I recently shared how my wife and I customized our race kits (Customizing Your Kit). This was nowhere near as complicated as ordering kits for the Chico Triathlon Club, which had far more factors to consider. From the time we started, the kit was important. It would present our club’s image and we wanted our members to wear the colors at every opportunity, whether they are running, swimming, cycling, or competing.
If you are responsible for your club’s kits the two best pieces of advice I can give you are, one, start early and, two, follow-up regularly on your order’s progress. Consider when you want the kits in your members’ hands and then work backwards. Many vendors advertise a 6 to 8 week timeline from finalizing your order to delivery, but it will most likely take 8 weeks and if you run into any issues with the graphic design it can take longer. You probably also want one to two weeks to either deliver kits to your members or for your members to pick up their kits. This means you want to place your order at least 9 to 10 weeks ahead of when you want you want your kits. For the Chico Tri Club, our goal was for our members to have their kits in time for the first club-focus race of the season. We wanted our members to have their kits in time for our first major club-focused race of the year, which would take place in early May. As a result, we needed to order by mid-February.
The timeline for kits ties into your club’s strategy and plan for the year. There were two other important elements to coordinate in conjunction with the Chico Tri Club’s timeline – club sponsors and “season kickoff.” Your sponsors want to be on the kit, so you need your sponsorship agreements for the year finished in time for your kit order. You also need a copy of your sponsor’s logo. One of the Chico Tri Club’s sponsor/partners, Fleet Feet, hosted a “Triathlon Season Launch Party” in mid-February. At the party we had fit samples and order forms. For us, the Season Launch Party attracted new members and motivated current members for the upcoming season. We wanted it early enough not just for uniform orders, but also for new members to have adequate time to prepare for the May first club race. Fleet Feet was an outstanding partner and it should be noted that the Chico Fleet Feet was recently awarded the “Pinnacle Award,” an award that “recognizes a franchise that demonstrates excellence in customer acquisition, staffing & customer experience, financial & inventory management, and vendor relations, while embracing Fleet Feet Sports initiatives” (more on that here).
As for the particular vendor and kits, there are multiple factors to consider –
- The vendor’s apparel choices. Do you want cycling kits and tri kits? Do you want separates or do you also want trisuits? Many vendors offer a good tri kit or a good cycling kit, but not both.
- Does the vendor offer kits in women’s sizing? For the Chico Tri Club, our vendor absolutely had to offer kits in women’s sizing. Our female members were uninterested in vendors offering only unisex sizing.
- Price/quality. The kits need to be priced at a level that will make them reasonably affordable for members. What is “reasonable” will depend on your membership. However, most vendors offer two lines, a basic, but less expensive line, and a pro-level, but more expensive line. You need to consider whether the line your membership is likely willing to pay for also has sufficient quality for them to want it.
- Minimums. Vendors require a minimum number of units. If you have a large club or if you do not mind having extra kits on hand for members who choose to purchase kits later in the year this is fine, but if you want to minimize your exposure you want the lowest minimums possible.
- Keep the design reasonably consistent for 2-3 years. Radically redesigning a kit is a lot of extra work. Members may also be reluctant to order a new kit every year or they may want a cycling kit one year and a tri kit the next. Put out a kit with a new design one year, refine it the next, and then update it more significantly they year after that. Refinement over 2-3 years with a bigger update thereafter is a good compromise between a consistent look that is also fresh and new.
- If you have cycling kits and tri kits, keep the look consistent. Your cycling kits and tri kits will be different due to the paneling and available sublimation space. Nonetheless, you want a consistent look so that when people see them they will recognize your club.
- Customer service. This goes without saying. Your vendor should deliver on time and promptly respond to your phone calls and e-mails. Some vendors have a website where your members can order and pay. This makes collecting orders and payments much, much easier.
- Are you sponsored by any particular vendor or does one of your sponsors have a preferred vendor? Respect your sponsors. If, for example, one of your sponsors is a bike shop who prefers working with a particular vendor strongly consider using that vendor for your club’s kits.
There are plenty of good vendors out there. Plan ahead, coordinate the kits order with your club’s plan for the year, and make sure that the vendor’s apparel choices, minimums, and pricing fit your club’s needs.