A Letter to Sports Authority CEO Michael Foss

Dear Mr. Foss,

I received your email today regarding Sports Authority’s bankruptcy. I don’t pretend to know anything about the inner workings of your business, but I am a regular customer. And you’ve frustrated me of late.

One of your stores is two miles from my house and resides in the same shopping center as Target, Dick’s, and REI. I am an Amazon Prime member. To get me in your store, you need to offer better value than all of those retailers. And 95% of the time, you don’t.

I was in the Tustin, CA, Sports Authority two weeks ago. My best friend’s son was going to Outdoor Science School for a week, and since two of my kids had already attended, she asked for my help gathering the necessities. Specifically, she needed to purchase long underwear, wool socks, and a waterproof jacket, and she needed the items in one day.

Amazon Prime was our first choice, but the items she wanted didn’t have same-day delivery.

We next went to Target. Winter items were already phased out.

We knew REI would have what we needed, but their prices for clothing are high. So we tried Sports Authority. Long underwear was over $20/piece for the size we needed, and the only pattern available in the right size was camouflage. No. Wool socks were $20. No. They had no appropriate jackets. So off we went to REI. Bingo.

Admittedly, your store is not catering to Outdoor Science School. But why shouldn’t it, since every 5th grader in our county attends? A smart store manager would keep a small display of items well stocked, and would know when local kids are attending. And your higher prices wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if a parent could get everything they needed in one place.

I said I am a regular customer, and this is true for one specific item: shoes. I have four kids, all active, and this is one item I cannot buy on Amazon Prime – I need to try shoes on. Inevitably, when we go in to buy shoes, we also look at other items…clothing, tennis accessories, backpacks. But the prices are outrageous. My kids go through 2 backpacks a year, and it doesn’t matter whether I spend $20 or $80 on that backpack – it fails. So why would I spend on the higher end at Sports Authority? And the clothing…it dominates the store, and the prices are high. Yes, there is a market for high-priced active wear, but it’s shrinking. Target now sells great activewear at low prices. And Target is down the street from you.

You are facing the same problem that Barnes & Nobles is facing – the only people who are going to buy items at Sports Authority are the ones who need something RIGHT NOW (and let’s face it, it’s way more satisfying to browse in B&N for an hour than it is at SA, and yet B&N is still going down). So here’s my advice, for what it’s worth:

Small, focused stores. Tennis Authority. Golf Authority. Heath & Wellness Authority. Offer services (same-day racket stringing, knowledgable staff that can recommend the proper equipment and great teaching pros). Devote the most floor space to items people want/need to buy in person: shoes, equipment (gotta hold that racket in your hand), reasonably priced add-ons that customers can’t resist (water bottles, grip tape), but don’t junk up the checkout with $2 candy bars.

Price match. Maybe you already do this, but if you do, your customers don’t know about it. Offer to get any item they want at the same price as Amazon, and make sure it’s delivered by the next day.

Partner with the local community (again, maybe you do this, but it’s not known). Sports are expensive, and schools struggle with sports programs. Partner with high school sports teams for bulk pricing on uniforms, shoes, and equipment. Send a sales rep to high school games/matches, and have them make the rounds to parents. “Hey, we’ve got a special on racket stringing. If you give me your racket today, I’ll deliver them to your coach tomorrow.” $5 more for a new grip, give a coupon for 10% off their next shoe purchase. Take the easy money. And once you develop the relationship, the parents will come to you (I would).

You have no leverage in this online, Amazon-dominated world. None. You need to do things differently and better, and the only way to do that is to up your service game. Do what Amazon cannot.

I hope you make it. Consumers are better off with lots of competitive retailers. Best of luck.

Andrea Ring

Former tennis coach and sports lover

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