SportStop – Meet the Pioneers of Online Selling Turned Multimillion-dollar Online Sports Brand Mogul12 min read

Have you ever thought about the pioneers in e-commerce, the businesses who thought of e-commerce and kickstarted the model before all the current hype it has now?

Well, you don’t have to ponder over it and imagine, as we have one of the first e-commerce businesses ever to exist, narrating their story to the journey of success in this episode. 

SportStop is an online sports store specializing in lacrosse goods for athletes. Started in 2001, this family-owned brand has adorned multiple accolades in its 20+ year-long online journey. 

We spoke to the President of SportStop, Paul Dell, to know more about how they grew to become a differentiator in the lacrosse industry in the US, and what it means to be in e-commerce to make it big. Here’s what Paul had to say about it. 

Hey Paul, It’s great connecting with you. Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself and we’d like to hear about the story of SportStop in your words?

We launched SportStop in 2001 with an online selling platform, it was actually my second e-commerce venture. I started my first online sporting goods auction site back in 1996. 

Initially, we sold sporting goods for ten or so different sports, and over time, kept focusing down and eliminating categories of work.

So for the last ten years, we’ve mainly focused only on selling lacrosse, since that’s the area we had the most success in. Though we had the bandwidth to later expand to other sporting goods, we stayed focused on lacrosse since we wanted to stay a meaningful player in a smaller market and deliver value through our goods.

We do much of the stuff in the house, from fulfillment to customer support.

That’s really interesting to hear. You’ve been in the e-commerce space from a very early stage as you mentioned earlier. What prompted you to take on the digital world? How was the market back then?

My interest in sporting goods and sales started early on, given my father had a bicycle shop and I spent most of my summer holidays there.

By the time I was in college majoring in physics and math and going to computer school simultaneously, I witnessed the world adapting to the world wide web and the reception of the idea of the internet exploding. I mean I remember back when I downloaded the browser onto my Unix computer in the mid-90s when it was launched. 

Eventually, I thought of selling my goods online and also managed to raise angel investment for it. But the problem with the auction website was that there might be a great deal for a customer once, maybe left-handed golf gloves or something, but then, once you acquire that customer and you sell them that thing, you’d end up not having anything of interest for them for weeks or even months.

So we were constantly acquiring new customers without actually providing them a second touchpoint of interest. We eventually ended up having to file bankruptcy for the business and never got to the second venture round. Because, because we scaled rapidly, to about 30 employees, we were making just a couple million dollars in sales. 

SportStop was my second venture, launched in 2001, which addressed all the shortcomings of my initial venture. We ended up making the same profits for 1/10th of the acquisition cost of the auction site within three years.

I was still selling some things, but on other auction sites like Amazon and eBay. We also had our store. Over time it took over more and more of the business and thus we decided to focus on what really worked well- lacrosse.

That’s one of the most interesting stories in the world of e-commerce. Being in e-commerce for over 20 years, you’d have witnessed all the evolution of the internet and business online. What are some tips you’d give for people starting out in the E-commerce space?

My number one advice would be to get started. It’s easy and inexpensive to get started on something. 

Open a little store, sell a few things, maybe just do it on the side while keeping your other day job for a while. But there are just so many options you can look into without needing a huge infrastructure anymore.

Get a 3rd party warehouse if your business handles big and bulky items, outsource customer support if you need it 24/7. You can do so much for so little nowadays to get started.

One thing even we as a business might have to put more effort into is in social media, be active, and get the right influences. 

In case you’re someone looking to open a physical store, it’s really important to make a great online presence.

That's great advice. Having said that though, one of the elephants in the room, especially over the past year and a half has been COVID. One of the hardest-hit Industries has been the sporting goods space, as people were mandated to stay indoors. What were the strategies you had in place to survive that? And how effective were those?