Crowds gather to watch all manner of things race to a finish line. Who will win? At the following car and horse racing venues, it could be said that resident retailers share in the glory when eager fans line up to buy licensed merchandise. Read on as proprietors in different locales share what they’ve learned to keep pace in their businesses.
Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., is nirvana for motorsports enthusiasts. Home of the iconic Daytona 500, the most prestigious race in NASCAR and countless other motorsport events, fans flock to the destination to tour the track, visit the museum or perhaps attend a race. When fans visit the Pit Shop at Daytona, very often they experience an emotional connection, said Dan Petty, senior vice president of Merchandise and Retail Operations with Legends Global Merchandise. The latter is the parent company of MainGate, whom Daytona International Speedways works with on merchandise. “Oftentimes fans are utilizing their vacation time thus creating that emotional connection. Much of our merchandise assortment ties into that connection as a proud display of their time here and a reminder of those memories,” Petty said. Hats and T-shirts are the largest selling categories inside the newly remodeled Pit Shop. The approximately 4,000-square-foot space also does a brisk business in personalized Daytona International Speedway novelties such as key chains and coffee mugs.
Pit Shop sales increase when races are pending. “As an upcoming race gets closer, the fans buy more of the event merchandise, with race weekends posting huge sales,” said Petty. Daytona Speedweeks in February serve as a perfect illustration. “Speedweeks account for a quarter of the annual sales,” said Petty. To keep offerings fresh, the merchandising division shops trends in the general market while working with its licensees. “For example, novelty footwear is really hot right now. We’ve incorporated a number of styles of socks plus flip flops for this year.” When crowds surge on busy event days, it is important to make the shopping experience as efficient as possible for customers. The Pit Shop strives to keep all displays neat and organized so fans have an easier time shopping for what they want. Sizing consistency is also key. “Having each style sized in the same manner helps to quickly find the correct one.” That’s a boon to shoppers as well as sales staff who may be assisting them.
Inside the Los Alamitos Gift Shop at Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress, Calif., approximately 80% of merchandise pertains to product development, according to Retail Operations Manager Sheri Sakadane. The three top-selling categories are men’s ball caps, men’s outer wear and men’s fleece jackets. By outer wear, Sakadane is referring to warm jackets – some styles even featuring down – which may seem counterintuitive given the venue’s Southern California setting. “Some of our patrons are up at four in the morning with their horses and no matter where they are, it’s cold – especially during the winter months!” she explained. The 1,300-square-foot retail space caters to patrons who come to view the races regularly, horse owners who arrive from all over as well as the general tourism industry.
The Los Alamitos Race Course features live horse racing every weekend. “The gift shop experiences the best of both worlds because there are futurity races, derbies, trials and handicaps all year round. Those events drive traffic but we also benefit from the basic seasonality of retail,” Sakadane said. Her fourth quarter earnings get an extra boost from a huge horse sale that occurs at Los Alamitos in October. “People come from all over the world to buy horses because our track owner is a renowned breeder. Then we have a huge race in December called Champion of Champions,” she added. Combine these events with the typical fourth quarter holiday shopping activity most retailers experience – the Los Alamitos Gift Shop is no exception – and it all adds up to a very busy period!
In terms of finding merchandise, Sakadane’s first order of business is to find good basic vendors. Criteria she considers includes the body of their product, the colors, quality, and price/quality ratio. When these meet her standards, then Sakadane seeks local partners to enhance the product to ensure fast turnaround. A fashion retail background has taught her to watch trends. “When Fashion Week occurs in New York and in Europe, I’m looking at designers like Burberry and Gucci and noting what colors they’re favoring. What kind of bodies are they doing? Because then I can translate that over into our business.” She also travels to fashion marts and shows in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and is a particular fan of the Impressions Expo, a decorated apparel trade show and conference in Long Beach, Calif. As for display, color is the driving force inside the Los Alamitos Gift Shop. Sakadane picks out color schemes for her presentation areas and buys across assortments and categories. “Shoppers are only going to buy one jacket,” she advised. “But if you have a jacket, a tee, a riding crop, goggles and other items fitting a color presentation, you can get four or five units per transaction because they’re going to buy one of each of those things.”
Event T-shirts and hats are best sellers inside Speedway World Gift Shop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nev. The 5,000-square-foot store’s most profitable months of the year center around its NASCAR events, according to Director of Merchandising Stacy Strawn. He credits his Sourcing and Merchandising team for doing a great job hunting down new products and ideas. ‘We’re always on the lookout for new trends. We attend trade shows when our schedules allow and meet with multiple sales reps throughout the year.” Display-wise, Speedway World Gift Shop highlights their most recent product discoveries and current event-related items by placing them at the front of the store. “Folks can’t miss the displays as they walk plus we always list the items on our website and other social media,” he concluded.
In addition to being an American auto racing sanctioning body, NASCAR owns 16 of the nation’s major motorsports entertainment facilities including the aforementioned Daytona International Speedway. Other properties include Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Va., and Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Ala. The shopping footprint at each venue varies depending on track layout and space available. Brick and mortar establishments are frequently augmented by NASCAR pop-up shops especially during big racing events. NASCAR has a unique display setup with iconic haulers mirroring the same vehicles that carry fans’ favorite drivers’ actual race cars to events. Product visibility is just as important as availability, according to Paul Sparrow, NASCAR’s managing director of Licensing and Consumer Products. “Each purchase is an emotional one for fans, regardless of the shop set up, and we strive to ensure the display reaches customers where they are.”
Lionel die-casts, apparel and video games are NASCAR’s top-selling merchandise items each year. “Our iconic Lionel die-casts are some of our fans’ most prized souvenirs,” Sparrow said. These small-scale car replicas come in a variety of styles and price points, some of which appear identical to a race car in the victory lane – confetti, dents and all – and are meant for display. Others are more youth-oriented and intended for racing around a homemade track. “Many fans hope to get their die-casts autographed,” he added.
Specific events can make NASCAR sales jump. “Fans are eager to purchase the latest driver and event product each season, so whether a driver swaps teams or welcomes a new sponsor, updated seasonal releases always drive sales,” Sparrow said. On-track performance is also a huge sales indicator. “Race wins and spectacular passes drive sales, especially if it’s a milestone moment for a driver. We see spikes in sales the weeks following a driver’s first win, and we work with our merchandising partners to react to those storylines to ensure we have the best selection of products at a variety of price points to meet increased demand.” And then there are seasonal spikes. “Sales around toys, like our Adventure Force Crash Racers, and collectibles like die-casts and trading cards surge heading into the holiday season.” NASCAR collaborates with its licensees to identify new product trends to offer fans. The organization attends some of the top domestic and international product shows to introduce the NASCAR brand to potential licensees and to capitalize on trends for casual and avid sports fans as well as the next generation of NASCAR fans. “Most people don’t grow up ‘playing NASCAR’ in the back yard like a traditional stick-and-ball sport, so gifts and souvenirs are an important touchpoint for fans and oftentimes the most tangible way for fans to relive their NASCAR experiences,” Sparrow concluded.