By Marty Maciaszek
NSGA Director of Communications
DOWNERS GROVE, ILLINOIS (November 10, 2020) - Schuylkill Valley Sports is rebranding with a new logo featuring a gold medal as it is approaching its golden anniversary.
“To a point it’s coincidental this is happening with our 50th anniversary next year,” said SV Sports president Jason Lutz, who has been with the company for a year. “Naturally it’s a great part of the story.”
It is a story where Lutz and John Scipio, who came on board as CEO in July, are focused on the possibilities for the next half-century with Pottstown, Pennsylvania-based SV Sports. A new logo, new website and revamped stores are part of their plan toward developing a cutting-edge, company-owned sporting goods retail model.
Lutz and Scipio are actively seeking capital to fund their concept of eventually growing into a national player. They are looking to raise money and restructure SV Sports with a new philosophy, which in essence makes it a startup from that angle, according to Lutz.
“There’s a great book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” Scipio said of the 2008 book by Marshall Goldsmith. “Schuylkill Valley has been able to establish a great regional footprint the last 50 years. For us to expand that footprint, and take it to the next level, we have to do something different.
“That’s how you create the narrative, how we’re not just competing, but how are we dominating in the next 50 years, as we start to roll out all that’s planned. I think the sporting goods market is going to take notice.”
Joining a Familiar Name
Randy Ruch started Schuylkill Valley in 1971 with one store in suburban Philadelphia. Ruch, who was inducted into the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame in 2012, led Schuylkill Valley’s growth to a 19-store regional chain in central and eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Both Lutz and Scipio were familiar with Schuylkill Valley. Lutz led Sneaker Villa from a two-store operation run by his parents in Reading, Pennsylvania into urban fashion retailer Villa with more than 125 locations in 10 states and $250 million in sales when he sold the company and it merged with DTLR in August 2017.
Scipio started a 25-year career with Nike as a team rep in Florida and was promoted to its team sales division with Schuylkill Valley as one of his accounts. Scipio eventually moved into Nike’s city specialty channel with $2 billion in wholesale and $4 billion in retail sales.
Lutz joined Schuylkill Valley as a consultant in November and became president and CEO in January.
“I saw a sporting goods company that had been around for almost 50 years and feel like there is an opportunity to evolve it,” Lutz said. “I saw the opportunity to inject culture into the sporting goods industry. A lot of philosophies on the lifestyle side of the business could translate to sporting goods and the team business.”
Scipio left Nike for the basketball brand AND1 and oversaw all aspects of its business as executive vice president and general manager. He left AND1 a year ago and was doing consulting work when he heard from an old friend from his days at Nike.
“Jason started to do an analysis of the overall business and wanted an injection of culture into sporting goods,” Scipio said. “Jason connected with me and said there is something here. After being here and seeing what he mentioned they have a good base, and if it’s done properly and starts to evolve we could get to a place where we could deliver to the marketplace something no one has seen in sporting goods. That infusion of culture.”
Scipio took over the CEO role in July. He has seen the stores that have disappeared from the sporting goods landscape from his time on the manufacturing side.
“It’s more important than ever to create a much more dynamic, experiential component to sporting goods so we can bring these folks back,” Scipio said. “We need to let them know they don’t need to go to Amazon for everything.”
That would require some significant and visible change since SV Sports has closed all but one of its stores. Lutz said most of the stores were in malls with occupancy typically less than 50 percent. Their plan includes returns to some areas where stores were closed with a new look.
Lutz and Scipio believe SV Sports can fill an opportunity opened by Modell’s bankruptcy and exit from the industry on the east coast.
“Making sure we create a different experience when consumers come into the door is vital,” Scipio said. “We don’t want to be the next Dick’s or Scheels or Big Five. We want to make sure what we put into the marketplace is a unique product.”
Foundation for Success
Diversity has been a major topic across the country during a tumultuous year turned upside down in mid-March by the COVID-19 pandemic. Diversity is also a crucial part of SV Sports plan as it said it will be the largest African-American led and owned sporting goods and team dealer in North America.
“What took me aback was a complete lack of diversity on the vendor side and more importantly the retail side,” Lutz said. “I saw organizations that all looked alike and tended to think the same way. There is a lack of activity and a herd mentality where we need to do it the same way.
“I think we’ve got a great way to build an organization that embraces diversity. We’re the only African-American led retailer (Scipio) in the industry. That’s the overall direction (diversity) we’re moving here and we’re excited about that. John and I bring a unique approach to the industry.”
Scipio said the lack of diversity in retail, particularly sporting goods, was not lost on him.
“That’s proven to be an important thing for me as well,” Scipio said. “A lot of it has to do with access and how do you make it accessible. We have four key pillars to the organization and it revolves around creating diversity at every level of the organization. Not just ethnicity but diverse thinking as well.”
The Four Pillars of SV Sports:
- Love of Sport (You have to love what you are doing)
- Play For Each Other (When we talk about the diversity initiative, once we put on a jersey we are all playing together)
- Setting Goals and Smashing Them (Go out every day to take them out)
- Rise to the Challenge (Make sure you are doing something that might be outside your comfort zone, never turn away from a fight and never let anything intimidate you)
“We are two guys who understand the industry and between John and I we’re two seasoned guys,” Lutz said. “We’re actively seeking investment and equity partners that align with similarly shared visions and ideas.”
Future Vision for SV Sports
Change was coming as SV Sports approached its 50th anniversary. Lutz said it was accelerated by COVID-19.
He even sees another industry facing significant struggles – newspapers and their ability to cover high school sports – as an area of opportunity. One where SV Sports can use social media to shine a spotlight on their successes, stories and style.
“Smaller sporting goods retailers have been challenged over the years,” Lutz said. “We want to build an ecosystem for the local high school athlete. It’s how we keep them coming to us for all the latest gear and supplying them new uniforms.”
Creating a Division I college type of recruiting experience with a lot of flair is another component to the SV Sports vision.
“All athletes, even though they are part of a team, are looking to be individuals,” Scipio said. “They want to add their own personality to sports, but there isn’t anyone addressing that aspect of it and making all athletes feel like they’re a college recruit. The athletes need to know they’re bringing a part of being special into sporting goods and we have to start to elevate what happens at the retail level.”
Lutz said SV Sports has target dates of Spring 2021 for its new website and Fall 2021 for the new store design. Scipio said the rebranded logo is a collaboration between members of its team and an outside agency.
“We wanted to be modern and wanted to be simple and we wanted to represent what sports is,” Scipio said. “SV Sports represents the gold medal and gold medals represent championships.”
And SV Sports is not deterred by the potential degree of difficulty it faces to achieve its ultimate goal.
“We’re not on board just to compete, we’re on board to win,” Lutz said. “We want to build a dominant sporting goods brand in the United States.
“We feel we can compete and win locally, we can compete and win regionally and we can compete and win nationally.”