Guest Editorial: Jim Hoff Explains the Team Dealer’s Home Field Advantage

Looking for a fresh viewpoint on the team business in these challenging times, Team Insight Extra reached out to industry veteran Jim Hoff for his thoughts on where the team business is today and what it needs to do to get back to business in a post-pandemic world.

Hoff has been a sporting good salesperson, manager and executive for more than 45 years. He has worked in retail and manufacturing as well as with corporations such as Spalding, Huffy, DP, Bollinger Industries, Avia, Asics and BSN Sports. He now operates JMH Consulting teaching best business practices for business operation, sales and marketing. He can be reached at 949-697-6436; hoff.james19@gmail.com

Many of us have the initial opinion that “bigger is better,” and that if you’re small it is difficult to compete. We sometimes think that there isn’t a level playing field for the little guys. That defeatist attitude is a huge enemy of success. There nothing inherently wrong with being big — but being smaller has some significant advantages.

Especially in these challenging times in the team industry.

When we refer to great athletes, we often hear phrases that are attributed to their individual skills, such as how fast his/her bat speed is, how fast his “40” was, how quickly he gets to the hole … and so on.

When it comes to the team sports business, being bigger definitely does not lend itself to that speed. In our world, sometimes smaller is better. Here’s why.

CEO, President, CFO, CMO, CIO, sometime more Cs, EVPs, VPs, Directors, Managers — layer after layer after layer. There are many people in the corporate structure with the right to voice an opinion and the right to hear others and contribute to decision making. This can be good in that many voices can be a help to find better decisions. However, this process takes time.

In a smaller company, the owner/GM can choose to gather trusted opinions and make his/her own evaluation as to their worth and then take immediate action. A lot of us like to bounce ideas off of others before coming to a conclusion. This is sometimes called “walk around management.” (Or these days, Management By Zoom.)

Smart owners can have these quick conversations with the valued employees who have good local business intuition. They have this instinct because they deal with it first-hand, daily. This allows the smaller company an advantage to set the company direction more quickly.

An analogy I often refer to is the tennis racquet aisle in the big-box store or discounter versus that aisle in the local sporting goods store. The big store offers so many items that is causes customers to wonder which could possibly be right for him or. Her. The big store sometimes has clerks that can offer opinions, but they can rarely speak to the performance function of all of those racquets.

Meanwhile, the local store usually has fewer items that satisfy most needs and a sales staff that has a much better knowledge of their equipment and can speak to features and benefits. In cases like this, unless I know “exactly” what I want, I’d choose the smaller environment so I can learn what is best for me.

I’d like to think that schools, coaches and ADs are similar. They want quick, educated decisions based on a knowledge of their market. That gives the local team dealer that all-important “home field advantage.”

The ability to decide what is best for you and your customers and do it quickly is vital to success and to competing with the big boys in the team business (you know who they are). So is the ability to have well-trained staff that knows the inventory and can speak to it, as well as letting the decision-maker know what they see relative to the market activity. This has great value.

These little things allow independent team dealers to take advantage of opportunity and satisfy their customers as situations evolve. And, it can be accomplished without a board meeting.

On another level, in a big company the C-level managers and VPs who have a say in decision-making rarely are directly involved with the customer. On the contrary, the independent team dealer is usually involved with customers or those who serve them on a daily basis, much closer to situations as they actually happen. First-hand knowledge goes a long way to make the right decision more quickly.

Put another way, the big ship can turn, it just takes longer to make it happen. And in the ensuing time, other smaller vessels can be in position to attack immediately.

One other often-overlooked but vital component of the David versus Goliath game: The independent team dealer actually has his “skin in the game,” including ownership of the inventory and the building, taxes to pay, payroll to meet. Those factors cannot be discounted as vital components in the independent’s home-field advantage.

As all of us move forward in these unprecedented times, being prepared to act quickly is more important than ever. Here’s how the independent dealer can shine in the summer of 2020:

  • Know what sports are going to be played in the fall in your local districts and what adjustments to rules or interaction will take place — and what equipment they are going to need at the last minute.
  • In meetings with school authorities, know what they will need that they don’t have when they reopen. Making sure you have it in stock when they need it is a lot easier when you live in that community.
  • Your own internal task force (roadmen) can and should be used as a “think tank” to be on top of local developments and be ready to react quickly.
  • Volunteer with schools or the districts to be on those task forces or in those think tanks where important topics are discussed. Be part of the decision that shapes the school’s future.

Bottom line: While it is nice to have to resources of a venture capital owner or a multi-national corporation, sometimes being bigger is a disadvantage. Being small, locally owned, faster, nimble and wise is often better when it comes to truly providing quality service to your customer.

And maybe being smaller doesn’t make the playing field level — for the big guy.