SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/Facilities

‘Made in the USA’ products fill shop shelves at SMI tracks

Don Muret
Speedway Motorsports Inc. has launched a retail campaign across its eight NASCAR tracks to sell more “Made in the USA” merchandise.
SMI Properties, part of Charlotte-based SMI, has made a concerted effort to use more American vendors to produce branded apparel and novelties. Previously, the bulk of its merchandise business has gone overseas to China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Under the new program, WinCraft, Jensen Apparel, Graffiti, Canvas, SustainU and American Apparel, all U.S. firms, are manufacturing T-shirts, sweatshirts, fleece, hats and trinkets for Charlotte Motor Speedway’s gift shop and SMI’s seven other tracks in Atlanta; Bristol, Tenn.; Kentucky; Las Vegas; New Hampshire; Sonoma, Calif.; and Texas. Canvas also sells apparel made overseas, but most suppliers on the list are making their products exclusively in the U.S., said Don Hawk, executive vice president of SMI Properties and Speedway Motorsports’ vice president of business affairs.

The items they produce are branded for both the facilities and the NASCAR events they host. The program is separate from individual race teams, which have their own deals in place.

Some of the U.S. suppliers are no strangers to producing NASCAR-related merchandise. WinCraft, a licensee for the five big league sports, has supplied merchandise for Dale Earnhardt Inc. dating to 1993, said Hawk,
Charlotte Motor Speedway features American-made gear in its gift shop.
Photo by: JONATHAN COLEMAN / CMS (2)
DEI’s former president. For SMI Properties, WinCraft is producing bumper stickers, key chains, lanyards and shot glasses, among other items.

SMI President and COO Marcus Smith, who is also Charlotte Motor Speedway’s president and general manager, drove the initiative. It came out of the idea to put people back to work in America, Smith said.

North Carolina alone, the heart of NASCAR country, has seen its textile industry shrink over the years as vendors find less expensive options for outsourcing those jobs internationally, he said.

“We gave a challenge to our souvenir buyers and started with T-shirts recycled from old Coke bottles,” Smith said. “It wasn’t easy. It took a while to find these companies and to get the quality and pricing where it needs to be. It is more expensive for us, but it is better than it was.”

In general, producing and selling a T-shirt costs twice as much in the U.S. as it does in China, said Scott Cooper, a spokesman for Charlotte Motor Speedway.

SMI Properties has absorbed the additional expenses it pays American suppliers without passing those costs on to consumers, Hawk said.

In the long run, though, there are ways to cut costs by making adjustments for ordering merchandise, Smith said. The final expenses depend on the product, he said, but when buying overseas, SMI Properties must order large quantities a few months in advance to guarantee low prices and on-time delivery. In some cases, it means the group must order a shipment of 10,000 T-shirts a minimum of 90 days before an event, and officials have to clear warehouse space to store surplus inventory.

Through buying American, SMI Properties has the flexibility to order smaller quantities with less lead time and can quickly reorder items. Jensen Apparel, for example, a company based in Portsmouth, Va., has a T-shirt manufacturing plant in Albemarle, N.C., about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte Motor Speedway. SustainU, another T-shirt supplier, has headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., about 60 miles northeast of the track. As a result, SMI Properties can order 2,000 T-shirts three weeks ahead of race weekends for on-time delivery, Hawk said.

The graphic design and screen printing for the shirts is done at SMI Properties in Harrisburg, N.C., a short distance from the speedway. The finished shirts then get trucked to the gift shop and for the souvenir rigs on-site for events such as last weekend’s Bank of America 500 race.

SMI Properties officials would not release sales totals from the Coca-Cola 600 spring race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

> REAL DEAL: Get Real Sport Sales has expanded its role at Butler University to cover group ticket sales for the school’s basketball program.

Butler hired the company last year to outsource ticket sales. This year, the firm developed a new microsite, www.butlergroupsales.com. It provides a customized resource for individual members of a group attending a Butler game to purchase tickets at their discretion.

Get Real is calling groups in Indianapolis that may be interested in attending Butler games tied to special experiences such as singing the national anthem, high-fiving players as they enter the court and competing on the floor of historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.

For those groups deciding to buy, Get Real builds them a custom Web page through the site where each member of the group gets exclusive access with a password to purchase tickets.

The process reduces the legwork required of a group leader responsible for collecting money and keeping track of who’s buying tickets, said Jake Vernon, president of Get Real. Individual members instead make those decisions on their own time, Vernon said.

The company tested the process last year with Butler in its first season working with the school and sold 2,500 group tickets online.

“This year, there is a lot more content and it explains all the opportunities available,” Vernon said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.
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