The Evolution of Football Teamwear Dealers


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?


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.


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.


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 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


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.

US Sports Retail in “Panic Mode”

Early August 2017 and the shares of Dicks Sporting Goods – the leading US sporting goods retailer, and one of the biggest sports retailers in the world, drop over 20%.

Dicks CEO Edward Stack announces that “There’s a lot of people right now in retail and in this industry in panic mode with how they’re pricing, and we think it’s going to continue to be promotional, and at times irrational, going forward.”

Many of Dick’s partners and its rivals were being dragged down with it. Hibbett Sports shares sank more than 10 percent. Shares of Under Armour, Foot Locker and Big 5 Sporting Goods were all falling around 4 percent. Cabela’s was down 3 percent, Callaway Golf Company down 2 percent, and Nike down 1.8 percent.

Pittsburgh-based Dick’s had hoped to benefit from rivals’ bankruptcies, including those of City Sports and Sports Authority, but competition from specialty retailers like Under Armour and Foot Locker remains a threat.

The company recently launched a private-label clothing line, called Second Skin, that aims to compete directly with Under Armour’s niche. But it’s too soon to tell if the line will help boost sales

So whats going on across the pond and are the same issues being reflected here?


Last month I covered the new trading relationship between Nike and Amazon and, whilst it is far to early to tell what impact this will have, market sentiment both in the US and here suggests that this further increases pressure on any sports retailer who doesn’t have a credible ecommerce proposition. Dick’s is just another example of Amazon becoming the new middleman.

Certainly an increasing number of brands who, perhaps in the past, refused to deal directly with amazon are now jumping on board. This is most likely to affect those market place sellers, many of whom are independent retailers who see this as their last hope to maintain their business. If the brands begin to “control” this channel in conjunction with amazon then its logical that, over time, they will want to implement selective distribution strategies and begin to prevent marketplace sellers and try to control retail price erosion.

A warning then, perhaps, for any retailer who currently has too many eggs in the amazon marketplace basket. Is this a sustainable long term strategy?

If prices continue to tumble and amazon continues to grow, as one retail analyst puts it, “Here we go down the gross margin rabbit hole”.

And, indeed, it is gross margin worries that are driving brands and retailers to address their pricing strategies.


Whilst on the one hand, amongst other things, massive currency fluctuations over the past twelve months have driven up the cost of goods and driven up retail prices, on the other hand increased private label activity and consumer pressure for lower prices has resulted in margins falling across the industry.

In their latest results, for example, Sports Direct show deteriorating margins across the board and a 59 per cent plunge in underlying pre-tax profit, even with an extra week in this financial year.

Difficult then to implement the strategy “to become the ‘”Selfridges” of sport by migrating to a new generation of stores to showcase the very best products from our third party brand partners” when margins from those partners are substantially lower than own label products margins.

A shift to increased third party partners will inevitably lead to further margin pressure.

Brands becoming retailers

Increased brand focus on driving direct to consumer sales strategies is likely to add further pressure on the traditional sports retailers.

Multi channel offerings from the major brands and easier direct access to the end consumer enables the brands to drive innovative retail strategies which they would simply be unable to offer through their retail partners.

Increased use of technology, increased direct feedback from consumers and getting products to the market quicker will all enable sports brands to gain a greater retail market share over time.

Will the next generation of mega sports brand be one that doesn’t even have a wholesale strategy?


So what do the analysts make of the challenges facing the industry;

UBS analyst Michael Lasser on Dicks- “DKS is operating in a tough sporting goods retail landscape. While it’s managing the environment better than its brick and mortar peers, it isn’t fully immune from the external environment.”

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown on SDI – “Sports Direct still faces challenging times….the weak pound is increasing costs, and the British consumer is facing rising inflation and weak wage growth, not a pretty combination for the price-sensitive shoppers who turn to Sports Direct for a bargain.

Striking similar sentiments with neither indicating that the short term future will be any rosier.

I have commented many times within these articles how quickly things are changing and how multi faceted the factors impacting our industry have become.

So what future?

Retailers continue to evolve into brands and brands into retailers. Ecommerce continues to have a huge influence on shopping habits. Amazon, at 40%+ of UK ecommerce traffic, continues to throw up challenges. Our independent retailer base is declining. Our major retailers are struggling under increased margin pressure albeit many are growing their revenues. Our brands are increasing their direction interaction with end consumers.

There are so many influencing factors that will shape the future of the trade.

But one thing is for sure. Those within the trade who consider the changes and adapt accordingly will survive.

Failure to adapt will, undoubtedly, lead to extinction.

Good luck!

The rise of extreme events

A record total of 253,930 people entered the ballot for the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. With 50,000 runners accepted and, with a proportion of entrants dropping out due to illness, injury or other reasons before Race Day up to 45,000 runners finally completed the race.

There is no doubt that the popularity of this event continues to grow, and, in fact, since the event first started 36 years ago it is true to say that the profile of running as a sport has seen a huge evolution and has grown to be a mainstream form of exercise.

However, in recent years, it is not running in its purest form that has been attracting more and more participants – the sport of running and its industry alike have undergone a metamorphosis of sorts, where for many runners, the main goal of competing in events is finishing a race–and having fun doing it–rather than breaking records.This shift in the sport is due in large part to the growth of popularity of non-traditional races, such as the Tough Mudder, The Colour Run and Rat Race.

What’s driving the growth?

But what is driving the growth of participation in non-traditional running events?

On the one hand, the sport of running as a whole has experienced unprecedented growth. Sports Marketing Surveys Inc (SMS) estimates the UK’s running population has reached an impressive 10.5million runners with one in five adults running four or more times a year, while 25% of under-18s also qualify as active runners under these criteria.

Yet, leaders in the running industry are quick to note that it is not just the growing participation in the sport that is driving interest in non-traditional events. Many of these leaders believe that society’s shift toward a more localised lifestyle is at the root of the growth of non-traditional running events.

In the US, for example, Mikal Peveto of adidas America comments – “There is a seat change going on in the world, where we are embracing our smallness and local communities. Whether it’s fresh foods and farming or stores becoming a more vital part of the communities they’re in, we are seeing a natural reconfiguration of our values in terms of localness. The same applies to running. Today, the fastest growing events in the sport aren’t established marathons, but things like obstacle course races and the Tough Mudder, which are all very community based,”

Many market commentators also believe that there are economic reasons behind the growth of running and the associated Extreme Events.

Running is accessible. Equipment requirements are low. There is no coaching required, rules to learn, clubs to join. Simply put on your shoes and off you go!.

Certainly growth in running has accelerated since 2008 – perhaps directly influenced by the challenging economic period that has presided since that time.

More Women

Along with economics, another interesting aspect is the unique role that women’s growing interest in running has played in shaping the sport.

Many of the women signing up for ultra marathons and marathons today will take for granted their right to compete. But only 40 years ago, it was not an option.

As recently as the Eighties, it was thought to be too dangerous for women to run long distances. It wasn’t until the late Seventies that big city marathons began to allow women to compete. And women were not allowed to take part in the marathon at the Olympics until 1984.

Since then, women’s participation in marathons, ultra marathons, and adventure races has flourished.

There are likely a number of key reasons behind this evolution but certainly it does seem that a lot of women are using endurance races and events as a target to help motivate them to lose weight, or improve their fitness.

Social Media is undoubtedly a driver with many women using posts as a self motivational tool -much in the same way that those attending weight loss groups traditionally used their peer group within the circle to “compete against” they are now able to reach out to their wider peer group to help encourage them to achieve their goals.

It is also true that this “social” side has been the driver towards increased participation in non timed, but fun, events.

Impact and opportunities for the industry

With the growing participation of women in the sport of running and a shift in the types of events interesting runners our own industry is seeing some changes and some opportunities.

Extreme events have driven both the growth in specialist products (think innov8 and the cross over products from trail running) as well as more “informal” running apparel (think leggings, performance t’s etc).

In fact the latter category (in particular leggings) has seen the boundaries between street fashion and sport once again become blurred.

Brands such as Sweaty Betty and Lululemon have driven demand and several online retailers have launched sportswear verticals, such as Boohoo Fit, Missguided Active and Net-a-Sporter.

Likewise, as retailers recognise the “local/community” element to many of these events, the proactive dealers have created bespoke printed apparel options to further enhance both the fun and (often) team element of the race.

The future.

Given the fast and sizeable growth of participation in the sport of running recently and the non-traditional races facilitating that growth, where is the sport of running headed?

As we have already established, running isn’t an elitist sport in terms of costs. On top of that, research shows that most participants are of a higher educated, higher income bracket and professionally employed base. Therefore, they have the means to travel and pay entry fees and other associated costs with running.

The interesting shift is going to be watching and paying attention to the next generation.

How will millennials and their approach and attitudes towards life–whether it’s how they’re employed, where they live and how they spend and donate–impact the sport? Will the popularity of non-traditional events continue to grow with the millennials?

My own conclusion is that, as todays consumer continues to search for experience based events these sorts of activities will indeed grow. Perhaps we will end up with a sliding scale of events from the very extreme (think multi-day/multi discipline) through to the more traditional 5/10k as the consumer continues to demand more choice.

It does seem that participation numbers look set to continue to grow and thus, as an industry, the opportunities will continue to become available.

I’m off to get my old running shoes on and get dirty……

The Future of Sports Retail

I’ve written regularly in this column about the rapid change of pace currently being experienced within our trade.

The influencing factors are varied, but a new morality within which our lives are being deregulated, with more flexibility and different and more varied working hours, is certainly one element driving this change.

Consumers have multiple tools to connect with brands and products and hyper-connectivity is giving a greater power to the shopper and influencing the way in which business is being transacted.

We are becoming a society of value hunters -looking for the best bargain and relishing the experience of sharing our value experiences within our social circle to create a status within our peer groups and, of course, we are embracing online shopping in ever increasing numbers across all elements of consumer spend.

Online spend set to double

A report released by O2 in 2014 concluded that the proportion of online spend will double by 2020 and account for over 20% of all retail sales – up from just under 11% in 2012, whilst physical stores will see their share of spending decline by 10.6 percentage points over the same period.

However, whilst the increase in online spending comes at the expense of sales in physical stores, this doesn’t signal the much-lauded death of the high street. Instead, the report shows the extent to which the high street will impact overall retail sales and why it cannot be ignored.

As people shift from bricks to clicks, the relationship between online and high-street retailers is evolving as retailers create a world where experiences flow naturally between home and store, street and aisle, mobile and market.

Technology is breathing new life into the high street. With more and more people shopping on their smart phones and tablets, stores are no longer just about buying.

As online sales increase, the role of the high street store will evolve, provoking counter-innovation from brands and an increase in the “show rooming” trend where stores become experience rather than sales led.

The report shows that a quarter of all shoppers are hitting the high street, no longer to buy, but to socialise with friends and family. Half (51%) of us go to shops to be entertained, a third (33%) to eat out and three-quarters to be inspired.

These results show there is a clear opportunity for retailers to continue to introduce social spaces and turn shopping into a source of entertainment – the latest form of leisure. As a result, stores will see an increasing focus on engagement, providing the shopper with tactile and sensory experiences which cannot be replicated online.

How can the sporting goods industry respond.

If we look more closely at these conclusions and ask what impact this is likely to have on the sporting goods industry, one obvious link is the relationship between sport as a leisure activity and shopping.

In much the same way that cinemas and food outlets have grown the shopping experience, whereby consumers populate destination shopping centres for the the whole day and embrace multiple activities can the sport, and sporting goods retailers, enhance the proposition?

On a recent visit to Dubai I found myself embracing this very scenario where, in one of the worlds largest shopping malls I skied in the morning, shopped in the afternoon and dined in the evening.

The sports retailers were clustered around the focal point of the indoor ski slope and in another part of the mall the ice rink.

As the definition of “shopping” becomes broader can the relationship between sport and shopping evolve and the sports brands and retailer be a part of this change?


Savvy sports retailers can certainly strengthen customer relationships, and increase interaction, by creating spaces and experiences which will inspire consumers to share their shopping experiences either by commenting, photographing or broadcasting their in-store interactions via their social networks and sport offers the perfect environment for this activity.

Whether it be testing a demo racket or golf club, shooting a football at a virtual goal whilst trying new boots or trying on the latest outfit whilst looking in an interactive mirror all these experiences will enhance your experience.

There are already some examples emerging in our industry with Oxford Streets Nike store or Pro Direct’s LDN19 and undoubtedly sports retailers who seamlessly connect the in-store and online experience will see the biggest gains with the savviest taking the opportunity to deliver timely, tailored offers and discounts direct to the palm of our hands.

The O2 report concludes that this seamless integration between online and offline shopping will continue to put the high street at the heart of customers’ online experiences; 85% of online shoppers return products in store and 75% go to stores to collect products bought online. The popularity of click and collect is expected to increase further to 2020, growing by 260% to 7% of all retail sales by 2020.

Feilim Mackle, Director of Sales and Service at O2, comments: “Technology is breathing new life into the high street. With more and more people shopping on their smart phones and tablets, stores are no longer just about buying. They are becoming go-to destinations for social, inspiring and rewarding experiences that ultimately drive sales online.

The High Street is here to stay.

Retailers have to recognise that the high street store is here to stay but its role has fundamentally changed. As the distinction between digital and physical becomes increasingly outdated, the brands that truly embrace technology to create a seamless experience for all their customers, wherever they choose to shop, will ultimately win the greatest share of both sales and customer loyalty.

The opportunities for own label sourcing.


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.


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.


Failing that the next port of call is 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 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!

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!

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.


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 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.


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 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.

Trade Show hangover

This time last year I wrote an article discussing the future of sports trade shows, how they are may evolve over time and what place they may have in the sporting good industry of, say, 2020.

Twelve months on and, following the recent STAG and Intersport Shows, some of the answers are beginning to emerge and some questions still remain.

The conclusions are still a little raw but, on reflection, my own view is that things need to change, and already are changing.

Something old something new

I write this article sitting on a train meandering its way through Europe from Stuttgart to Ljubljana. Its a landscape that will change over the next eight or so hours, taking me from a modern efficient Germany with an economy that is still driving the Eurozone, to a more traditional, some would say old fashion, world that is Slovenia.

In some respects these same difference are reflected in our own sports trade – the modern retailer embracing eCommerce, social media and appealing to “today’s consumer” versus the old, perhaps even tired, sports shop struggling to find their way in an ever changing landscape.

Nowhere are these differences more evident than at the trade shows.

The show itself

There are those retailers that plan their trade show activity with military precision. Trade manuals and supplier offers are embraced and a “plan of attack” formulated to ensure they gain the very maximum from whats on offer.

Conversely there are those that, sadly, appear to embrace a weekend in the Cotswolds rather than an opportunity to develop their businesses with new products and new ideas – despite the intervention of the buying groups to ensure that this is not the key driver behind their appearance at the event.

There are those that hunger for knowledge attending, as nearly half of the STAG members did for example, seminars to develop their knowledge of a particular subject.

There are those that find it hard to change and take on board this new knowledge – as many Intersport members found following their three hour show introduction.

Time for change.

But what is clear is that we all need to change.

Suppliers and retailers alike.

The way we work together needs to be reassessed.

Trade Shows are a big investment for suppliers in financial and emotional terms and its no longer acceptable to be told “I have run out of time to place an order with you” or “that all looks great can the rep come and see me”.

There are very few independent business owners that like to be told what they should and should not buy, however the whole principal of a buying group should be, in my eyes, to embrace this concept for the “greater good”.

Sure, we all know that it is dangerous to have too many eggs in one basket – to be heavily reliant on one major supplier – however if that supplier is driving the global sporting goods industry, and one is able to trade profitably with the lines on offer, then I can see the positives in the argument.


In the (nearly) twenty five years I have had in this trade one of the major shifts has been the way the retailers buy.

Remember the days when they wanted to swing the racket, try on the glove, or pick up the bat?

Now, in my experience, many are happy simply to buy “off plan”. A CAD or an image will suffice.

Are there reps out there still taking 6 sample bags into each call?

Take this to its logical conclusion and the buyers are, effectively, self selecting their lines, driven as much by the marketing collateral surrounding the product as to whether or not the product is any good.

As a buying group member should I therefore rely on the experts within the group to pre select for me? Take many of the buying decisions away from me? Select my core lines on my behalf leaving me more time to find the elements that will give me a point of difference?

I think thats exactly what we will see.

Certainly if we look to Intersport in many European countries suppliers are not present at the show itself.

The core “pre selected lines” are presented in a core Intersport area (much as we seen evolving over the past few years in the UK) whilst the suppliers simply set up their show stand but are not present during the show itself.

Talking to many colleagues across the continent it appears the general consensus is that this works.

What is clear is that it prevents the negativity of suppliers moaning that nobody has been on the stand and focusses them, firstly, on working more closely with the group to gain a “recommended buy/mandatory buy/core selection” (or whatever the criteria may be) and, secondly, to focus on working with their key partners within the buying group to further enhance their offer.

But what about the STAG environment? Can this work in the same way?

The answer is probably not, not least because the nature of the members is different and there is not the ability to tie into international deals/SMU’s etc in the way that Intersport members can.

So what chance there?

Different venue? Different time of year? More guidance? No show at all?

The questions, I know, are constantly being asked internally – but thats the easy bit!

To find the solution is much harder.

Times are a changing

What is evident is that things are changing and will continue to change.

Market commentators often quote “the cycle of trade shows” and, in conclusion, its safe to say that we are in a part of the cycle where, certainly based on the trade shows of the past, shows are on the decline.

More accurately they are probably evolving.

And as the trade continues to evolve so will the format.

So. Until such time as I suddenly have 2 new weeks to enjoy back in the office every December Ill see you next year.

Same time.

Same place.

A sports trade online hub


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.


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

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.


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.


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….!