Digital Transformation Retail

Transforming sports retail

Transform It Forward with Mike Starkey

The retail world is seeing a major revolution, just as many industries are today. It’s no longer enough to create a great customer experience online or in-person — brands need to succeed in both arenas to stay competitive.

With pandemic restrictions forcing retail brands to get creative and make use of the technology available to them, the industry is adopting new business models and interactive customer experiences. Today, it’s all about balancing the digital experience with the intimate, in-person shopping experiences we’ve all come to know and love.

Transform It Forward with Mike Starkey: Transforming the sports retail world

On the most recent episode of Transform It Forward, I sat down with Mike Starkey, Chief Information Officer at Christy Sports, to discuss the future of sports marketing, e-commerce, and retail.

Mike has held several positions in e-commerce and retail over the years, including VP of IT Strategy at enVista, Senior VP of Information Systems at Performance Bicycle and Director of IT Retail Strategy at Sears. His experience has touched all aspects of the retail world, including e-commerce, logistics, and supply chain, as well as strategy and business management.

We chatted about what’s on the horizon for e-commerce, specifically in the sports world, how to stay current and innovative in the space, and the importance of offering the customer a full-service experience rather than just a transactional relationship.

Pandemic pivot

It’s no secret that most companies had to make several shifts to their business operations when the pandemic first hit in 2020. The virus affected everyone in the world, and it was a great equalizer for us all.

Christy Sports was no different — the company was forced to pivot its operations to amp up its digital presence when they switched gears to accommodate a remote workforce, and to comply with the restrictions that were mandated to keep people safe.

“The in-store experience had to change at the same time because our stores, we had hoped were going to stay open with COVID and for our associates, we want to keep them safe, and our motto at that point was safety before sales. We had to put some technologies in place quickly, like queuing for customers and remote check-ins, and having a limit on how many customers were in the store. So there were quite a few changes that happened very quickly as soon as COVID hit.”

Mike says the company also had to grapple with production shortages because of the pandemic. With many people spending more time outdoors during quarantine, sales of things like biking equipment and patio furniture exploded at Christy Sports. According to Mike, the company is still dealing with supply chain issues. However, they mitigate this issue by committing to the suppliers and ordering the products fairly early.

Investing in technology

As soon as the pandemic hit, the leadership team at Christy Sports recognized the need to amp up their digital presence and invest heavily in technology. Prior to this, the company was operating from a paper-based system, which is evidently a big difference from most of the technologies used in the retail space today.

Mike worked with the company’s CEO to bring about this digital transformation, ensuring the new tech was implemented at every stage of the journey, from online to in-store. Throughout the transitions, the company stayed true to its core value of providing excellent customer service.

“What was important to me and our leadership team when we looked at digital transformation was that we didn’t just create a great website, an online experience, because if you had that great experience and walked into our store and you’re filling out a paper form to rent your skis, it just lost what it really meant. So we felt then and still feel strongly now that we have to do it completely end-to-end.”

Prior to the pandemic, Christy Sports was using an older, legacy e-commerce platform that was developed in-house, which wasn’t setting them up for the growth they were hoping to achieve. While they were at it, the company was also re-evaluating other systems like business intelligence tools, office collaboration tools, video meetings, and more.

Upgrading these systems early on was an easy decision as the company could swiftly identify where the gaps were. However, Mike noted that the decisions became more challenging as the transformation continued.

Change management

One of the most challenging aspects of implementing new technology can be managing change within the organization. Employees become accustomed to doing their jobs in a certain way using certain tools, and it can often cause distress or confusion when these systems are uprooted and replaced.

Mike mentioned that change management was one of the challenges Christy Sports faced while introducing new systems to their associates. To help mitigate this issue, Mike and the leadership team went on what they call an “MVV Roadshow,” MVV meaning mission, vision, and values.

During the tour, the team met with over 800 Christy Sports associates to continue the dialog, address their concerns, and answer any questions they might have.

“I think it was very important. It was not just us on a stage in front of them answering questions, but getting those one-on-ones and letting them tell you their concerns and addressing them. I think that went a long way and it’s still going a long way towards that.”

Some of the tough questions the associates posed during the tour had to do with the reasons behind the investment in technology rather than upgrading physical stores. In response to these questions, Mike and the leadership team explained the rationale behind the tech overhaul, and why it will ultimately benefit everyone within the company long-term.

Ultimately, ensuring the entire team at Christy Sports bought into the overall vision was essential. Without everyone’s buy-in, Mike says, the transformation likely wouldn’t have succeeded.

“We were doing some math that we will reduce the time to do a rental by a million minutes this year. So that’s a million minutes we’re going to give back to our associates and to the customers so they can get back out on the hill.”

Five key takeaways

 Here are some of the key takeaways that listeners can away from this episode:

  1. Digital transformation isn’t just about launching a new website, it’s an end-to-end process involving the in-person shopping experience, too. Christy Sports recognized that evolving digitally would involve every aspect of the business, including the store associates, collaboration tools, and overall, thinking digital first.   
  2. With such a rapid pace of transformation, communication throughout the organization was key for Christy Sports. Mike mentioned that change management is one of the most challenging aspects of adopting new technology, and the company navigated this by continuously relaying their message and vision to all employees in a consistent way, and involving the entire team every step of the way.
  3. Associates are just as impacted by digital transformation as customers are. Mike mentioned that although we tend to focus on the customer experience, improving the associate experience — whether in-store or online — is equally important. Christy Sports recognized the importance of buy-in across the organization because there can be no transformation without adoption at every level.
  4. You can’t compete on price alone, you’ll never win against big-box retailers like Amazon. Therefore, a big component of Christy Sports’ strategy is positioning itself as an authoritative voice in the space. They have successfully accomplished this with the in-store experience, but transferring this to the online space is an important pillar of their digital transformation strategy.
  5. Throughout the organization, teams need to collaborate and avoid working in silos. Whether you’re part of the marketing team or the IT team, we should consider everyone a trusted advisor who can contribute to solutions with agility, and leadership should prioritize ensuring everyone feels embedded in the business.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

If you missed previous episodes, click here.