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Academy Sees Upside As Brands Shift Back To Wholesale Focus

At Goldman Sachs’ 30th annual Global Retailing Conference, Academy Sports + Outdoors executives covered a wide range of topics in the Fireside Chat, including the promotional climate, the chain’s expanding “good, better, best” pricing strategy, and many major vendors’ newfound appreciation of wholesale selling.

“Certainly, during the pandemic with the rise in, I think vendors fell in love with the DTC business in some cases, but I think they’ve realized that they need good wholesale partners as part of the mix,” said CEO Steve Lawrence at the event Tuesday. “So, we’ve seen a reversion to more of that.”

The discussion comes as Nike this year is returning to selling footwear at DSW and apparel at Macy’s while working to repair its relationship with Foot Locker. Nike had exited a number of traditional wholesale accounts in recent years as it focused on DTC selling and narrowed its wholesale focus. Under its new CEO Bjørn Gulden, Adidas is also investing in improving its relationship with wholesale partners.

Lawrence still said Academy “never lost access to a lot of these brands,” largely because Academy serves as the “entry point to sport” for consumers due in large part to its strong value proposition. He said “active young families” are Academy’s core customer.

Lawrence said, “When you talk to a Nike, Under Armour or Adidas, one of the reasons they really value us is because we’re that place where that kid finds his first glove or first soccer ball. And that entry point is important in the belief that if the kid starts out with that brand, he’s going to take it through his life. It’s a very powerful thing for these brands. And so that’s what we really represent to a lot of these companies and that’s why they really value our partnership.”

He also believes that major sports vendors value Academy’s wide offering of products that enable them to reach different customers than those visiting a store only specializing in footwear or the outdoors. Lawrence said, “We can sell them the basketball, the glove, the cleats, right? They can find the apparel. They can find everything in our store and a lot of places don’t do that. So that’s really been helpful.”

He added that Academy’s extensive reach across categories helps Academy attract “emerging brands,” with Academy securing a strong position with the Oofos recovery shoe as well as with Burlebo, a regional men’s wear brand based in Austin. The eclectic mix also enables Academy to explore “new ideas,” such as Bogg Bags. Lawrence said, “I think the position we have in the market is very attractive to vendors and we’re getting more and more vendors coming to us with new ideas.”

Asked about managing promotions, Lawrence said promotions have become a more important tool in the current environment because they’re resonating with the strained consumer. Said Lawrence, “Value is kind of what they’re responding to so promotions can be a value.”

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