Marucci Sports has hired a former Louisville Slugger executive as head of big league player relations, a move the Baton Rouge company expects will allow it to make further inroads with professional baseball players.
Chuck Schupp, who retired from Louisville Slugger in 2014, is Marucci’s first in-clubhouse sales representative. He brings a unique understanding of the industry.
“A guy that’s got 35 years in the industry, with his relationships and his knowledge in the clubhouse, just really reinforces our position as the No. 1 bat at the big league level,” Marucci co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Kurt Ainsworth said.
Schupp’s hiring is the latest in a series of strategic steps Marucci has taken to expand its share of the sporting goods market. Others include adding executives and board members with expertise in growing companies and an injection of private equity.
The latest move comes less than a month after the sale of Louisville Slugger to Wilson Sporting Goods Co. Once the preferred brand of major leaguers, Louisville Slugger has struggled in recent years. Efforts to improve efficiency, such as making bats in China, didn’t always go smoothly. Two years ago, Louisville Slugger was forced to recall 6,200 of the bats made in China and then find a new banker after its longtime lender demanded higher interest rates and other restrictions because of the recall.
In the meantime, Marucci overtook the flailing brand as MLB players’ bat of choice. The company expanded its product line, adding nonwood bats, batting and fielding gloves, helmets, softball equipment, uniforms and other apparel.
“We’ll have 28 players in the big leagues using our glove on the field this year. … We expect to see a lot more placement in stores and retailers this upcoming year,” Ainsworth said.
Marucci’s products are in all 561 Dick’s Sporting Goods stores. They also are carried by some Sports Chalet and Hibbett Sports stores. The company is now going to Academy Sports, Sports Authority, and additional Sport Chalet and Hibbett stores, Ainsworth said.
By the end of the year, Marucci will add well over 1,000 stores to the list of those that carry its products, Ainsworth said. The company doesn’t plan to be in every one of the major chains’ stores but does want to be in the top locations for baseball-related sales.
The market for baseball/softball equipment — gloves, balls, bats and helmets — grew 5 percent to $593 million in 2013, according to the National Sporting Goods Associaton’s most recent figures.
Ainsworth said Marucci is exactly where it needs to be right now.
“With all the confusion in the market, it really does give us an opportunity to take more market share in these categories,” he said. “There’s been a lot of industry changes with sales and new leadership within our industry. We’re poised for some really big growth over the next two to five years.”
In the past, Marucci catered almost exclusively to the high end of the market in every category, from T-ball to professional baseball. Now the company plans to move into price ranges that hit more of the mass market.
“We’re not looking to go into the ‘Marts’ yet,” Ainsworth said. “We’re still looking to stay at the high end, but we are definitely lowering price points so that we can get to more players because we do want to be a big player in the sporting goods industry.”