Smaller sports stores raising their game

Dick’s Sporting Goods celebrates its grand opening this weekend in Mount Pleasant.

Big-box sporting goods stores have discovered upscale Mount Pleasant, but smaller, locally owned shops don’t expect to be kicked out of the ball game.

At East Cooper Sporting Goods, the family-owned business of 15 years started getting ready a year ago for the arrival of Dick’s Sporting Goods, a Pittsburgh-based national chain that opened a 46,540-square-foot store in the new Bowman Place shopping center this week.

The sports shop’s owners also know another big retailer is on the way. Just a few miles north of Dick’s, Texas-based Academy Sports + Outdoors is planning a store on U.S. Highway 17.

“We brought in in-house embroidery, and we changed our mix of products,” said East Cooper Sporting Goods co-owner Paul Maschek. “We also ramped up our beach presence.”

The store also invested more on products such as goggles for the numerous swimming teams it serves “so we never run out,” he said in a nod to the store’s client base.

The 4,000-square-foot store on Ben Sawyer Boulevard also partnered with Sweetgrass Hardware on U.S. Highway 17 to get closer to one of its main customers, Wando High School, and to focus on items for customers heading out to the East Cooper beaches.

Maschek realizes the big-box stores will pull away some customers.

“Any time you have that much square footage, you have the ability to squish small businesses and take some of the business away,” he said. “You have to re-evaluate the market. It’s either sink or swim. You have to be prepared for it.”

The difference, he said, will be personal service.

“We have to differentiate ourselves from the big-box stores,” Maschek said.

At Play It Again Sports, less than half a mile away from the new Dick’s, co-owner Billy Richardson agreed.

“People want to shop local and get customer service,” he said. “We have very loyal customers wanting to shop local. They feel comfortable getting helped very quickly. You can get lost in a big store.”

Richardson, who opened the store with a business partner six years ago, doesn’t believe the arrival of big-box sporting goods stores will cut into his business.

“I don’t think this is going to be harmful to our store in any way,” he said. “It will increase sales and help us focus a little harder on customer attention.”

The 4,000-square-foot shop in Fairmount Shopping Plaza near Anna Knapp Boulevard offers 70 percent new merchandise and 30 percent pre-owned.

“Our model is trade in and trade up,” he said, meaning customers bring in their used sporting goods and buy something new. He also said the business model is different between his store and Dick’s, saying the bigger chain seems to be focused more on apparel.

“We focus more on the hard goods,” he said.

At locally owned LLoyd’s Soccer, which has two other stores in Greenville and Atlanta, owner Rich Lloyd expects some impact on sales, but not a lot. The 9,000-square-foot shop on Wando Park Boulevard off Long Point Road near Interstate 526 specializes in all things soccer-related, from uniforms and equipment to balls and staff gear.

Like East Cooper Sporting Goods, Lloyd’s mans an in-house embroidery shop since the 31-year-old business caters mainly to teams. Only 30 percent of its business is retail.

“Whenever you get another competitor, it will impact us, but it shouldn’t have a big effect on us,” he said. “We won’t know for sure until the fall.”

At Fleet Feet, a locally owned franchise that offers shoes, apparel, nutrition and education on healthy activities, co-owner Chris Minkel expects little negative effect from the bigger chains.

“Our overall business philosophy is based on service, educating the customer, community relations and being involved within the community,” Minkel said.

Minkel and wife Amy opened the 2,300-square-foot shop in the Whole Foods-anchored Patriots Plaza shopping center just over two years ago.

“It’s our job to educate the customer, whether it’s the 75-year-old woman wanting to stay active or a young kid just starting out in the Mount Pleasant Track Club,” he said.

A Dick’s spokesman could not be reached Thursday for comment about the competition with smaller businesses.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.