How a sports apparel retailer hit World Series sales out of the park

How a sports apparel retailer hit World Series sales out of the park

Wrigleyville Sports, which specializes in Chicago Cubs merchandise, shut off its phone lines and handled customer orders exclusively online and via email. The retailer also added temporary warehouse space to capitalize on a major spike in demand for Cubs gear from October through December.

The Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series in over a century created a welcome problem in late fall for Wrigleyville Sports, a retailer of sports memorabilia. The retailer has a store across the street from Wrigley Field, the baseball team’s home ballpark, and a suburban warehouse that is used as a fulfillment center for orders and stores inventory for the store.

The problem: Business spiked, especially from October through November, to the point where the retailer put in action a plan concocted years earlier for a “Cubs win” scenario. The plan involved additional staffing and fulfillment capabilities, but it still didn’t cover all the retailer’s bases.

“I’ve been with the company for seven years, but even prior to me they were talking about this scenario,” says Eric Castellucci, online marketing manager at Wrigleyville Sports. The retailer had hired several people in-store to help deal with the spike in customers, but it wasn’t enough. The warehouse staff more than doubled to 8-10 employees compared with 3-4 typically to process extra inventory and handle order fulfillment.

The plan itself was laid out in a Google document that was shared between store managers and warehouse employees, which allowed the retailer to update the plan as the baseball season and playoffs progressed.

“[The plan] dealt with things like the physical position of [in-store] racks, transfer schedules for [employees] to pick merchandise needed back at the warehouse for online orders, and coordinating the transfer of generic/non-postseason Cubs merchandise back to the warehouse to bring in the new [postseason-specific] merchandise,” Castellucci says. “It also dealt with temporary things like the need to hire security for the store, create/purchase signs for extended hours or to advertise new merchandise that was arriving, bringing in temporary hires to work the floor, etc. The plan was just basically anything anyone could think of that would be helpful if/when [the Cubs] actually won.”

The deeper the Cubs got in the playoffs, the more shopper demand grew online and in-store.

After the team clinched the National League Division Series, orders started to surge, Castellucci says. When the team made it into the World Series—for the first time since 1945—the retailer experienced a “huge spike” with sales increasing fivefold from the regular season, he says. “When the Cubs won the World Series, sales were 10 times [higher] than what we were seeing prior to them making it into the postseason. That’s online and in-store. Just online, [sales were] about eight times higher,” he says.

Such a dramatic spike in demand taught Castellucci and his team that despite their preparations, they were not fully ready.

“For the Cubs to end that long drought, a lot of things changed, and we had to learn a lot of things on the fly,” he says.

Take, for instance, the way the retailer handled customer service inquiries. With the company’s store staff—15 during the regular season plus 5-6 additional employees in the postseason, Wrigleyville Sports changed the way it answered customer inquiries.

“We shut our [store] phones off for about two weeks because the majority of calls coming through were people wanting to order,” Castellucci says, so the company rerouted customers’ phone inquiries, directing them via an automated message to visit to place an order or submit a customer service inquiry.

“We didn’t have the manpower to be on the phone for 5-10 minutes taking orders. We were still answering inquiries through email,” he says. “When we were funneling everything through one channel [the website], it was a lot easier to manage and get through [orders] in a timely manner.”

As the Cubs progressed toward the championship, the retailer received inventory commemorating each accomplishment, from when the Cubs won the pennant through the eventual World Series title, and that merchandise required more storage space.

“Going into the World Series, we were doing everything out of our one [suburban] warehouse,” Castellucci says. “We were renting space from our neighbor next door just to organize products as they came in.” A few days before the Cubs won in Game 7 of the Series, the retailer temporarily rented another warehouse, this one about a mile from its own.

Castellucci says the company relied heavily on e-commerce software from NetSuite Inc. to track the additional inventory. NetSuite is the e-commerce platform technology provider for 21 mostly midsized retailers among the Top 1000 e-retailers in North America.

“Having NetSuite was a huge, huge factor especially with creating a new [storage] location on the fly,” he says. “We needed to have the visibility as to where the merchandise was—was it in the store, in transit to the warehouse?”

Stocking the products and getting them up on the site was another story entirely.

The Cubs getting into and subsequently winning the World Series, meant Wrigleyville Sports had to create pages for 643 new items. Some of the new items are drop-shipped directly from the vendor, while others are stock items that the retailer carries and either ships out or sells in-store, Castellucci says.

“Most of the product [page] is built in NetSuite before it's ever actually physically produced,” he says. “Our buyer and his team will create items in the system and attach any information we know ahead of time: UPCs, costs, vendor, retail price, etc. Then, once the item comes in, the web team just needs to add in the remaining things like description, picture, weight, etc. Some [product] pictures we receive from the vendor ahead of time, but others we shoot and clean up in-house.”

The runup to the World Series wasn’t the problem, he says.

“The National League Champs and World Series-participant merchandise, we had weeks in advance,” he says. Most product pages for that merchandise were being built when the Cubs entered the playoffs, giving Wrigleyville Sports time to prepare. 

When the prospect of the Cubs winning their first title in 108 years became more than just a fairy tale, that’s when things kicked into high gear from a merchandising and marketing perspective.