When USA Baseball opened its first retail store in 1998, the organization hoped for modest success.
What they got was anything but modest.
Nearly 30 minutes before the doors were to open at the little shop during a Junior Olympics tournament in Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, a few staff members were trying to put the finishing touches on stocking the store and taking care of the last loose ends when they noticed a crowd outside waiting to get in.
Surprised, they unlocked the doors early and let the crowd stream in. And the USA Baseball retail business was born.
The store in Tucson was the first of its kind – the first retail location dedicated to USA Baseball-branded gear and merchandise. It operated in the summer months during organizational events. At about the same time, USA Baseball offered its first product catalogue – called “Swing Gear” – that helped kickoff and bolster the retail program.
Partnership deals with high-profile vendors followed and in August 2012 USA Baseball brought all of its e-commerce in-house – an important step in building and shaping the retail business. It allowed USA Baseball total control over its brand and how it was marketed.
Another important step in the growth of the retail arm of USA Baseball was the opening of the Flagship Store at the organization’s training complex in Cary, N.C. That shop opened its doors in 2007, and suffice to say, they had a little better idea of what to expect than they did nine years before. Just as important was the number of events the training complex was attracting. The growth in the number of tournaments and players saw exponential growth of USA Baseball-branded merchandise.
It might surprise some that the revenue from retail sales helps fund and field the USA Baseball national teams and trials opportunities for players. USA Baseball is a 501(c)3 Not-For-Profit organization, and retail sales is one piece of the revenue puzzle that allows the group to provide opportunities for players to try out for a national team as well as provide expenses for those players to play ball and compete internationally.
Under the direction of Carrington Austin, USA Baseball’s director of retail, the quality of vendor partnerships and merchandise has grown. Working out of a 5,000-foot warehouse in Durham, she hit the ground running when she came aboard in 2013. One of her first orders of business was cleaning up the embroidery on the game caps. The game caps now feature a more prominent embroidered logo. When you are dealing with the authenticity of what you are selling, that’s huge.
Along the way, USA Baseball began to realize the importance of offering the fan the exact same gear as worn by the players including caps, pullovers and other wearable training gear. This increased awareness of the quality of items being offered, and opened up more sales opportunities to players (or players’ family and friends) wanting to wear on-field gear. And with those sales, the USA Baseball brand grew in awareness. Of course, it never hurts when USA Baseball alumni wear the merchandise, and the organization hears from former players and current major leagues wanting to get some gear for themselves.
USA Baseball takes its responsibility to its retail customers seriously, and those wanting branded gear can only purchase it through USA Baseball – on-site at an event or via the USA Baseball website.
It’s a philosophy that works well for USA Baseball.
The Hi Corbett days are long gone. Today, USA Baseball is on top of the retail category and leading the brand into a new era.