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Posted Date: 1/14/2010

As Major League Baseball Supplier, Majestic Athletic Keeps Eye on the Ball

By Stacey Kusterbeck

Developing product that meets the approval of the biggest-name baseball players in the country, as well as weekend athletes and even armchair athletes - that is the challenge Majestic Athletic meets on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
 
"We put a lot of effort into knowing athletes and the team sports licensed consumer, and we build product lines that will cater to their interests," says Jim Pisani, president of VF Licensed Sports Group, which acquired Majestic in 2007. "We fit the best athletes in the world in Major League Baseball. But we also have to make sure the lines are fan friendly and merchandised correctly."
 
In 1982, Easton, PA-based Majestic earned a major league baseball license with a batting practice jersey it designed for the Chicago White Sox. "[The company] was able to find a niche product by identifying an opportunity on field. The guys doing their warm-ups before the game needed something more comfortable, and that innovation got [Majestic] started with major league baseball. And that has carried through until today," says Pisani.
 
Business has grown for 27 consecutive years, and the Licensed Sports Group now does more than $400 million in sales annually. The batting practice jersey is now a staple item worn by 30 teams and thousands of their fans. It continues to evolve, with the most recent version, introduced in 2007, featuring a lightweight CoolBase fabric. "We get nothing back but positives from the actual major league players who wear it. But we also had to design it so it is commercially viable and something that fans want to wear," says Pisani.

Ready to turn on a dime

Last year, Milwaukee Brewers player Corey Hart was named as an All-Star player late on a Thursday afternoon. Majestic had jerseys and T-shirts produced and available in the stadium by the time of Saturday's game in Milwaukee. Likewise, when C.C. Sabathia was traded on a Sunday night from Cleveland to Milwaukee, the company not only made sure custom jerseys were ready for him to wear, but also that the team stores were fully stocked, all in time for his first game only two days later.
 
To further improve speed to market, eight of the company's facilities were consolidated into a nearby state-of-the-art facility in Easton, PA, which does cutting, sewing and screenprinting.
 
"That was a big strategic initiative for us," says Pisani. "We had the right people and the right partnerships. We wanted to also make sure we had the right infrastructure in place to service our retail and league partners. Having that facility and, more importantly, the outstanding associates we have in the organization, allows us to really service our retailers, our fans and our players, at a very high level."
 
When their teams win the World Series, millions of fans are eager to purchase products, but only for a short window of time. "So we need to be ready to go as soon as that moment arrives. And we also need to do it in a profitable way for our business," Pisani says.
 
Additional screenprinting facilities in Tampa, FL and Waukesha, WI give Majestic the ability to serve all of its different channels of distribution, ranging from mass merchants to fine department stores and sporting goods stores. If the Yankees are playing the Phillies, there is a chance that either of those markets could be on the side of the winning team. Thus, Majestic needs the ability to get its product out to retailers such as Modell's Sporting Goods, early the next day - or even before.
 
"We can get a high percentage of the preordered units into those facilities very early in the day," says Pisani. "In fact, eight locations opened at 11:00 p.m. when Philadelphia won the NLCS, thanks to an elaborate supply chain plan with Modell's."

Keeping on its toes with technology

The Easton facility recently invested in tackle twill replica heat-seal machines to help service business for its popular replica jersey. Printed vinyl capabilities were also added, so that fully customized shirt designs can be done.
 
Another recent investment was the implementation of drop shipping at all of its domestic locations. This is paying off by allowing Majestic to service "displaced fans" around the country, by increasing the variety of product available to the end consumer. "They are able to buy licensed products online that may not be distributed in their area of the country," says Pisani. "It also helps retailers, in that we take on the shipping instead of sending it to their distribution centers."
 
A new Tech Fleece was rolled out for the 2009 playoffs, designed with the involvement of clubhouse managers at many major league baseball teams. "Our Tech Fleece has been a strong performer, but we saw the opportunity to improve styling and warmth," says Pisani. "We mixed flat and textured fleeces for a significant upgrade in performance, without compromising what players liked."

Majestic's mantra is, "Four constituents have to win." These are licensors, retailers, fans and the company itself. "The bottom line is empowering people to make good decisions on behalf of our stakeholders. It's not about micromanagement, but retaining and recruiting the right people," says Pisani. "We are all fans here too. We are passionate about the leagues, and we take that same approach that players will. At the end of the day, it's all about a team victory."

Stacey Kusterbeck is an Apparel contributing writer based in New York.
 
 
QUICK TAKES
Giving Back: Majestic focuses on youth health and encouraging young people to participate in recreation. Last year, the company contributed more than $300,000 to such charities as Tampa All-Children's Hospital and the Major League Baseball Player's Association Buses for Baseball and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities programs.
Going International: Majestic does 10 percent of its business outside the United States, which includes a fashion-driven Major League Baseball-licensed lifestyle brand in Europe. 

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