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S&S 2020 Online Catalog

Transcript:

Marty Hartman:

Welcome to the Supplier Spotlight interview. Today we have Nolan Parker. He is the national and strategic accounts director at S&S active wear. Nolan, welcome.

Nolan Parker:

Thank you. That’s a fancy title. I appreciate you pointing that out and appreciate the time today. Thanks for having me.

Marty Hartman:

Well, I just go from what I read on your LinkedIn account so, if it’s not, you need to update that.

Nolan Parker:

Okay.

Marty Hartman:

But tell us why members listening to the interview, why should they listen to it and here’s your chance to nab them.

Nolan Parker:

Sure. More so, they have nothing better to do today. So this is going to be the best 10, 20 minutes of their life. But, what I really want to get out there and no uncertain terms is, why S&S and, the best thing that I could say is if your members are wanting to differentiate themselves from their competition, S&S allows you to do that with one thing, with brands.

Nolan Parker:

And if I can expand upon that, the kind of the industry kings, our competition that are out there and have done a great job at it. But, their focus has been on private label and that’s kind of a… A private label is something that they source overseas. It’s a label that they dream up and then they create a lot of products around whatever category that those particular labels go into. And they get out and push those and they push those for obvious reasons. It’s a better margin for them. And so it gets more play, it gets more advertising. And over the years, a lot of those private labels have become… We’ll call them the Kleenex or the staples of the industry. And so there’s a lot of people out there pushing them.

Nolan Parker:

So, S&S gives you the opportunity to go out and show better brands, better product in those same categories and really differentiate yourself in those opportunities.

Marty Hartman:

Great. And members are always looking away for ways to stand out, especially when they’re competing against other distributors for bids-

Nolan Parker:

Yeah. And today is not that… Sorry to interrupt, but today everybody… Brands are bigger than they’ve ever been despite what a crystal ball that we’ve looked in and figured out this is the best strategy to go. We’ve all been a part of in our industry. Opportunities where people are looking for Yeti coolers or, you name the brands, Swiss Army backpacks or whatever. So, call it good timing or call it some smart people at S&S. We’ve hit the ground at a good spot and it’s leading up a big thing.

Marty Hartman:

Something in that strategy must be working because S&S has been growing rapidly. Is it the brand strategy or what is it do you attribute to the growth?

Nolan Parker:

We act like it’s a secret at S&S with our growth. We recently came out and we spilled the beans on over the last 32 years, what we’ve done and where we’re at sales wise and in terms of square footage. So, I don’t think there’s any like secret sauce to the mix. I don’t think it’s one thing versus the next. We at S&S, 32 years ago when we were first started by a couple of guys named Steve and 10 years after that when Jeff and Paul, our current owners bought the company and own it today.

Nolan Parker:

We’ve always kept kind of the same direction. We’ve focused on a couple things. We’ve focused on relationships, which we feel like, whether it’s work or life or are some of the things that you’re going to count on the most. And so in terms of taking care of people, being there and being able to… When they call or ride or knock on your door that you’re there for them to count on. So we focused on that. We focused obviously on service. That’s probably even the biggest part of our growth. I think probably over the last seven or eight years that we’ve expanded our distribution from one warehouse to two to three and all the way to six.

Nolan Parker:

And then lastly, I think what makes S&S a little contagious in terms of people wanting to work for us. I think we’ve realized, and it’s a secret that we’re just selling t-shirts and sweatshirts and caps. We’re not saving lives. We’re not curing cancer. We don’t have some great political position. We’re just out there trying to make everybody’s life easier and, not to say that every opportunity is an important opportunity, but, we kind of take this approach like, hey everybody take a deep breath. This is what we’re doing and we’re going to have fun doing it. And we try to bring everybody along with that.

Marty Hartman:

Everybody I know that works with you guys, comments about the relationship and the fun part. So you mentioned the warehouses. Anymore distribution centers that you’ve got going on. And how does that, with your multiple locations, how does that help Universal Unilink members?

Nolan Parker:

A big part of our growth is related to us opening more and more brick and mortars across the country. We have six currently today and that’s, well let me take that back and not to step on maybe a question I asked down the road but, we have six in the States and four in Canada. And in the States, speaks specifically, four million square feet. You asked if there’s going to be other expansion. I don’t think that’s the case. The operations guy, the masterminds behind all that tend to play at close to the vest. But, our direction with location has always been how can we maximize the space in terms of inventory an d square footage and then also maximize the reach with shipping lanes and cutting deals with guys like UPS or FedEx to get it further, faster, quicker.

Nolan Parker:

So, as it stands now, I don’t see any warehouses coming online. But if I look at the map and I’m a betting man or… and I do gamble from time to time. Mostly with my diet, which affects my waistline, but now I would think that you’ll feel where, how you could see a warehouse some place like Denver or someplace up in the Northwest, or you could see us kind of going back, which I think is more of the strategy now. We’re kind of going back and looking at our existing warehouses.

Nolan Parker:

For instance, we took our Bolingbrook warehouse and moved it just down the street to Lockport and doing that, we quadrupled the space, almost 800,000 square feet. I can see us kind of doing that. It’s a lot of football fields in there. I can see us doing that with places like, Olathe Kansas. I can see us increasing the footprint there and some of the other places. So you’d ask at what advantage does that give a Universal Unilink members? It just gives you the ability to say yes to opportunities. In the past where we were stocking goods only in this location or that location. It increased production time because you had to wait for goods to get there, over a certain period. And now because of our reach, it’s usually one or two days for all of our product and which means that you can turn stuff out and in turn cool stuff out.

Nolan Parker:

I think some of our competitors spread their inventory from… they put a lot of black t-shirts all over the place and then the really cool stuff they put in one warehouse up in the Northeast. At S&S we try to create an opportunity for everybody to buy our product across the country and warehouse, at the warehouse closest to them.

Marty Hartman:

So a lot of inventory and close you. That’s a good strategy.

Nolan Parker:

It’s not rocket science by any sense. It works for us.

Marty Hartman:

Well, it does seem to be working. So you mentioned some warehouses in Canada. Tell us a little bit about Technosport.

Nolan Parker:

New and exciting things that at S&S. Just when we thought we were done with this expansion, then we turned around and we purchased or actually merge with this company Technosport in Canada. We’ve had a long relationship with those guys. Our owners have been fast friends with Technosports owners for a number of years. Joint golf trips, happy hours, nothing crazy. And then organically I think the two companies saw an opportunity to just come together and doing what we do in the States and the brands that we carry and the reach and the relationships that they have in Canada just made sense.

Nolan Parker:

So it’s fresh and new and we’re trying to sort out what it looks like. If you asked me what it looks like, which hopefully, I’m not over speaking here, but I think what will happen over the next 18 months with Technosport is, we’ll get them on to our system. So websites, back end, inventory management, all the backend stuff. Which, will help them. We’ll give the Canadian customers and Canadian members, have a better experience with a better website and all the tools that come through with that.

Nolan Parker:

It’ll give the salespeople locally in Canada, the ability to have smarter conversations because of the data that they’ll now have available to them. And then beyond that, I think our logistics team is looking at what makes sense in terms of expanding the warehouse spaces or locations, and that’s kind of all to be continued. Right now, if you were to take all four of their warehouses and keep in mind they’re the biggest distributor in Canada, so they have the biggest footprint and they do the most business.

Nolan Parker:

But if you took all their four warehouses and put them in our smallest warehouse, you’d still have a ton of room leftover. So it’s a whole different kind of market up there. But we see that as an opportunity in terms of maybe if we double quadruple their space, there’s that exponentially much more business to get up here. So you’ll see an expansion there and then I think what everybody’s really, the question everybody’s asking is, when are you going to get the brands up here? So at that point when we make room and get everything lined up, I think that’s where all the time and attention is going to go. It’s how do we get brands up there that aren’t currently available in Canada.

Nolan Parker:

Our biggest interest is Adidas because it’s an exclusive line for us and no one is distributing Adidas in Canada. So that would be a big win, I think for that. And then everything after that is open. Whatever makes sense. We want to definitely get up there and… So, To be continued, Canada. But we’re excited about our new friends up there, our new coworkers and we’re more excited just on what it’s going to look like long-term for Universal Unilink and all the customers that have business that go in the States and go into Canada. So it should be fun.

Marty Hartman:

You mentioned Adidas and bringing that into Canada. So let’s segue into brands that are currently available throughout your US distribution centers. What are some of the hot brands that distributors are looking for in apparel?

Nolan Parker:

It’s been really fun. I’ve been with S&S 16 years and we’ve always been brand centric for the longest time. I’ve seen brands get popular and brands get unpopular as time has gone away. But the brands that we’re seeing probably the biggest growth in are kind of twofold here. The big brands, the retro brand, so Adidas far and away, we had a monster year with them. If you follow Adidas in any way, you have teenagers or you act like a teenager, Marty, at times, I’m sure you act like a teenager.

Marty Hartman:

That’s right.

Nolan Parker:

But those kids walking around wearing the three stripes and the Ultraboost and the Adidas hoodies. And so it’s escalating over the corporate because those young people now are making purchasing decisions. Adidas is really coming on strong. And then outside of that, it’s brands like Colombia, big retail brand of course, lifestyle, outdoor lifestyle, a lot of PFG in that line, which is a sub brand for them. And then of course the outerwear. Then I mentioned kind of the retro styles and brands so, Champion is huge again. I know everybody is looking around going to wait. Three or four years ago I saw this stuff in a Walmart and now I’m at Nordstrom and it’s hanging in Nordstrom next to some really high end brands, what’s going on? That’s just more of the same that the teenagers got behind the brand and are driving a lot of the purchasing decisions, and everybody’s kind of taking note and selling out opportunities.

Nolan Parker:

Somewhere in the middle, I guess in terms of where our brands go, we do a ton of headwear. If you didn’t know that about S&S, it’s kind of our secret weapon. We distribute probably a dozen different headwear brands. So, the biggest one far and away is Richardson Cap. As far as our competition goes, that’s an exclusive line for us. So we sell a lot of Richardson Cap, Flexfit and Yupoong and then bag wise, we’re selling brands like Oakley, which is our big bag line. But then we get into Puma and Dri Duck and some of those other ones. And then, in terms of… we’ll call them commodity brands or really the lifeblood of the industry, the t-shirt brands, of course we have them all.

Nolan Parker:

We have Gildan and Hanes, Fruit of the Loom and Jerzees. But, we also have Bella Canvas, Next Level and American Apparel. And in terms of what’s hot and what’s not, Bella Canvas, Next Level, all those fashion brands have really over the last four or five years taken off. I think buyers are getting more savvy to fabrics and feel, and even in some instances they’re looking at things like impressions and if you want to get your brand out and you want someone to wear shirt over and over again, some more people see the brands and which is advertising and all that. You got to put it on a product that people are going to wear. And so the tide has turned with that. And so, you’re seeing, we’re seeing huge growth and huge upside with like the Bella Canvas’s, the American Apparels, the Next Levels and even Alternative. The Big boys take notes, so guys like Gildan are introducing some great fashion styles, trying to hang onto that business. But it’s a great time with us, just because brands are big and people are responding to them.

Marty Hartman:                With all those brands you’ve got different types of customers buying from S&S. So who is the typical customer for S&S or is there a typical customer?

Nolan Parker:

It’s a good mix. We tend to say that, in the numbers, probably a made up statistic like the rest of them, but it’s probably pretty close, but 40% I think of our business are decorators, guys that do decorations to screen printing, embroiders. Sporting good guys even, that have production in the background. So that’s a big part of our market. So what’s that other 60% look like? It’s not a typical mix. It’s obviously a lot of ASI guys, that are out there selling everything from drink ware to uniform programs to give-aways or whatever.

Nolan Parker:

Sporting good guys I mentioned before, the uniform category for us is really booming. I think programs like uniform programs and I’m not hip to the terminology, but where the rental programs are being replaced by actually where employees are purchasing those uniforms and in replacing. And so we were seeing a lot of growth in that category. Then the biggest one, the biggest growth category for us, I think is all the e-retailing that’s happening out there.

Nolan Parker:

Consumers are getting more comfortable with purchasing online. So all these website people that have a variety of direction are popping up and in creating a market online. So we work with them. So not a typical customer by any stretch, but I think, if you boiled it down and you said, who is our bread and butter? It’s going to be the decorators that are out there, screen printers and that. We’ve had a long lasting relationship with those type of guys. We value those relationships, so we’ve kept them going over the years.

Marty Hartman:

Do you provide any marketing tools for customers to help them?

Nolan Parker:

Lots of marketing resources at S&S from the typical catalogs and many catalogs to flyers, marketing pieces. We have a pretty savvy marketing group, a team rather that is always building what they consider to be the next new thing. And with that, all that new stuff consists of everything from social media content, videos that showcase either customers or products. The thing that flies under the radar that Marty, you and I have talked about. We have a blog that keeps whatever’s going on in the forefront of S&S and for customers and that’s a great piece because it not only talks about what brands are hot or that crop tops to the latest trend that everybody needs to be selling. But it also talks about, hey, here’s some feedback or here’s some things that are happening financially in our industry or screen printing techniques or decoration techniques.

Nolan Parker:

All that stuff is available. We’ve also got, and it’s kinda hidden into the mix. We’ve got some, if your customers are, if the members rather are any bit a little savvy online. We have what we call the flyer builder section of our website and they can go in there and we have a bunch of content that’s totally customizable. So if you take, a customer takes their logo, they can go there, drop it, download the logo and then they’re off to the races and thy can send it out to all their guys. So lots of weapons we’ll call them for the guys to get out there and sell our product for sure.

Marty Hartman:

We’re nearing the end of our interview, what else would you like our members to know about S&S Activewear?

Nolan Parker:

I’d like the members to know, just all the things that are available for me outside of just the support and the effort that the Unilink team does on their behalf. We’ve set up a pretty decent package for you guys and it’s everything from a discounted sample policy. So in terms of marketing, if you need to go that extra step and show somebody a sample, you have that advantage with Universal Unilink. You have some elevated pricing on basic styles that put you in an advantage compared to many of your competition because of your membership with Unilink. And then the third thing, and I argue is probably the most important thing is like Universal Unilink has a designated customer service team that supports the business.

Nolan Parker:

Christina Cho, who is the team lead at S&S that manages everything internally from orders and sampling, taking care of issues. She’s at your backend call to help you service whatever opportunity you have. That’s an elevated service level that anybody else doesn’t have access to and should be taken advantage of. Outside of that we appreciate the business, that’s the thing we want to get out there more than anything. We’re in our third years as members, us as a preferred supplier with you guys. Your members have been great. They’ve given good substantially and we appreciate every… We’ve appreciated every step of the way.

Marty Hartman:

We’ve loved having you on as a preferred supplier. I can reiterate, we hear from our members of the service and the interaction is great. They do appreciate it. So how can members get in touch with the S&S? What’s the best way?

Nolan Parker:

There’s a variety of ways you can reach us and me for that matter. But, of course, go to our website. If you’re not currently taken advantage of what we have to offer, the first thing to do is go to our website and make sure you get registered and have an account. And that’s www.ssactivewear.com. Outside of that, I am available on any method that exists. Of course you can call, you can email, you can hit me up on social media. LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook. But it’s really easy. We’re a very accessible company and we’re always available to take the call, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us anyway.

Marty Hartman:

I hope the members do take you up on your offer. Thank you, Nolan for your time.

Nolan Parker:

Absolutely. Thanks Marty. I appreciate it.