Selling hard goods in the sports licensing industry is challenging for a number of reasons, and few know that better than Michael Sockel, vice president of strategic licensing for Team Sports America.
The company is the sports licensing arm of Evergreen Enterprises, a gift décor supplier specializing in hard goods. Team Sports America offers everything from tailgating items and barware to team-oriented Christmas tree ornaments and flags.
But when it comes to stocking sports-licensed hard goods, it’s really more of a gamble than a science, Sockel says.
“One of the biggest problems, honestly, is success of the team,” he says. “You’re constantly running a business that you almost need to be a pretty good gambler in. Because the consistent problem is at the end of the season — and this is the biggest time of the year with college football and the NFL coming to a close, and the NBA and NHL kicking in — you always end up with way too much merchandise of a team that underperformed, and not nearly enough [for] teams that overperformed.”
That, combined with the abundance of sports-branded hard goods licensees can make stocking and/or selling the right amount of merchandise a serious headache.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Sockel says. “Hard goods, or non-apparel, make up more than 100 different licensees in sports. Apparel is probably, at the most, 10. So your competition is tenfold on average in hard goods vs. non-hard goods.”
Factor in that most hard goods are finished overseas, and the obstacles pile up.
Sockel also weighed in on quality management, industry longevity, the changing retail landscape and more during a recent conversation with SportsFan Retailer.
SportsFan Retailer: Can you explain how you’ve seen the retail landscape change for some of your products over the years?
Michael Sockel: Homegating — party goods. Those have made a huge surge in the last five years. It’s actually become a new buzz term. For forever people knew the term tailgating, but there’s a whole lot of people who may go to a game or two a season and tailgate, but they’re always watching a game at home. The amount of times that they have to homegate during the season — for most people — is much greater than tailgating times. Therefore, you have a lot more people doing it and can focus your marketing. We’ve seen a huge growth in our own licensed division in that particular product category.
SFR: How can manufacturers overcome product saturation?
Sockel: I don’t even know how to answer that question because we really want to sell as much as we can. So to say you don’t want a lot of product saturation is almost a conflict of interest. I don’t think you can have too much product saturation.
SFR: How difficult is it to manage quality vs. cost when it comes to products?
Sockel: Usually if you do your homework on factories, you can get pretty decent quality for a decent price.
SFR: What’s the key to maintaining a healthy licensee-licensor relationship?
Sockel: Tell the truth. Don’t play games with your licensor — it’ll end up coming back to bite you. The other thing is being innovative — proving your worth in the marketplace. The more neat, clever items you come up with, the more important you are to the licensor.
SFR: What do you think the key is to achieving longevity in this industry?
Sockel: I’ll repeat the good innovation comment. And I’ll add to that: Having good relationships with your customer base, backed with a good customer-service philosophy. The “customer is normally always right” is a good practice to follow. Nine times out of 10, you’re not being taken advantage of; they’re telling the truth. You’re better off taking care of those problems because if not, they’ll come back and haunt you down the road.