HOW HAS TRADE BEEN DURING THE LAST 12 MONTHS?
The past 12 months has seen our account base increase by over 20 per cent, while our turnover has increased dramatically on custom orders. This is due to our offer extending into the school sportswear market and a growing requirement from larger clubs for a custom range of products.
We have recently produced a range of products for Guernsey football club, who have entered the football league this season. This is fantastic for us as they are very much in the public eye at the moment – the press have covered the build-up to their season and their opening games extensively.
In addition, our products feature almost daily on the BBC sport website and in non-league publications. The interest in Guernsey FC has created a large demand for replica products. During their first home game the initial order for replica home shirts sold out, which is amazing at that level.
WHAT IF ANY DIFFERENCES HAVE YOU NOTICED AS A COMPANY SINCE THE RECESSION BEGAN TO BITE? HAS THE FOOTBALL TRADE BEEN AFFECTED?
There has been a very distinctive change in the marketplace over the past three seasons, with sponsors becoming increasingly harder to find or offering only a limited budget to grass-roots clubs. As we are at the price end of the market, we have benefited from this by offering better value for money. The market has become less brand-led during this period and quality, service and price point have become the important factors to clubs with a large requirement of product and a higher number of members.
This season we have launched our COPA range of products, which are price-led and hard to beat in terms of value.
WHAT STEPS HAS THE COMPANY TAKEN TO REMAIN IN A STRONG POSITION OVER THE LAST YEAR OR SO?
We are one of the few sports apparel brands in the market that manufacture their own products and have over 35 years’ experience in this field. Last year we encountered many problems with raw material supply and this affected our production and stock levels greatly. Price points, lead times and volumes from our overseas suppliers were becoming difficult to maintain, and this forced us to make big changes.
We wanted to maintain the same great price points and value for money our clients had become accustomed to, and the only way we could achieve this was to invest heavily in a new overseas vertically integrated production facility, which has four times the output of finished garments than our original factory. We invested in knitting, weaving and finishing machines to enable us to produce our own fabrics and eradicate the raw material issues we had last year, and have also built a new dyeing plant within the complex, which will enable us to have complete control over our fabric and garment production.
HAVE YOU LAUNCHED INTO ANY NEW MARKETS OR COUNTRIES?
Schoolwear and teamwear retailers alike have identified a growing requirement for custom performance sports apparel within the education sector, and our flexibility has enabled them to offer a comprehensive range of professional quality playing kit, training wear, leisure and outerwear products that cover all sports in matching styles and colours.
The new academy schools have also been a huge focus for us this year. They have moved away from the traditional school uniform and adopted some of our performance sports and leisure styles as daywear.
IS IT ALL ABOUT LAUNCHING NEW PRODUCTS OR ARE THERE OTHER STRATEGIES YOU USE TO RETAIN/CREATE INTEREST IN THE BRAND?
We are extending our service further by adding to our facilities within the UK. We identified the need for embroidery and print on custom products at our offshore facilities and have serviced this market for a number of years.
We have also recently seen a growing requirement for the same service on our stock products, as our products are distributed from within the UK. We are currently implementing the facility to do so within our head office, therefore if one of our retail accounts or printers is too busy with their own production or need a fast turnaround on a printed and embroidered stock garment, we can offer the service they need.
WHAT MAKES YOUR PRODUCTS STAND OUT FROM ITS COMPETITORS?
Value for money and overall quality, as well as Sensport’s ability to listen to client feedback.
We have increased our stock teamwear offer by adding some key pieces, which have been very well received. We are one of the few brands that offer a knitted striped shirt, and our Milan two-inch vertical striped shirt has been our best-selling line for a number of seasons because our clients love working with the product – they are easier to print on as there is no colour bleed and the finish is far superior to that of a sublimated striped shirt. This season we have launched the Newfield three and a half inch vertical knitted striped shirt, which the market has been crying out for.
HAS THE DIGITAL AGE CHANGED THE WAY BRANDS ARE PERCEIVED? DOES SENSPORT MARKET PRODUCT VIA TWITTER, FACEBOOK ETC?
The digital age is very important to both end-users and retailers, and online presence is very influential in the way brands are perceived today. While we currently do not use social networking sites for marketing purposes, the need to do so is becoming more and more necessary.
Our focus has been on communicating our offer through our own applications and steering end-users to our websites. We are marketing the brand very heavily on the internet and directing traffic to our website through various keyword and pay per click campaigns. Our key accounts are listed on the website and end-users have the facility to search via their postcode for the nearest approved Sensport stockist.
Last season we launched www.kitselector.com, a site where end-users and retailers can generate club specific presentations from our stock offer, which can be saved in pdf format and emailed to the decision maker or client. This is a fantastic selling tool as the retailer can forward their client a whole range of specific products in their club colours in a few clicks or a matter of minutes.
Certain initiatives and partnerships are also being put in place with relevant websites aimed at grass-roots sport to direct more traffic to our websites and retail partners through banner ads, etc.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE NEXT SIX MONTHS IN TERMS OF LAUNCHES, NEW MARKETS ETC?
We are launching a new range of stock supported and custom cricket apparel for season 2012, which will be available to forward order from November 2011 and available from stock in January 2012. This is very exciting for us as we have our roots very much in cricket – our managing director is an ex-county cricketer and we have great experience in this field.