When the first football clubs emerged in the late 1850’s and 60’s there were no uniforms as such.
Players would turn out in whatever they had to hand and teams would be distinguished by wearing distinctively coloured caps, scarves or sashes over cricket whites (many clubs were formed by cricketers seeking a team game for the winter) or whatever else players had to hand. The first reference to “colours"comes from the rules of Sheffield FC in 1857, which stated:
“Each player must provide himself with a red and dark blue flannel cap, one colour to be worn by each side.”
The first uniform kits began to appear around 1870. In England colours were often those of the public schools and sports clubs with which the game was associated: Blackburn Rovers first wore white jerseys adorned with the blue Maltese Cross of Shrewsbury School, where several of their founders were educated. Reading first played in the salmon pink, pale blue and claret colours of the rowing club that spawned them. Caps, cowls and other headgear were de rigeur throughout the decade.
In first FA Cup final in 1872, Wanderers wore pink, black and cerise while their opponents, The Royal Engineers played in dark red and navy shirts. The game was played almost exclusively by men from the upper middle class and minor aristocracy, men who could afford to buy a shirt in their club’s colours from their tailor.
That said, plain white shirts were very popular, being both relatively cheap and easily obtainable. As one might expect, given that players bought their own jerseys, there was considerable variation within a team. Early photographs of The Wednesday, for example, show players wearing hoops of varying widths.
All a far cry from today’s football teamwear market where a multitude of brands, colours and designs (both on and off field) are available.
I know the teamwear market very well and, as I reflect on 2017 and look at 2018, I’ve been thinking about the future of the teamwear dealer and what the ultimate dealership might look like.
We are all well aware of the impact that eCommerce has had on the sporting goods industry however, certainly to date, the selling of teamwear online has not seen the same explosive growth.
Sure, there are good dealers who are seeing growth, however the experience of adding sponsor logos, names, numbers, choosing embroidery, print and all of the other bespoke elements means that to order online is, perhaps, more difficult than ordering face to face.
The result is that the “offline” dealers can compete with the “online” dealers in a way that many retailers focussing on individual sports are simply unable to do.
Likewise there is very little cross border trading in teamwear and, of course, the third party platforms are also not suitable as an environment to order embellished teamwear.
So with these factors in mind it appears that, certainly in the short term, the football teamwear dealer can grow offline. But how can the experience be improved further?
It is certainly true that as High Street rents have continued to climb more and more teamwear dealers have moved to out of town sites.
Here they have the advantage of plenty of parking spaces and lower rents. A small business unit offers the flexibility of office, showroom, production and warehouse space and can provide an excellent environment for teamwear sales.
Since the nature of the product on offer is a considered purchase (rather than a passing trade opportunity) this location does not harm the proposition and, as is often the case, can provide a much more compelling environment for the end consumer to make his or her buying decision.
A showroom is fundamental. It should be fully stocked with brand samples (both designs and colour options) in an organised and logical way.
Perhaps most logical is to group options in colour collections rather than by brand. This allows the club to see their “live” choices and options together to make an informed choice.
Whilst those in the trade are fully familiar with embroidery machines, it always surprises me how fascinated end consumers are with these machines. So make a feature of them. I cite the example of the Barcelona FC shop at the Camp Nou where all of the embellishment machines are behind glass and the customer can see the number or name being applied.
Why not use this approach to bring some theatre to your business as well as showing the customer your investment (which is often considerable) working. This, after all, is your key selling point – the ability to offer embellishment on site.
Bar and events
When I think of the ultimate teamwear buying environment it would be sitting on a comfy sofa, with a pint (or a coffee) in hand, viewing ranges, options and prices and with a game on in the background.
Why does nobody create this environment?
Imagine a showroom, a bar, Large TV screen on the wall and space to make choices, watch a game, make decisions.
Link into the local leagues and clubs and this environment could become a focal point for shop events - “Champions League tonight – Come and watch the game and get five per cent discount off any club kit purchase”.
I see a multifaceted space that is commercial (i.e selling kits) as well being an entertaining space.
The deeper the connection with the consumer and club the more the attraction to come to a venue such as this.
Catering could add an additional element - as the cycling brand Rapha does very well in its London store. Eat, watch, shop.
Of course any modern teamwear business needs to offer a comprehensive online solution for the club. An online club shop is a critical tool in gaining business in today’s competitive market, making it easy for club members to purchase kit and ensuring ease of payment.
Alongside offering core online products a second tier solution adds additional value to the club. Find a supplier of non branded products, get some shirt designs done using the likes of fiverr.com and offer a bespoke club specific fan range. Even small clubs would be interested in this as a proposition.
Add all these elements together, create a focal point, some theatre, a reason for clubs to visit (and not just when they are purchasing product) and one can create a destination football teamwear store that stands out against any online competition and can truly establish itself as the “go to” teamwear store in the area.