Getting With The Tech Program
The team market, better known for its reliance on tradition and old-school ways of doing business than for its early adoption of technology, is now eagerly seeking out innovation. For the past few years, the shift toward tech had been gradual, but 2020 ushered in a new dynamic: the coronavirus pandemic.
The transformations that the disease triggered across all business sectors have been disruptive and rapid, accelerating widespread demand for technological solutions. The team business is certainly no exception.
More specifically, the virulent contagion has rendered face-to-face encounters and handshake deals unsafe and unfeasible, leading to a sharp increase in virtual meetings. With supply chains in shambles, there has been no room for error regarding critical functions such as ordering, accounting and inventory control.
Customers stuck at home for months on end, compounded by the shutdown of most physical retail, gave a colossal boost to online shopping, which has naturally spurred a greater emphasis on online team stores and dealer websites. The upshot is that for team dealers to survive in the age of COVID-19 and beyond they must have the ability to boost efficiency, accuracy, reliability and profits. For these reasons, technology is no longer a luxury or a quixotic experiment — it’s a necessity.
Here, five team dealers offer their perspectives on how technology is helping them weather the pandemic storm and, just as importantly, how utilizing such advances will facilitate future success.
Zach Albert, Partner and Owner/Team Rep
Albert Sporting Goods, Saint Marys, OH
How Tech Has Changed Your Business: With the pandemic, communications have changed with coaches and athletic directors and we’re doing more email-based and fewer face-to-face conversations. We’re also building more online stores on laptops and desktop computers and these are compatible with various mobile devices such as iOS and Android. This fall season (from May to present) we have 120 to 125 online team stores. All of our retail business is local, but the online stores extend our reach greatly among schools and customers. When we get back to normal we’ll look into adding some inventory technology.
Pros and Cons: The pros of technology are that there’s less paperwork because everything is stored in the cloud and is easily accessible. It also helps us organize things and makes it easier for our decorations department to see what’s being ordered. Consumers like the tech because it makes it easier for them to navigate our website. However, like all tech, you have to expect that it’ll go down at times.
Learning Curve: It’s not too steep, but it does require patience. We started using tech in 2014 and over the years we’ve added new features. It’s easy for me to grasp, but I’m a 29-year-old who grew up with technology. If dealers can find a younger peer or mentor to help familiarize older colleagues with the technology, they’d be pleasantly surprised at how much easier the process can become and how much time they could save. More coaches are now in their mid-20s to 40s, so it’s an easy transition to the online business.
Dealers, Tech and the Future: The role of technology in the future will be huge. Online store providers such as OrderMyGear will continue to offer upgrades and that will help keep us competitive.
Scott Treiber, Owner
Sports Paradise, Medford, NJ
How Tech Has Changed Your Business: Technology has changed the team business. At least for another year, ordering will be remote and I don’t know if it’ll ever go back. People really don’t need to touch and feel the product.
Pros and Cons: We’re using all kinds of software — Chipply for online stores, along with inventory software, logo design software and more. On the downside, some coaches don’t want to deal with ordering product right now and no amount of tech will change that.
Learning Curve: We’ve been doing online team stores for a long time, but some of the older guys have some issues with the technology. The younger guys pick it up right away.
Dealers, Tech and the Future: Technology will play a huge role. Those who adapt will succeed. We’ll see new technology from suppliers like Chipply, and also from vendors such as Nike and Under Armour and it will change quarterly. Vendors are continually updating their B2B sites and this will eventually help dealers.
Curt Hauff, Owner
Dakota Lettering, Sioux Falls, SD
How Tech Has Changed Your Business: We’ve used technology to increase efficiencies, run smoother and faster and do more with the people we have. The pandemic forced us to get more involved in video conference options, including Microsoft Teams and Zoom, both as a management tool and for the sales staff to reach out to customers.
We’ll continue to use video conferencing in day-to-day operations such as weekly meetings with sales staff. We’re also partnering with Chipply to enhance our internal systems and to improve processes such as purchasing, payables and receivables.
Although our use of technology wasn’t COVID-driven, it was accelerated by the pandemic — we were already planning to be more tech-driven and digitally advanced. If we’re not looking for ways to be better, faster and more efficient, we risk falling behind. We don’t have a huge budget so we rely on tech providers. The COVID situation is separating those ahead in the process from those behind in the process.
We’ve been in the online store business for about 15 years, and Chipply is great at developing technology to solve pain points and help dealers think ahead.
Pros and Cons: We’re trying to push our sales staff to be more prepared and to use mobile apps from our websites to monitor the sites and inventories. The use of mobile devices allows immediate access to info when the sales staff is in front of customers and the devices also allow for order entry and other online processes.
When the technology works, you can do more with the same number of people, have better communications with customers and become far more efficient. But when it doesn’t work, which doesn’t occur often, you’re lost — you might as well go home.
Other cons include potential security issues and cost. But I can’t imagine how anyone would think that the cons outweigh the pros.
Learning Curve: This depends on your willingness to learn. Providers such as Chipply and OrderMyGear offer training programs so you’re good to go in a few hours. A complete overhaul of the operating system has a steep learning curve and substantial cost, but the improved monitoring of purchasing and inventory is worth it — we’ve saved about $100,000 annually in expenses.
Dealers, Tech and the Future: Dealers that will be successful will embrace new technologies and find creative ways to use it. They will seek out technology to solve inefficiencies in their business and will come out better in the next one to three years than dealers who don’t.
Brian Redman, Owner/General Manager
Red Stick Sports, Baton Rouge, LA
How Tech Has Changed Your Business: We had already started to change prior to COVID, but there’s no doubt that the disease has accelerated the transition to online ordering. About 20 percent of our volume was on OrderMyGear last year, and that’s increased to about 30 percent in 2020. We’ve realized more opportunities to use the OMG platform as a fundraiser to sell merchandise. People are comfortable with online applications in general.
Pros and Cons: Laptops provide easy access for reps, but we don’t use iPads because they can’t run Microsoft Office. Another pro is that the cloud can store all of our catalogs for easy access, greatly reducing the need for paper catalogs, and the cloud is very convenient because can be accessed via cell phone.
Learning Curve: The younger the person, the easier it is for them to learn.
Dealers, Tech and the Future: “There’s a new generation coming up that communicates via text and Twitter and these people will flow up into the team business. But we’ll still have to continue to do as much as we can to educate our sales staff and to use technology to make the business easier and more efficient.
Michael Hanks, General Manager
Team Gear International, Midvale, UT
How Tech Has Changed Your Business: Outside of purchasing a new POS system, we didn’t need to change a lot about how we do business. The new system will streamline the business by improving inventory management and making us more cost effective. It will help us to better understand the data of what’s being sold. Our main POS system is from Cumulus Networks and we’re also using technology from TeamUniformOrders. We’re also upgrading to iPads and are going to the cloud.
Pros and Cons: On the positive side, technology can provide hard numbers about how the business is doing and how we can expand; we have to understand the business to take it to the next level. Understanding the operations, marketing and retail sides will help us save hundreds of thousands of dollars of business each year.
The one scary thing is getting out of touch with the local community. Even if we go all out with technology there still needs to be a balance. We don’t want to get so far into technology that we lose sight of the personal touch and human interaction.
Learning Curve: For me, the curve is okay because I have a tech marketing background. Also, lots of providers are trying to make technology easier to understand. But there’s still a learning curve.
Dealers, Tech and the Future: Technology is instrumental in helping any team dealer understand their P&L better. Having a POS system that integrates with your overall inventory and accounting system will be crucial.
Pre-pandemic, we had lots of face-to-face meetings. But the pandemic opened a new avenue in which we rely more on technology. Handshake deals and handwritten orders are hard to keep track of, so we need to train team managers and customers to use the new technology.
But personal interaction won’t go away. Technology makes it easier to deal with business on the backend, but it won’t negate the need for personal connection.