Wearables Business

Sport Bags get into the game that matters: PPD profits

Sport Bags get into the game that matters: PPD profits – promotional products distributors

Byline: Nancy Clark

You know a weekend warrior. Maybe you are one. You get the opportunity to hit the links, the ice and more when the work week ends. Toting your sports equipment to and from the event is not expected to be the difficult part of your day.

With so many innovations in sport bags today, chances are that the weekend warrior will suffer an ankle sprain or hyper-extended muscle before they’ll encounter lack of options in carry-alls.

It used to be that sport bags were mere duffle bags used for sports equipment and even travel. No more.

Ice hockey bags, baseball/softball bags with bat holders, golf shoe bags, bicycling fanny packs, and even basketball bags are new best sellers.

And they sell well in the promotional market for three key reasons: One, everybody can use a sport bag, and even if they have one, another sports bag always is appreciated; Two, bags are the perfect promotional product because they decorate well, offer more than ample space to carry corporate, team or organization logos, and, since they are taken nearly everywhere, offer unparalleled opportunity for promotional exposure; and, Three, perhaps like no other product category in the promotional wearables field (yes, bags are “wearables,” since they are so closely identified with the person), the array of sport bags available to promotional products distributors for sale to their end-user clients is vast enough to mirror what is available at retail.

Demand. Promotional appeal. Selection. Add them up and sport bags offer PPDs a huge arena in which to make profits.

That’s a game every PPD can get into.

Sport bags are sportswear

The sport bag industry is a natural outgrowth of the sportswear industry, explains Doree Wendling, director of advertising for PremiumWear Inc., the Minnesota-based supplier which brings several lines of sportswear, outerwear and accessories to the promotional arena. Two years ago the company added sport bags to its lines in response to demand from the market.

“Distributors liked our clothing lines and we were hearing from people that they wanted bags as well,” says Wendling.

PremiumWear moved into golf-specific bags in its Page & Tuttle golf sportswear line, this year introducing a golf shoe bag that is ideal as a giveaway for golf tournaments because of its price point. Available in olive with black accents or basic black, the bag satisfies an end-user’s need for a shoe bag – a need that lots of golfers recognize, but often fail to buy for themselves. It’s perfect for tournament day, plus it serves ongoing travel needs when taking the clubs along is part of the fun. The shoe bag eliminates stowing golf shoes with grass and dirt on the cleats in a suitcase with clothing.

Team sports markets

Toppers LLC, the Thorofare, N.J.-based headwear and bag supplier which has made a sports theme its mantra of late, introduced a 37-inch ice hockey bag two years ago made of 420 denier nylon with two end pockets to hold ice skates and elastic loops to hold two hockey sticks.

Russ Rowan, director of product development for Toppers, says that while ice hockey appeals to a much smaller market than football, basketball, and baseball, the bag is selling well. Schools, team sports, and colleges are prime buyers for the Toppers bag that come in black only.

“From an inventory standpoint, we’re safe with black,” says Rowan. “Black is the strongest color in the bag market overall.” And the bag itself is strong: it’s water-resistant, a must around ice and ice melt.

Performance enhancements

Like the quarterback on a team, the specifics of play with any sport bag drive its performance and ultimately its acceptance and market response.

GA Golden Pacific Corp., a City of Industry, Calif., bag and case supplier, changed its zipper on its sport bags to a micro-injection slider to huge applause from buyers, says Carol Liao, merchandising manager.

“We are always looking for nice hardware to make our bags different,” she says. “It’s what distributors are looking for… that and good quality.”

Golden Pacific introduced sport bags six years ago and each year since has introduced new features like satin-finish buckles. Recently the company introduced a rubber patch for logos that end-users see as a special touch.

“It’s all about features and price,” says Golden Pacific Vice President Greg Stentiford. “Buyers want added value and features provide that.”

We’re No. 1!

In sports, rankings matter most, and that can apply to the weight, value, design features, and overall look of sport bags, too. Nick Wright, national sales manager of the Promotional Products Division for Bluffdale, Utah-based Ogio International, says the recent Darrell Survey (the J.D. Powers of golf, if you will) ranked Ogio No. 1 in all categories and is a huge coup for the company.

The Darrell Survey asks golfers to rate satisfaction with their golf bag equipment on a scale from 1 to 500. Ogio received an overall rating of 493 in the “2002 Golf Equipment Almanac” released by the survey firm. As part of the results, Ogio ranked No. 1 in every feature category including value, weight and design. Plus, Ogio produces nearly 80 percent of all golf bags for Callaway and golf bags for Ping, Titleist, Nike, and Hot Z, Wright is proud to note. Callaway came in No. 2 overall and No. 2 in design features behind Ogio.

“Bags today differ from golf bags five years ago,” says Wright. “We’ve perfected the straps and the way they ride on your back, the handles and the openings. The look and colors are the same as they were five years ago, but the function is improved.”

The Woode is Ogio’s engineered club management system. It has a stadium-style profile and it divides clubs into three compartments, with woods in their own, oversized ports. The design facilitates access to all clubs because the woods don’t hang over the irons and the irons are held within egg-crate style valleys with an elevated putter port above the irons. In 2003, the Woode will appear on all Ogio bag releases with versions for junior, cart and mini-staff bags, in addition to carry bags.

Value to the team

Like on all sports teams, when a player keeps making a valuable contribution even in a non-starring role, that player makes the team for the new season. This year VF Brand Solutions, a Nashville-based industry supplier with a variety of brand-name lines, will keep three of the day packs and two of the duffels it introduced in 2002 for 2003 because of the response from PPD buyers. But the company is not without its all-stars: JanSport, one of the highly recognizable brands the company delivers, has been known for its backpacks for nearly four decades, and they continue to sell well with a sporty image and a carry-all reputation. However, as everyone knows, in sports you need role players, too.

“Buyers are looking for better price points in this economy. They want brand names, but price point is a foremost consideration,” says Cindy Chapman, VF’s general merchandizing manager.

No trick plays

Sometimes a team can score an upset with the unexpected or trick play, but winners year after year generally take the straightforward approach. That at least is the philosophy behind bag offerings at Holloway Sportswear of Sidney, Ohio.

Holloway Sportswear’s best-seller is The Practice, says Lisa Elmore, sales manager. This expandable multi-compartment duffel bag has a U-shape opening and vented side pockets for damp socks. End-users enjoy the detachable carry straps, because some simply prefer to carry the bag by its handles rather than straps. The bag comes in navy, black, royal, dark green, scarlet, and maroon, but black, as usual, sells the best.

Sales are seasonal when it comes to sport bags, says Elmore. Spring and fall are particularly good seasons for bag sales, so she admonishes PPDs to take advantage of the current, high-demand season.

Promotional excitement

“When we design duffel bags and sports bags, we employ texture, depth and a higher perceived value by using a combination of two or three different fabrications,” says Sam DiBiase, vice president of sales for bag maker and executive accessories supplier Leed’s of New Kensington, Pa. “Ornamentation is key, and we’re using innovative decorating methods like our new Epoxy Dome.”

Epoxy Dome is an imprint method allowing four-color process printing with no set-up charge.

“Logos are very powerful and exciting today,” says DiBiase. “And we can capture that full excitement of a four-color logo using color.”

Another new print method Leed’s is using is called Photo Real, reproducing, in photographic quality, any image on the bag. Using, say, a photograph of a great location can make a pure connection between the location of a special tournament or sports event, and the company sponsor,” he notes.

Again, like the other players in this sport bag market, Leed’s has found that preference in bags defaults to black.

“It’s easier to sell,” he says of black. “And what we try to do is to provide balance. Black is safe and doesn’t fight with an imprint. We might use, for example, yellow on a trim, but it’s still a black bag that people want.”

Back to basics

Buyers definitely have less money to spend in this market, says Matt Kentner, national sales manager of High Sierra Sport Co. of Vernon Hills, Ill. Therefore, he notes, PPDs, and their clients, are more careful than ever before as to how they spend that promotional dollar. They want basic, he says, but with some extras.

To that end, High Sierra has introduced its Water Bottle Sport Bag that is a basic bag with a water bottle mesh pocket. Curiously, sales defy all other trends: the blue AT109 bag outsells black 3 to 1. The reason, Kentner believes, is that many corporate logos incorporate blue in them. As well, blue is considered a unisex color.

All-purpose players

No matter what the sport bag, it’s often interchangeable with another purpose, says David Stacks, marketing director of Augusta Sportswear, based in Augusta, Ga. And use drives the fabrication, even in canvas bags, he says.

Augusta’s Boater Tote is No. 6 on its list of best sellers. Stacks points out that our country is bordered by water; even inland Minnesota is called the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” he notes. Made of 12-ounce cotton canvas, the water-themed tote comes in natural over navy (44 percent of sales) and natural over black (26 percent of sales). “Black and navy hold up well when a bag is used heavily,” explains Stacks of these totes, which are used heavily away from the marina as well.

Adaptable function is one of the reason Augusta has never discontinued its production of the Cotton Canvas Sports Bag, a basic for the company since 1977. With grommet features, the bag is used by teams to carry equipment like basketballs or volleyballs. “Buyers and end-users know these bags and continue to buy them,” adds Stacks.

In 2003, Augusta will introduce its Slim-Line Travel Waist Pack, ideal for cyclists. The one color – yes, it’s black – 100 percent ripstor nylon bag features a soft waterproof coating with an outside flap and hook and loop fastener. The pack has a credit card pocket and adjustable waistbelt with a quick-release buckle.

The final score

Any sport. Any time. Every arena, field, course, or court. And the final score is always measured in dollars.

Suppliers mentioned in this article:

Augusta: 800-237-6695 Golden Pacific: 888-388-8842 High Sierra: 800-323-9590 Leed’s 800-860-1555 Ogio: 800-922-1944 PremiumWear: 800-347-6098 Toppers: 800-523-0825 VF Brand Solutions: 800-680-4440

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