Retail

First And Ten: Disrupting The School Sports Uniform Process With Customization

school sports kids playing soccer

Even school sports uniforms have been dragged into the digital age, courtesy of a Rhode Island DTC company called SquadLocker. The company took an innovative business model and serious sales momentum into the start of the year, pivoted for the pandemic and took $20 million in funding off the table. Now all it needs is for school — and school sports — to restart after what could have been a devastating turn of events for the company.

SquadLocker has flipped the script on school sports uniforms. Its business model, according to one of the founders, had taken school sports from the 1990s into the digital shift. Before SquadLocker came on the scene in 2015, the uniform business model for schools was something like this: The school approached one of the big apparel companies like Champion, Nike or others with an order for a sport. For example, a girls’ soccer program at a regional high school in Illinois would be part of an entire athletic department order for the year. Logos, sizes or any customization for the program was either unavailable or unheard of. The uniforms were created and bulk shipped to the school.

Enter SquadLocker. The company’s ability to customize uniforms — right down to the individual player — has changed the game. The company works with the Nikes of the world for the schools and has created an ability for coaches and parents to create their own school and individual sport websites. That software is in use for 250,000 teams, about 40,000 leagues and 17 million high school and college athletes. Last year, SquadLocker enjoyed 47 percent year-over-year (YoY) growth. It was shooting for 100 percent growth in 2020 and may need to settle for less due to the impact of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the company has built partnerships with the conference ECAC Hockey, to redesign the league’s online store. SquadLocker has also partnered with league management software SportsEngine, a division of NBC Sports, for the last three years.

The business model and the company’s success has now attracted a new chief revenue officer, Jeanne Hopkins.

“The integrated software and manufacturing business model excited me,” Hopkins tells PYMNTS. “In addition, I’ve spent some time in the sporting goods arena during my career so I had some general market sense. SquadLocker’s success year over year and its terrific partnership with SportsEngine made this decision an easy one for me to make.”

Hopkins brings 30 years of experience to the company. Previously, she was chief marketing officer at travel management software company Lola.com. She has held various executive marketing roles at Continuum (now ConnectWise), and HubSpot. At HubSpot, she helped the company land on the No. 2 spot on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies by generating 50,000 net new leads per month. Her new job would have been relatively straightforward if the pandemic had not canceled spring sports activities for its clients and put the fall season at risk.

The pandemic has impacted the company’s business through schools dramatically. And, while it is seeing an uptick in orders for those states trying to reopen, it is cognizant of the issues facing parents, schools, organizations, and communities. One particular and extremely relevant benefit SquadLocker offers is a direct-to-player shipment option. A coach can upload a roster, and instead of getting a bulk order to hand out individually to players, SquadLocker can ship to the team member’s home address, which reduces the anxiety associated with the virus. Orders did dry up for the spring sports season, and the company had to layoff manufacturing team members. It shifted to personalized community face mask sales, and those have kept sales afloat — individual and bulk — as well as allowing it to bring back some furloughed team members.

“We are seeing a growing interest in fall sport programs (football, soccer, field hockey),” Hopkins says. “Our April sales numbers were flat compared to last year and before COVID-19, we were seeing a 40 percent increase YoY. One thing that has become a necessity with schools and organizations is the need for non-medical face masks, or community masks, to be used for social distancing requirements. We expect this to continue for the foreseeable future. SquadLocker is able to brand a face mask with the team logo and the player number individually, so that the games can continue.”

Regarding fall sports, Hopkins says the company is learning day by day. The Return to Play coalition, of which SquadLocker is a member, has a number of insights into the future of sports. PLAY Sports — which stands for Promoting Local and Youth Sports — supports young athletes, coaches and volunteers across all 50 states, particularly those in underserved areas. According to recent poll results from the Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative, nearly 60 percent of local sports leaders said their organizations will lose at least 50 percent of their revenue over the next year due to COVID-19. The mission of PLAY Sports is to ensure that the institutions connected to youth and local sports survive and thrive coming out of this pandemic.

At that point — and hopefully before — Hopkins can focus on her specialty, which is generating revenue.

“My top priority is building out a customer success team to get those thousands of stores in our system buying month after month,” she says. “With all of the products we offer from Under Armour, Adidas, Nike, Russell and many others, the customer has so many choices for their team gear, whether for boosterism or athletics. We know that approximately 60 percent of our customers buy via their mobile device from their SquadLocker store. We need to make store purchases easier and easier, plus use email responsive design to fit into the mobile window. More orders equal more revenue.”

Hopkins knows that her customers come in all shapes and sizes, yet those schools that want to make every club and sport in their environment feel like a team — whether chess, AV, or lacrosse — can leverage SquadLocker to help design their logos and make their school brand prominent and valuable for all.

“Imagine this: You are a parent,” she says. “You have three kids, all playing different sports during the year, and they ‘lose’ their away game shirt. The usual scenario usually involves taking a wrong size uniform shirt from another team member, applying electrical tape to create a new number and name on the shirt, and just making do with the result. If you had a SquadLocker store, you could buy a single shirt with the correct name and number and size and have it shipped to you within days. No fuss. No muss. I’d call that a big win. And, take it out of the kid’s allowance!”

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