Scale Your Youth Sports Organization With eCommerce
September 13, 2018
Over the past few months, we’ve profiled a series of youth sports organizations that have successfully scaled their businesses. One common thread in their success stories has been strategic partnerships. From facilities and technology to apparel and travel logistics, sports organizations looking to grow need reliable partners.
This week we sat down with Kyle Achord of Marucci Sports. The Louisiana-based apparel and equipment juggernaut has a unique origin story and has helped countless baseball and softball programs across the country grow their brand and subsequently their business.
There’s a good chance that if you’ve watched a Major League Baseball game in the past decade, you’ve spotted a player swinging a Marucci bat. That’s the result of years of hard work, so take us back to the beginning, how did Marucci get started?
Jack Marucci started cutting wood bats for his son in his backyard. Jack had taken wood shop classes back in high school and he noticed there weren’t any high-quality wooden bats in the stores when he was trying to buy one for his son. As a result, he bought his own lathe, and started experimenting with it.
From there, Joe Lawrence and Kurt Ainsworth, the two co-founders of Marucci Sports, enter the picture. Kurt was from Baton Rouge, an All-American at LSU, and a first-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants. He also went on to represent the United States at the 2000 Olympics, where he and the team won gold. Joe Lawrence was also a Major Leaguer from Louisiana, and in the early 2000s both Kurt and Joe were rehabbing with Jack Marucci, at which point they were exposed to his bats. And the timing was perfect, as they transitioned out of their playing days to a baseball business opportunity.
They’d cut bats during the day, and conduct private lessons at night as the business was getting on its feet. From the earliest stages of the business, they made a commitment to only producing the highest quality bats. It was commonplace at the time, and big leaguers would confirm this, that if you received 12 bats from a manufacturer, only six or seven would be considered “gamers.” They’d check out each bat, to confirm the weight and cut is to their liking, and in most cases, nearly half would be given away or used as signature bats, that was just the standard at the time. And Marucci changed that.
There were stories in the first few years when an order came in for a dozen bats, the shipment would be opened and revealed only four or five bats. Naturally, they’d call to complain, and it would be explained to them that each bat was of the highest quality. Marucci would not send a customer anything other than a “gamer.” And that began to resonate with players at the highest level, if I’m ordering a Marucci I’m getting the best and from there, things began to take off.
Eduardo Perez was the first player to ever use a Marucci bat in a big league game. He then introduced it to a young minor leaguer by the name of Albert Pujols, which helped put Marucci on the map. In that window from 2004 to 2009, getting the bat in the hands of players helped us grow from a bat manufacturer into Marucci Sports, which has a robust product line. It snowballed from Pujols and Chase Utley to Jose Bautista, and quickly some of the best players in the game were using our bats. And that tied back to our quality and the excellent service we were providing.
Marucci Sports has been around for over 15 years, in that time how much change has the youth marketplace experienced in terms of technology and equipment advancements?
Ten or fifteen years ago, a lot of people still thought to themselves, “Golly, I could never have access to gear or tech like that, major leaguers are the only ones using that stuff.” And that sentiment was across the board when talking resources, from equipment to utilizing data/analytics to nutrition. Data utilization like FlightScope, TrackMan, and Diamond Kinetic Smart Bats is now more prevalent, and that shows an increased level of sophistication at the youth level. As a result, organizations are investing in professional-level equipment and resources because they want to remain competitive in the marketplace.
Parents’ expectations have been elevated as their sons and daughters look to make the journey from travel ball to high school to college and for a select few the pros. To invest in top-notch resources along that journey only makes sense to them. There has also been an explosion in customization. The days of generic gloves, uniforms, bags, batting gloves are over. To stand out in the competitive travel team market, you need to be able to provide custom options to your customers. It started heavily for us at the collegiate level, but in the past few years, we’ve seen real growth in the youth market in terms of customization.
Why is it important for an organization to work with a company like Marucci Sports?
Youth sports organizers and their customers are looking for the same big league service that the pros are accustomed to receiving. Kurt Ainsworth our CEO did a great job of setting our course with an emphasis on the grassroots. We wanted to win at that level. And as a former coach, I appreciate what Marucci is offering. If you’re looking to grow your organization you need to have a partner who can facilitate that. We step in and take care of payments, and sort out apparel and equipment needs, almost as another employee of your organization so that you can have more time in front of your players. LeagueApps provides a similar value proposition because no one got into the youth sports business because they love the logistics.
We’ll take the parents’ order, and we’ll ship directly to the parent, we take that headache on for the coaches. We have a dedicated customer service group to handle any issues, which frees up the coaches to do what they do best, make an impact on this kids.
How can a major brand, like Marucci, aid an organization’s branding and consequently its marketing efforts?
Our mantra is about honoring the game, both baseball and softball. We want to go out and forge partnerships with top-flight organizations that are doing things the right way. And we have seen in many cases, that we can help one another. On our end, we can provide a great customer service experience, excellent professional-level gear and bats, and document some of these partnerships on our social feeds.
In the same way, by being selective, when other organizations see a youth, high school or college team with Marucci gear, they want to be a part of it. We came into this business going up against another bat company that had a one hundred year head start, and the only way we could compete was by providing an excellent experience and selectively partnering with the best. For the teams we do work with we can offer so much customization so that every player has custom bags, gloves, bats, etc. This serves as a marketing tool for the organizations so when they’re out playing games and tournaments they’re an identifiable brand.