Reconditioning and the manufacturers.
Once upon a not-too-long-ago time, the sporting goods manufacturers viewed the reconditioning industry with indifference. As one member of the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association put it, "We were thought of as ragpickers."
Time marches on. Knowledge spreads, and people grow. The manufacturers and reconditioners now co-exist amicably. They have developed a productive working relationship that focuses on the durability, safety, and function of their products.
"The status of our reconditioners is far better than it was years ago," explains Byron Goldman, president of the NAERA. "We now have a representative on the National Operating Committee on Standards of Athletic Equipment that sets industry standards. Our opinions are valued more and that creates a more cooperative environment. Clearly, the lines of communication are far more open and productive."
Reconditioners, once viewed strictly as competitors because of their ability to restore equipment and save money, are now the eyes and ears of the manufacturers. If a particular piece of equipment is continually breaking or wearing down, the reconditioner will relay that information to the manufacturer in the interest of safety.
"I can remember even in the 1940s and '50s when a reconditioner would make sure a manufacturer knew about a faulty item," Byron Goldman states. "We always communicated because the athletes' safety was our primary concern. But our general level of acceptance was completely different. We are now perceived at a far higher level, and the doors of communication are completely open."
Typically, reconditioners work hand-in-hand with coaches and their staffs over equipment issues. For example, a reconditioner's sales representative will personally fit a football helmet to an athlete to ensure a proper fit. Such monitoring of the equipment in its various stages of usage, will enable the sales rep to develop invaluable relationships with athletic directors and coaches.
Intentionally or not, the sales reps serve as company spokesmen. If a coach needs 35 new shoulder pads because the old ones are deemed unusable, a company sales rep may recommend a company brand. Most manufacturers are always on the look-out to sell various parts, which usually are a profitable part of the business.
When coaches and A.D.s talk, sales reps listen. Discussions often turn to the performance level of a piece of equipment - vital information that may be passed on to the manufacturer. Reps are constantly educating their clients, taking on the role of equipment managers, and are thus tremendously valued by the high schools. That is why it makes very good business sense for the manufacturers to cultivate the reconditioning reps.
"I remember when teams were having a problem with a wraparound nose bumper that was causing chafing," reports Gary Markichevich of Sunvalco Athletic Supply, a reconditioner in Phoenix, AZ. "We passed along the information to the manufacturer, Schutt, and they reacted immediately, turning a potential problem into a non-issue. We provided a valuable service to the manufacturer and they heeded our advice in a professional manner."
If imitation is indeed the greatest form of flattery, then reconditioners should be feeling awfully good about themselves.
Manufacturers have witnessed athletic directors and business managers buying reconditioned equipment at one-third the price of buying new. Though it has made some manufacturers yearn for a bigger piece of the pie, most manufacturers have balked at diving into the reconditioning waters for fear of drowning in the highly competitive marketplace.
Riddell, one of the few manufacturers who successfully expanded into the reconditioning business with its All-American Products division, is an anomaly. With its resources, brand name, vast product line, and experienced sales staff, Riddell proved that it could absorb the risks associated with expansion.
"Circle Systems Group (reconditioners) has seen All-American double it sales staff. The sales reps are given fewer accounts because they have such a large line of products," says David Drill, president of the Easton, PA.-based reconditioner.
"Those reps are now more spread out in servicing new products. But I can say with the utmost certainty that no one is visiting schools more than reconditioners. But using a reconditioner is really a no-brainer. If a school will spend one-third of its reconditioning budget on helmets and one-quarter on shoulder pads, they will automatically reap the financial benefits, which for most schools is a huge issue."
Don Gleisner, president of All-American Products and a 40-year veteran of the reconditioning wars, is an eyewitness to his business's ever-changing landscape. He remembers the underlying lack of respect for his industry and the headaches involved in being on a mission to change its image:
"I remember talking to coaches and standing by when they excused themselves to speak with a manufacturer's rep who showed up at the same time. You had to sit and wait and I hated that feeling. There was such a lack of respect for reconditioners. We were like second-class citizens."
Don Gleisner's redemption came swiftly: "A school district in New York had placed an order for 500 new helmets through a manufacturer and the helmets had to come through us because each school in the district had to be sent five helmets that we had to paint in the school colors.
"This was right around 1975, '76, when the NOCSAE drop-test standards became official. And so we had to test every helmet. Well, none of these new helmets passed the test. Needless to say, the manufacturer - who is no longer in business - was not happy, and told us to just pass the helmets onto the schools because our testing would be faulty. I explained that we did not do business that way.
"They sent their own engineer to test our equipment, found that our equipment worked fine, and then concluded their helmets were indeed damaged! They made the proper changes and the schools got their new helmets. From that point on, the attitude of the manufacturer and the rest of the industry completely changed. Our legitimacy was never again questioned."
Why don't more manufacturers expand into the reconditioning business? Simply because it's a whole different business. Creating or acquiring a competent sales staff is an arduous process, acquiring parts for a vast line of products is a dizzying prospect, and the start-up costs can be prohibitive.
"What works well right now is that the manufacturer and the reconditioner have their eye on the big picture," says Don Gleisner. "The safety of the athlete is always our top priority and we work together to ensure us of meeting that goal."
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|Title Annotation:||sporting good makers and reconditioners establish equitable, productive working relationship|
|Publication:||Coach and Athletic Director|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1999|
|Previous Article:||Red Auerbach.|
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