Still Selling After All These Years

A vast array of products continue to make life easy for team dealers.

It’s almost like that old card trick: Go ahead, ask a dealer, any dealer, about what’s doing well in the baseball market and you’re likely to receive the same response: “Almost anything.”

Look around: You have the hockey-style catcher’s mask, colored leg guards and body guards, players matching the colors of the uniforms and equipment. “Almost anything is hot,” says Steven Hauff, president of Dakota Sports (Sioux Falls, S.D.).

“There’s a lot of upgrading of uniforms and, with more competition from the Little Leagues right up through the all-star season, everyone is attempting to improve themselves,” he adds. “There’s even a lot of pitching nets and specialty items around that are selling now.”

And sure, bat controversies have spawned new bats, NOCSAE regulations have helped introduce new masks, and good old competition and self-improvement are creating a wealth of specialty and training items that are moving rapidly off the shelves.

“We do really well with training items,” says Danny McCuin, store manager at Spaulding Athletic Goods (Little Rock, Ark.). “One of our best-selling items is the Hitting Stick, from Donik Sports. It’s a laminated rod, about 6-feet long, and we’ve already had to re-order more of them.

“It was a really hot item in the spring; we couldn’t keep them on the shelves,” he adds.

In fact, many team dealers are reporting baseball as their top sales sport, even more so than football.

“Ninety-percent of our team business is baseball, when you take into account the embroidery, uniforms, etc.,” says Tim England, president of Annandale Sports (Annandale, Va).

“We entertain all of our league customers at our Chantilly location, and in November, we bring them in to place all of the orders,” he adds. “We have all-stars in the summer, which now carries into the fall, slows a little bit in October, and then, as I said, we begin ordering again.

“We do a lot of corporate softball embroidery; we’re year round with baseball pants for Rawlings and Wilson, and we also do youth league pants,” England says.

This year at Annandale Sports, the hockey-style catcher’s mask continues to post good numbers. Its leading manufacturers include All-Star, Cooper, Rawlings and Wilson.

“And everything we’ve been selling has been the upper-end stuff,” England says. “Nothing inexpensive seems to be strong right now. We’re heavy into gloves and bats with Easton, Louisville Slugger, DeMarini … only the upper end stuff again, the $100-$300 bats.”

As for gloves, Nocona, Rawlings’ Gold and Signature series, and the Wilson 2000 Series again pace sales of upper-end products.

“We even are selling well with the Hanes and Russell shirts and T-shirts,” England says. “We try to stay quality over quantity everywhere.”

A major reason baseball and softball items are driving team sales is the relatively new setup of year-round baseball leagues. Sales are being boosted by Little league, all-stars, travel teams, club teams, Pony leagues, high school summer leagues and the high school season itself.

“Baseball is No. 1, and we don’t sell a lot of high schools,” says Jerry Smith, president of Smith Sporting Goods (Bay Minette, Ala.). “Most sales are to the youth teams … the spring brings baseball leagues and, around all-star time, everyone starts to jazz up the uniforms.

“During the regular season, 75 to 80 percent of my league sales (Smith estimated about 20 leagues) are for basic T-shirts with printing on them, or maybe with the replica T’s, the bottom-end kind,” he adds. “All-Star season brings out the full-button mesh jersey.”

There has been one surprise at Smith Sporting Goods: The hockey-style mask hasn’t hit it big. “[But] it’s being tested now,” Smith says. “One girls’ league actually uses it [universally] throughout the league. They’ve actually picked up on it before the boys’ and men’s leagues did.”

Pro Sports (Sterling, Colo.), Grogan-Marciano (Mansfield, Mass.), Blanchette Sporting Goods (Shelton, Conn.) and Hopkins Sporting Goods (Des Moines, Iowa) are just a few of the team dealers that are posting strong sales with hockey-style catcher’s mask.

Gloves, Bats, Training Items, Also Selling

Glove sales continue to contribute to dealer sales. “The glove battle is between Nocona and Rawlings at our store right now,” says Steve McClintock of Hopkins.

“We do really well with the new Rawlings model, and Nocona is always strong in the market,” he adds. “Overall, baseball is easily our busiest sports season.”

For many team dealers, products such as uniforms, training items, catcher’s equipment, etc., are garnering interest. At Pacesetter Sports (Terre Haute, Ind.), the Worth slow-pitch softball bats are selling well, as well as fast-pitch bats in general.

“The 12-1/2 to 13-inch softball gloves for girls, regardless of the brand, are selling well too,” says Brent Compton, general manager. “I’d say Nocona and Rawlings are the best right now.”

At Archies Sporting Goods, (Gainesville, Ga.), pre-broken-in gloves are really in demand.

“The Mizuno and Rawlings models are our best-selling gloves,” says Anthony Barrett, president and owner.

Chris Considine, vice president and general manager of the team sports division at Wilson Team Sports (Chicago), says the company’s new Easy Catch design is a concept dedicated to the kids market. “When an adult closes a mitt, it is the pinky closing to the thumb,” he says. “For children, this is much more difficult, so it’s the four fingers to the thumb.

The Easy Catch is designed that way. We thought we’d sell 50,000 to 75,000 pieces last year. “In the end, it was more than 250,000 gloves,” Considine says. “The A-2000 ballglove has also been an extremely strong seller for us and I think that will continue.”

Category Setbacks No Problem

While controversies, legalities and litigation have clouded the baseball market over the past few years, manufacturers of baseball and softball products remained unfazed by what appeared to be a never-ending stream of setbacks.

In fact, baseball’s future seems to be the strongest among the major sports. “I still think the greatest growth potential is in baseball,” says Ron Menconi, GMM, G.I. Joe’s (Wilsonville, Ore.).

“One reason for that is Nike is getting into regular baseball fielding gloves, and you still have growth with bats,” he says. “While the price-points are going up, people are buying big-ticket items.”

Dent Athletic Sales (Redwood City, Calif.) has seen only positives in big-ticket items for about a year in baseball sales.

“The most encouraging sign is that our whole line has seen an increase in movement,” says Richard Baker, general manager. “The gloves, spikes, catcher’s masks and even the asa slowpitch softball bats have been selling great. We were really worried about our bat sales two years ago, but that whole mess didn’t hurt our effort. It just made us stock more, I guess, and those items have moved.”

Softball Sales Continue Upward Swing

Not to be outdone, softball — from slow-pitch recreational and corporate leagues, through the most competitive women’s high schools — continues its meteoric sales rise.

Just ask Gene Lowe, owner of Lowe’s Sporting Goods (London, Ky.). “We have one of the strongest areas in the country for girls’ softball,” he says. “Overall, the girls’ sports are very big here. One thing I’ve noticed is that we’re still selling a lot more of the pants than shorts in terms of their uniforms, obviously due to sliding.”

Lowe’s Sporting Goods is also reporting that all of the new bats and gloves it carries are selling through, especially the already broken-in gloves and the double-wall bats. “One problem with the double-walls is that they have to be sent back to the manufacturer for replacement, so we really can’t help the customers quickly with that,” Lowe says.

At Glenn’s Sporting Goods (Huntington, W.Va.), the girls’ softball market is also experiencing increased success. “We’ve been really happy with our school softball sales,” says Jim Brumfield, president. “A nice surprise has been sliding shorts, As girls’ softball continues to become stronger, accessories and ancillary sales follow suit.

“Gloves across the board are Wilson and Rawlings,” he adds. “All of Nocona, Wilson and Rawlings have darkened their leather to give the glove a much softer feel.”