One-on-One With Pat Donnelly

New NSGA chair provides insight into the association’s role in a COVID-19 world.

Reflecting the increasing role the team business is playing within the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), Pat Donnelly, of Donnelly Sports, recently began a three-year term as chair of the association. Donnelley is the owner/partner of Donnelley Sports, a team dealer that has been in business for 45 years in Idaho and Nevada. He has been on the NSGA Board since 2014 and joined the NSGA Executive Committee as treasurer/chairman-elect last year.

(In addition, Greg Miller, of Universal Athletic, was selected as treasurer/chairman-elect and Ron Rugal, of B&R Sporting Goods, joined the NSGA board. Their appointments went into effect June 1. The moves were made necessary by the resignation of former chair Cathy Pryor, who resigned earlier this spring after leaving Hibbett Sports.)

Team Insight editor Michael Jacobsen reached out to Donnelly as he began his term to get his vision into the future of NSGA, the changing face of the team sports business and what the industry needs to do to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Team Insight: Can you start by giving us a a little background?

Donnelly: I have a BA in business administration from Boise State University. After graduating in 1982, I accepted a job with Donnelley Sports and have been with the company for almost 40 years. My dad and mom started the company in 1975 with a $5000 SBA loan. My brother, Mike, brother-in-law, Scot, and I purchased the company from my parents in 1993 and have successfully operated the company to this day.

With a loyal customer base throughout Idaho and Nevada and membership in the Sports, Inc. buying group, we have had many great years in business. I have been on the NSGA board since 2014 and am enjoying the opportunity to give back to an industry that has been so good to Donnelley Sports.

You are taking over from Cathy Pryor, which are some interesting and groundbreaking shoes to fill.

Cathy Pryor was a long-time board member and very involved during that time. She left the industry to pursue different opportunities and only had the chance to direct the board for one year. Even though it was only a short period of time, Cathy had an excellent impact during her tenure. She will be a difficult person to follow. She has great vision, knowledge of the industry and is well-respected. I hope to build on her work to the best of my ability going forward.

What do you see as the role of chair of NSGA?

NSGA has a tremendous board of directors, a group that represents the team dealers and retailers across the industry. They are smart and experienced and quite frankly a great group to represent NSGA. CEO Matt Carlson and his staff do an outstanding job of managing and executing the mission of the association. Keeping the NSGA team informed about what I see happening in the marketplace is a big part of my role. I also think the role of the chair in this wonderful organization is to listen to these people, participate in the discussions, provide strategic oversight and help execute any plans that materialize.

What skill sets do you bring to the role? What is going to be your biggest challenge?

I am willing and able to listen and to build consensus around prudent ideas and give credit where credit is due. I don’t plan to reinvent the wheel here. I just want to make sure NSGA keeps moving forward during my tenure. There are challenges to be sure, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic. NSGA has taken the challenge of lobbying on behalf of its membership to find ways to navigate the uncertain waters of COVID-19.

These are challenging times for the sporting goods industry as a whole, and team sports in particular. How can NSGA help its members in the tough days ahead?

As I mentioned before, NSGA has been very involved in the lobbying efforts to bring financial relief to our membership. We continue to lobby for extensions of the PPP funds made available through the CARES Act, for simplifying the forgiveness part of the program and for treating our retailers and dealers in the same light as the leisure, travel and restaurant industries. Our members have been uniquely and specifically hurt in this environment and deserve the same attention.

It’s always good to see a team guy at the helm of NSGA. But I always wonder what are the challenges of being one of the “smaller” members when it comes to being chair. What different perspective can you as an independent team dealer bring to your new role?

Thank you for asking this question. I have been involved as an independently owned team dealer for 40-plus years. It’s all I have ever done and all I know. This is where my head and heart lie. We were also team retailers for most of those 40 years and I have a great understanding and respect for the brick-and-mortar companies that are still fighting the good fight.

While it’s true Donnelley Sports is smaller in size as a company, we don’t know that. We operate the same way and encounter the same problems on a daily basis as the big companies do, just on a smaller scale. As NSGA chair, I have to be expansive in representing all segments of retailers and dealers, including big-box retailers, shoe retailers, ski and snowboard retailers, outdoor retailers, hockey retailers and many other segments, both here in the United States and in Canada. NSGA represents all those constituents.

As an independent team dealer, we rely on relationships with customers, vendors, our banks and employees to be successful. My perspective would be to continue to build relationships within the industry and its vendor partners to support the common success of everyone involved.

Looking at the team industry as a whole, how badly has Donnelly and the business been impacted by COVID-19?

COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate when it comes to its effect on the economy. Like everyone else, it has had a huge impact on Donnelley Sports. When they closed schools and suspended spring sports, a significant portion of our revenue stream dried up instantly. Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of the PPP funds to help us through the second and third quarters.

How has membership in Sports, Inc. contributed to that?

A huge contributing factor to weathering the storm is our relationship with Sports, Inc. They have played an enormous role in helping us manage our payables and other expenses as well.

What is your message to dealers on how to survive in a COVID-19 world?

First, if you are not a member of NSGA or a buying group, you need to be. Second, if you don’t have a solid relationship with your lender, build one. Lastly, work hard, work smart and take care of your employees. They have played a huge role in our ability to move through the last four months and I believe that’s true for anyone else in this position.

From the perspective of a team dealer and as chair of NSGA, what is your message to the team brands as the industry tries to recover?

Our relationships with our team brands are critical right now. Our loyalty and commitment to their products over the years have built a bunch of equity between us. My message to the vendors is to maintain great relationships with your dealer partners. Be patient with us and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  If they can do this, we will all emerge better and stronger on the other side.

Where would you like to see NSGA be when your term expires in three years?

NSGA is working hard every day to find ways to better serve our constituents. There are some excellent ideas floating around that will help with growing our membership and providing more resources for the organization.

One last thing: The NSGA chair traditionally hosts a hospitality suite during the NSGA Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit. Will trade magazine editors continue to be invited if we promise to behave?

Hey, I’m just hoping that we will turn the corner on this pandemic and we can get back to building our business at events like the Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit!  The trade media should be our partners to achieve that goal, too. Consider yourself my first invite.

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