-Some are just plain low quality offerings made at the lowest price point. These are the things that people will refer to when they say “you get what you pay for.”
-Retailers lack direct control over the manufacturers of their private label products, which can slow responsiveness to changes in the market.
-Private label products tend to be “me to” goods that are trying to match branded product performance. They are rarely innovative. Innovations and product improvements will usually be led by branded products.
-Customers are tied to a retailer to get private label products that they like. You can get branded products almost anywhere.

If you run a successful outdoor outlet then your business is likely to be driven by a combination of “must have” sellers – I.e brands/products that are requested directly by the customer and “sell themselves” and those items that you can influence directly.

It is this latter category where one is most likely to find a private label opportunity for one to source directly.

The good news is that, as a starting point, you will already have an understanding of the potential volume of goods that you can sell and therefore but able to react to any manufacturers MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity).

However, don’t just consider the sales opportunity that may exist for these goods in one channel.

Do some research. Does the opportunity exist online? What about ebay or Amazon?

Many successful sellers find an Amazon niche, source goods and then use FBA (fulfilled by Amazon – effectively the amazon warehouse) to establish a very solid business base.

Looking at these wider opportunities may further assist in assessing the product opportunity.

The next step is how do I source these goods.

How

There are several options available but, thankfully, the process (in theory) is much easier than it was some years ago thanks to the internet.

I) Trade Show

Traditionally the most effective sourcing route was to attend trade shows. Most notably ISPO where the many sourcing halls allow direct access to manufacturers from nations such as China, India and Pakistan.

A combination of the wide variety of goods on show, the opportunity to talk directly to the manufacturer and the chance to “shop around” means that this is still an excellent place to start and one that comes highly recommended.

ii) Alibaba.com

Failing that the next port of call is Alibaba.com. Founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, Alibaba is a business-to-business portal that connects Chinese manufacturers with overseas buyers. In 2012, two of Alibaba’s portals handled 1.1 trillion yuan ($170 billion) in sales with suppliers from other countries now supported.

Think of a combination between amazon, the Yellow Pages Business Directory and a dynamic search engine and you have some idea of the power of the site.

An advanced search engine allows you (in my experience anyway) to literally find any item that you are looking to source.

For reassurance there is a rating system, simple messaging systems and even “off the shelf” products that can be sourced at aggressive prices.

Iii) Sourcing Agent

The third option is to use a sourcing agent. Often specialising in bringing in goods from specific nations or factories many agents focus on specialised areas and become the “go to” resource in their field.

Without doubt they will ensure that the sourcing process is (relatively) pain free and will (usually) find an excellent solution, however this will mean that (since they usually get paid by commission) that the goods will (probably) be more expensive than if you were to source the goods yourself.

The pitfalls

Having found a solution and a manufacturer the next step is to get the product produced.

Invariably, particular with a first time, or small, order this will mean payment up front.

Often this will mean FOB (freight on board or free on board) price (usually quoted on US$) .

In a simple FOB origin arrangement, the seller agrees to pay all expenses related to the transportation of the freight to a specific point. Once the freight reaches that point, the seller’s responsibility ends, and the freight becomes the property and responsibility of the buyer.

Note that this therefore does not include any duty or other fees that may be due.

My advice, before even starting the import process, would be to visit the Government Website www.gov.uk and search “importing goods”. This will provide a solid overview of the processes involved and any additional costs.

Do not calculate your profit based on the FOB as there are other costs to take into account (shipping, duty, customs clearance etc) but these depend on the item being imported and the list would be too onerous to list here.

Once your comfortable with all the implications here its time to place that order.

The end result

So you’ve made it!

Don’t forget the lead time -it can take 6-8 weeks to arrive by sea from the Far East and perhaps 4 weeks to manufacture an item so it is prudent to allow 14-16 weeks.

Don’t forget the design, the packaging, bar codes etc as these also add to the cost and lead times.

But get all these factors right and you could end up with a private label product(s) that fills a niche, provides excellent margin and are a perfect compliment to the branded goods within your store.

There is no doubt that, done correctly, the sourcing of ones own products can be a positive contributor to any business but the additional margin rewards will inevitably come with additional work and responsibility.

Good luck!

Solutions for Sport new Digital Joint Venture

Solutions for Sport, one of the UK’s leading provider of Sales & Marketing solutions for sports brands and retailers, has further enhanced its Digital Services Division in a new partnership with Cirencester based Unseen Web Team (UWT).

The partnership will see the two companies combining the sports trade expertise of Solutions for Sport and technical expertise of UWT to create website solutions for sports brands and sports retailers through a newly developed CRM web platform.

Commenting on the partnership Paul Sherratt, Owner and Managing Director of Solutions for Sport said “this is an exciting opportunity for us to further develop our web offer following 18 months of business development in this area. It will also allow us to clearly establish ourselves as the go-to company within the sporting goods industry for any sort of website – from a catalogue site to a full blown eCommerce proposition”.

UWT, established in 2012, has grown rapidly to become a leading web development company with a core group of local and national clients and with a unique user friendly web solution to suite all business sizes.

Solutions for Sport already has an exciting rosta of web clients with brands such as Aresson rounders and Vibram Five Fingers to sports retailers such as RJM Sports and bigfootbasketball.co.uk and we look forward to welcoming new customers on board” continued Sherratt.

Direct Marketing in the Sports Trade.

We’ve all seen first hand the impact of eCommerce on our industry over the past fifteen years and the continued theme of the big getting bigger.

But where does that leave the local independent sports retailer and his approach to the web. To go eCommerce or not to go eCommerce…that is the question.

Or is it?

Perhaps the biggest issue that I come across when retailers are considering a site is that they concentrate more on the design and look and feel and often spend virtually no time on planning how they will actually get traffic.

And of course traffic is key.

For many the oversight is the fact that they already have an audience that they can very quickly turn into core traffic without having to consider spending google adwords cash. In fact this traffic can be built before a website is even constructed.

Its called a subscriber list (or customer database.)

Subscriber List

Building a subscriber list is a super important first step to take when you want to start getting the word out about your business.

You don’t need a website to start building your subscriber list. All you need is a hosted sign up form.

If you already have your web address (URL), or even if you don’t, you can build a sign up page before you even begin your website.

There are many companies that offer this service and set up is often less than 5 minutes.(search “web sign up forms” for a list of suppliers)

A hosted sign up form lives on its own, with a unique URL that you can share anywhere – Facebook, Twitter, your email signature – wherever! It gives you a quick way to start building a subscriber list today without a website.

Social Media

But how do I build this database?

Traditionally the most successful way to collect customer data through, for example, a customer loyalty scheme. The customer completed their details (name, address, email etc) and the retailer communicated special offers etc through mail or email.

In the world of Social Media this whole data collection process is simplified. All you need is Facebook Fans or Twitter followers and these mediums can be used to communicate directly with the end user e.g Special offer this weekend on X.

To collect the data is also relatively straight forward – a sign at the till that says “Like us on Facebook and/or Follow us on Twitter”can be all you need.

Since more and more social networking is being done through mobile devices the consumer can be promoted to “like and follow” whilst they are standing waiting for, for example, their credit card transaction to go through.

No filling out of forms. No production of loyalty cards. No pressure.

Get your followers excited to sign up for your list by telling them about all the great stuff they can expect to get in their inbox. If you write regular blog posts, tell them that by signing up, they’ll never miss a post from you.

More importantly, with your sign up form in place, you can begin to migrate this audience and gather their email addresses.

Once you have the followers and subscribers this becomes your core marketing database.

It is extremely targeted (as the consumer has bothered to like/follow) and its local (since they came into the store.)

Once you have this information begin to engage your customers with regular news, competitions etc.

You have a powerful targeted marketing tool that costs nothing and that is likely to return a much greater level of revenue generation than a local newspaper advert.

Once you are comfortable with building the likes/followers in this way you can become more proactive and begin searching facebook and twitter for local users and their likes.

This requires a greater understanding of the way in which the sites are constructed however the results can be very exciting.

Its important to remember that before “social” became the buzz word we talked about “community” and at the heart of most communities is sport.

If the local sports retailer can tap into this community directly through social media then the results can be extremely beneficial.

Continue to build the list.

Another way to share your hosted form on social media is to reach out directly to friends and influencers who you think could benefit from being a part of your list. Don’t overdo it, though – sharing your form with a bunch of random people will make you look like a spammer.

Add a link to your hosted sign up form in your email signature. You don’t have to go into great detail explaining the value of your email list here, but do make it clear that you are linking to your email list.

If you regularly send emails to business associates, colleagues or anyone else in your industry, make a list of people who you think would be most interested in your email list, then message them directly to personally invite them to sign up for your list.

Keep talking.

If you follow these simple steps you will, in time, begin to build a well qualified and targeted database at minimal cost.

By this time you may, or may not, have constructed a website and begun to consider eCommerce solutions, however the big advantage that you will have is that you have grasped the basics of database marketing and will have a core audience with which you regular communicate.

If you link your list to software such as MailChimp you can easily (and cheaply) maintain the list and, more importantly, drive you customers back into store with special offers and news by regular email communication.

Integrate this within your social media activity and you will begin to access your customer though multiple touch points and benefit from increased brand exposure and increased footfall.

Good luck!

Man versus Machine

One of the pleasures of working in our industry is looking to the future.

I’ve always enjoyed launching products six months before the end consumer sees them and, indeed, working on product development much further ahead.

With this in mind I began thinking about what the future of sport may be – a much tougher question to consider but one, if you allow the mind to wander, that could open up all manner implications for our own sporting goods industry.

The first man v machine

In 1980, Carnegie Mellon University announced the formation of the $100,000 Fredkin Prize, named after computer pioneer Edward Fredkin, for anyone who could develop a computer capable of beating a world chess champion. In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue team took up the challenge and proceeded to beat Gary Kasporov, the reigning world chess champion.

In 2011, IBM waged a similar battle on the TV game show Jeopardy. This time they pitted their Watson Computer against Ken Jennings and Paul Rudder, the all-time top Jeopardy champions. Again the computer came up the winner.

So if computers can win at chess and Jeopardy, are we about to see similar contests between robots and football players, driverless cars and F1 drivers, or robots and golf champions? More importantly, do we run the risk of automating these sports out of existence?

Thomas Frey, a futurist speaker, addressed this question in 2014 concluding – “Yes, we will see many more human-vs-machine staged competitions. But no, this won’t jeopardize the sporting industry.”

Even though the human-vs-machine competitions won’t be an issue, there are several possible threats around the corner for professional sports. Here’s why.

The Ultimate Form of Story Telling

Sports have become the ultimate form of story telling. Each contest is a test of the human spirit, with good guys and bad guys pairing off, with great drama, as people test their limits overcoming adversity, to achieve an unknown outcome. And all of this is happening in real time.

As a result, sports have become the ultimate form of fresh content in a world where relevance is gauged by timeliness and hyper-awareness is our competitive edge.

The value of sports broadcasts degrades exponentially faster than virtually any other form of content, so as a result, it assumes centre stage as we plan our days. Most media companies view sports as an anchor event around which every other programme is scheduled.

But that doesn’t mean the likes of cricket, football, and rugby are immune to change. Far from it.

Future Athletes

An athletic competition is only interesting if the athletes are relatively evenly paired, and if either team has the potential to win or lose their next competition.

We lose interest in lopsided competitions like America’s 1992 Dream Team with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Scottie Pippin facing off against far less-qualified national teams in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. People may have found it amusing for a few games, but it wasn’t a sustainable business model.

At the same time, teams with superior athletes have an advantage. So it’s in their best interest to do the best possible job of selecting, developing, and coaching each of their athletes.

While there is tremendous improvement being made to sporting equipment, protective gear, and training simulators, we are seeing many instances where technology goes too far. These include everything from performance enhancing equipment to genetically reengineering the athletes themselves.

Oscar Pistorius, with his artificial legs, became the first double leg amputee to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympics where he proceeded to win 2 gold and one silver metal. But this wasn’t without controversy.

Having gear that stimulates muscles, improves field awareness, or adds any unusual competitive advantage, will first lead to debate and later to a league ruling before being allowed or disallowed.

Much like the difference between performance enhancing drugs and legitimate drugs, many hair-splitting rulings will have to be made between acceptable and non-acceptable tools and equipment both inside and outside of the body.

It is, perhaps, in this field of smart technology where we will see the greatest change in our industry. We are already beginning to see the increase in products such as Fitbit bringing new sales opportunities and it is clear that this trend will continue.

Perhaps the most difficult decisions will have to be made when it comes to genetically engineering athletes from birth.

The Super Baby Problem

In 2014, American consumer genomics company 23andMe received a patent for a designer baby kit that would allow parents to pick and choose attributes for their soon-to-be-conceived kids.

But they were not the first. The Fertility Institutes’ clinic in Los Angeles delivered the first designer baby back in 2009.

Designer babies have long been a dinner party discussion topic with the understanding that the era of “super babies” will soon be upon us, with the prospects of creating bigger, faster, stronger humans.

Will these so-called super-babies grow up to become super-humans? And how long before we start seeing these fully grown offspring entering professional sports?

Once we are able to see how different they are, and over time the process for creating them will become increasingly complex, we’ll be faced with some difficult questions? During the ensuing debate we’ll hear questions like, “are they really still human?” and “since they weren’t conceived naturally, do they still have a soul?” and “what kind of grotesque things will 2nd and 3rd generation designer baby morph into?” and “how can we possibly compete against soul-less humans?”

On numerous occasions, officials will have to decide if these new lab-generated super-humans should be allowed to compete. Every decision will weigh heavily on whether people will want to continue watching and participating in the sport.

Final Thoughts

While it may appear from the outside that professional sports, as an industry, is conducting business as usual, a number of competing forces are threatening the nature of the entire industry.

We are already seeing the rapid rise of video game competitions. Will these and become part of the future sports industry?

If so will we begin to see a new genre of apparel and footwear aimed at this target much as we are seeing in, for example, cross fit?

In the end we will probably end up with far more questions than answers, but there is a whole new generation of kids kicking around on the playground wanting to know if their dreams can ever come true and how they can fulfil them.

Sport, for many, is the dream…but how different will sport be in the future.

The Future of Sports brands – To sell direct or not……..that is the question

The face of the UK and global sporting goods industry continues to change and evolve at pace.

As the boundaries between sports brands and sports retailers become more and more blurred so retailers become brands and brands become retailers.

But what does this mean for the future of sports retailing and when and how do brands looking to make the transition from wholesaler to direct seller make the shift.

THE BACKGROUND

When Sports Direct purchased Donnay all those years ago little did we know that the evolution of the “in house” brand strategy would influence the UK market place as much as it has.

It is now common place for our leading High Street, and Online, retailers to own a stable of brands and to use them to maximise their margins and to draw consumers in with attractive discounts.

Many of these brands, such as Dunlop and Slazenger, have built global brand equity and,as such, this enhances the value of the sales proposition in the consumers eyes.

These in house brands are core business drivers sitting alongside the premium brands who draw the consumers in but dont necessarily drive the volume of sales.

So where does that leave these the sports brands who are not retailer owned and how will they compete in the future.

Will they be happy to merely act as the “sprat that catches the mackerel” or will they advance their own retail strategies to wrestle an element of control back.

THE OPTIONS

The large global players are already well advanced in the development of their own retail strategy with, for example, adidas group stating – “Our Retail segment’s strategic vision is to become one of the top retailers in the world……….retail plays an important role for the growth of our Group and our brands.”

However the secondary or more specialist brands are slower to address the issue.

There is undoubtedly an underlying concern from these brands that, by selling direct, they will undermine their existing distribution channels and retail partners and risk losing that business.

The decision is dependent on a number of factors relating directly to the brand including factors such as the strength of the brand in their relevant sport/niche and the brand positioning; whether the approach is via retail and/or eCommerce, and whether the approach is for long term commercial gain or a short term sales and marketing strategy such as a pop-up shop.

We are already very familiar with the approach that many have take in recent years within the Outlet centres where the channel provides additional brand exposure but allows protection of clearance/closeout activity and for the company to still satisfy margin requirements by selling direct.

This is a relatively “clean” approach as, often, the products have been previously offered to retail partners first before they end up in the outlet store.

Another interesting development is the opening stores close to or within sporting events to further enhance the brand links with that sport. Prince, for example, have recently opened a stand alone store in Wimbledon and plan to roll out store openings in every major city where a Grand Slam tennis event is held.

Flagship stores have, in many cases, also been around for a period of time and allow the brands to maximise their marketing messages alongside the retail upside. This strategy is often the precursor to a more aggressive store opening plan

Nike’s global strategy, for example, outlined in 2010 at the company’s investor meeting held in New York, detailed plans to open approximately 250-300 new Nike-branded stores (mix of branded stores and factory outlet stores) worldwide over the next five years

Another interesting factor in the evolution of brands selling direct is the growth of the Chinese market place and the Chinese brands. The “Western world” approach has historically been built on a wholesale basis with, only in recent times, the retail element becoming more relevant. The Chinese brand model however has been historically built on the reverse.

The result is the evolution of brands such as Li Ning with over 4000 stores either directly owned or franchised which has created a critical mass allowing them to expand into the global sporting goods market.

THE DRIVING FORCES FOR CHANGE

Whatever the approach there are some key fundamentals that are driving these changes and key factors that need to be addressed if you are a sports brands looking to role out a “direct sell” strategy:

Margin – First and foremost direct selling allows the brand to realise manufacturer to retailer margin.

Build brand equity – the brand can broadcast the key marketing messages without fear of dilution or competitor intrusion.

Showcase the entire product range – inevitably retailers cannot carry the entire brand product range. A branded store selling direct can.

Retail pressure – as retailers further drive their own brand strategy brands must react by driving their own retail strategy.

the growth of eCommerce – eCommerce allows the brand to have a global platform combining the latest key marketing messages with the opportunity to purchase the latest products and, perhaps, alternative exclusive products.

the challenging economic climate – with some aspects of the global sporting goods market suffering brands are looking to mitigate their risk and be less beholden to retail partners who are looking to further dictate terms and erode brand equity and prices.

the need to get closer to the end user – the closer the brand is to the end user the more the consumer feels engaged with the brand and the easier it is to communicate in both directions.

THE CONCLUSION

The developments we are seeing in the marketplace look set to be with us for a while and thus any brand must consider the implications of these changes.

Our leading retailers look set to continue to grow and brands must review where they currently sit, and where they are likely to sit in the future marketplace and review their direct sell strategy accordingly.

There is no “one size fits all” strategy, however many believes that, in future, brands with a 100% wholesale strategy may become vulnerable -so perhaps it is time that those brands do indeed become retailers.

A sports trade online hub

Introduction

I was intrigued to come across a business article this weekend announcing that StreetHub, a network of independent retailers, had raised $2.6m (£1.7m) in their latest funding round, led by Octopus Ventures.

The group also received investments from Index Ventures, which has stakes in online retailers Asos, Farfetch and Net-a-Porter, among others, as well as a number of other angel investors.

The element that intrigued me was the phrase “network of independent retailers” and I began to dig deeper to establish whether there was anything in this business model that could be applied to our own sporting goods industry.

Streethub

Launched in 2013 with a $1.2m seed investment round Streethubs aim was to bring together a network of independent fashion retailers into one website. The main targets were those boutiques that did not have a web presence but did have ranges of fashion lines that they wished to sell to a global audience.

The online venture provides world-wide shipping, with click and collect and one hour Shutl delivery available in selected postcodes.

StreetHub co-founder Mandeep Singh said the success of the company’s iPhone app, which launched last year, had shown the firm “the compelling opportunity to also serve people who are keen to discover shops which are a little further afield too, and offer worldwide shipping”. According to StreetHub, now renamed Trouva, the app has been used by over 40,000 customers since it launched.

Trouva is the logical next step for us in our mission to help our amazing independent retailers to reach an even wider audience and help more customers to discover these inspiring, individual collections of products,” added Singh.

Sales Impact

Dan Rigby, owner of home and gift shop Rigby & Mac said: “Trouva is already having a significant impact on our sales.”He added that over the last month, the shop’s sales had gone up 10 per cent “thanks to Trouva”.

Lawrece Roullier White, owner of East Dulwich-based lifestyle boutique Roullier White, said: “Being part of the Trouva community is great, because it brings together a selection of retailers that stand out and offer a really inspirational mix of products, enabling shoppers to find something a bit different wherever they are based.”

Could it work in sports?

So, so far the principal is clear. Bring a network of independent retailers together, provide a simple platform for them to retail from and open up their product range to a wider audience.

However if we look a little closer its not that simple.

The success of Trouva is the fact the these individual boutiques have differing and unique product ranges that often cannot be found in other towns or cities. They may feature local designers, small companies and small product runs – a proposition not dissimilar to those products brought to market by notonthehighstreet.com.

With our sports retailers there are often common product ranges from the same suppliers and therefore a trouva environment would, arguably, only be driven by price – much as the amazon marketplace is driven and often to the detriment of the brand and the detriment of retail margins.

But hang on.

Perhaps it could work from the brand supplier side.

Sportshub

My work brings me into contact not only with large leading brands such as Uhlsport and Spalding, but also with smaller sports brands, start-ups and sporting goods manufacturers looking for a route to market.

Often my advice is simple – the wholesale route is becoming increasingly difficult; in each category there are many competing products; the consumer is demanding lower and lower prices; many retailers don’t want to take a risk on new brands/product etc etc…..

But imagine there was a credible alternative.

A place where new, niche, innovative products could be brought to market. A hub where these “artisan” brands could showcase their wares. A place where sporting goods products with limited distribution (and therefore not found on the High Street or the big online retailers) but with unique propositions could be found.

An Aladdins Cave of specialist sporting goods.

Challenges

Of course there would be some challenges. However one could imagine some strong PR driving initial growth as the platform would allow small businesses the chance to showcase their ranges and be a strong traffic driver.

Logistically the brands could simply create new product listings and all fulfilment would be done by them also with the hub simply taking a commission.

Not only could this provide a new revenue stream for these brands but it could also act as a shop window for, the wider trade to see new products – acting a little like a virtual trade show.

The future

We are not short of new brands coming into our industry but we are short of retailers to stock all of these new ranges forcing many new brands to sell direct either from their own website or through third party channels such as amazon.

Maybe, just maybe, a sportshub could create a new environment bringing them all together under one roof.

A simple way for the consumer to find the latest new and exciting thing in their sport.

A specialist environment but where the brand is in control of elements such as pricing and the way that the product is presented rather than the retailer.

An opportunity to ensure brands and product messages are not diluted.

I’m off to raise my seed capital if anyone fancies joining me….!

Solutions for Sport are hiring: Are you looking for a new challenge?

WEB CONTENT & MARKETING EXECUTIVE

Are you looking for an exciting digital position within the sporting goods industry?

We are looking for a web content & marketing executive who will be responsible for the following areas of our fast growing digital division;

  • Web content- inputting all product descriptions, content, prices and more into new and existing in house and client web platforms

  • image manipulation – ensuring all web images are standardised, resized and tagged

  • creating and maintaining meta tags and descriptions

  • creating wordpress websites following templated designs and ensuring the the final designs are delivered to brief and on time

  • designing and developing email campaigns using mailchimp.

  • creating and maintaining social media campaigns

Minimum Requirements:

Excellent English language skills

Adobe photoshop

familiarity with WordPress

familiarity with mailchimp

Social Media savvy

familiarity with google adwords campaigns

Salary £12-15,000 depending on experience

To apply email your cv and covering letter to paul@solutionsforsport.net