Playing to Win: 5 Questions With DICK’S Sporting Goods VP Ryan Eckel

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DICK'S Sporting Goods CALIA Carrie Underwood

DICK’S Sporting Goods credits its omnichannel retail approach with solidifying its lead as America’s No. 1 sporting goods brand. In fact, it was the fastest-growing e-commerce retailer in the first quarter of 2014, and its average omnichannel customer spends three times more than its bricks-and-mortar customer.

With more than 600 stores and $6 billion in annual revenue, DICK’S CEO Ed Stack notes that the company’s success was driven by “the continued growth of our omnichannel network, our powerful marketing and merchandising strategies, and the execution of these strategies by our store associates.” Mobile devices used by sales associates allow them to place customer orders from anywhere in the store. As a result, productivity, speed and service have improved compared with online competition.

The retailer’s new CALIA women’s workout apparel collection with singer Carrie Underwood is bringing attention to in-store merchandising as well as concerns about what the relationship meant for other women’s apparel brands in its stores.

DICK'S Sporting Goods store

Ryan Eckel, DICK’S Vice President of Brand, chatted with us about the CALIA launch, the sporting goods retail opportunity and the company’s omnichannel approach.

brandchannel: How are you positioning CALIA, and what are the repercussions for other women’s apparel brands, like adidas, in your stores?

Ryan Eckel: We are really excited to partner with Carrie Underwood on CALIA. Many people don’t know that fitness is a huge priority for Carrie—she always finds time to fit in a workout whether she’s on tour or at home in Nashville.

The CALIA collection is driven by Carrie’s desire for fitness apparel that is versatile enough to perform and look good in any environment. It’s been extremely well received by customers who are looking for that same versatility—apparel that can seamlessly transition from the gym to around town.

The launch of CALIA by Carrie Underwood is just one piece of a broader effort to expand our women’s fitness offerings across the entire store. As a result, we now offer as many—if not more—women’s fitness brands, including adidas, than ever before.

bc: How has the revolution in retailing challenged Dick’s and the overall sporting goods industry?

Eckel: It’s made retailing a totally dynamic place to be. There are so many opportunities afforded to us now, with technology, our bricks-and-mortar presence, our online presence and our community marketing managers. It’s an ecosystem where we’re supporting and equipping athletes through their entire journey.

Customers are increasingly agnostic as to which channels they shop in. They want a product quickly and want to be able to have all options: Buy online and pick up in store; or shop exclusively in one place or the other; or try something on in-store and then order it online.

So there will be a convergence in this space. We’re already starting to see pure e-commerce plays like Amazon opening bricks-and-mortar locations. The next frontier is figuring out omnichannel. We find it exciting and invigorating.

bc: How are you responding?

Eckel: We’re building an internal platform for our e-commerce business. We’ve also upgraded our in-store sales associates’ mobile devices so they can access a customer’s order that was placed online for in-store pickup. And they can access our “endless aisle of inventory” beyond what’s physically in store in the moment. It’s giving store associates more power to facilitate the transaction and using tech in a way that’s leveraging the advantage of having a brick-and-mortar footprint.

And there’s also line-busting—during the holidays, we give you one order slip in the store so by the time you get to the register, you don’t have to ring up every individual item. It’s a prelude to mobile checkout.

We also ship e-commerce orders from our bricks-and-mortar locations, so we’re able to cut down delivery time just by proximity. When you can merchandise your stores with the view to the e-commerce world, it gives you the opportunity to carry what the consumer is looking for in the store. And it’s a fundamental business strategy to turn our stores into distribution centers.

bc: How do sporting goods compare to other e-tailing categories?

Eckel: People have an emotional connection with their sporting equipment. it’s still a very tactile category—a large segment of the population want to try on, touch and feel. And with sports, they appreciate this ability to size and compare products across brands at one moment in time—it’s important.

But the biggest thing about sporting goods is the customer ecosystem. Our customers participate in Little Leagues and all sorts of other sports organizations, so we have a company called Blue Sombrero that handles team registration.

We also have relationships with coaches and leagues. We have community events in our stores. From an omnichannel perspective, you can really take advantage of it.

bc: What’s your branded content strategy?

Eckel: We’ve been doing quite a bit. It started in earnest with a series called Hell Week, a mini-documentary about high school football teams’ first week of practice, and we worked with ESPN to air it as a 30-minute TV show. Last year we put it into four-minute episodes and embedded it within ESPN’s SportsCenter.

And today we got nominated for an Emmy for We Could Be King (see below), part of the Sports Matter Program run by DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation, to help teams on the brink of fiscal elimination by school districts. Teams were having a hard time forming, and kids were losing the opportunity to participate.

And look at all the social skills that sports teach: Kids are more likely to go to college and to hold a job. There are incredible benefits you get from sports that don’t get a lot of attention, nor do the funding cuts.

For us, the secret is having credible production and distribution partners, such as ESPN and Tribeca Films. Most brands try to make a film and throw it out into the digital ether and hope it gets eyeballs. But you need high-value production and a distribution partner to really tell stories and build emotional connections—and the brand recedes into the background a little bit.

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