Strategies - The Pros of Polos

How To Sell The Latest Styles In Polo Shirts

PoloThe ongoing evolution of the polo presents the salesperson with some happy conundrums. Quantum leaps in fabric blends and performance features combined with the cooling off of cotton prices have produced a glut of options for the polo-curious buyer, options a distributor needs to make sense of in order to close the sale.

"Right now I see polos as the best value for promoting your company from an apparel standpoint," says Tom Flippo, senior vice president for Dunbrooke Apparel (asi/50930). But identifying the value of polos is the easy part. More challenging are all the new demands such abundance places on the salesperson's shoulders. "The entire industry is smarter today and is constantly looking for the intelligence to answer the question, ‘What's new?,'" says Spencer Linwood, national sales manager for Counselor Top 40 supplier Ash City (asi/37143). Familiarity with the vast array of performance features available is the crucial ingredient to answering that question and properly tailoring your pitch for success.

"Comfort features such as moisture-management and antimicrobial properties continue to be the gold standard for polos," says Vanessa Keefe, director of marketing at Charles River Apparel (asi/44620). Joy Shi, marketing manager at Counselor Top 40 supplier Tri-Mountain (asi/92125), agrees: "The emphasis continues to be on fabrics with a functional benefit and fabrics that are easy to care for. We see growth across the board in any design that can offer style and functionality."

Consequently, it makes sense to flaunt these qualities, but don't let the wealth of options lure you into offering the wrong shirt to the wrong client. "There are many new blends and features – all have their own attributes," says Linwood. "Asking questions in a solutions-based selling environment is the key: Who is wearing the polo, where is the event, what conditions, etc.?"

Flippo cautions against making assumptions about what the client wants. "If your salespeople cram these performance fabrics down someone's throat who really wants cotton – and vice versa – you're not going to make the sale." And those cotton die-hards are still out there, delighting in the long-anticipated drop in cotton prices and yearning for the "fine-gauge Egyptian cottons and luxurious ringspun cotton shirts" that Jamie Wallis, assistant marketing manager for Hanesbrands, Inc. (asi/59528), enthuses over.

All of this bounty highlights a larger issue, what Flippo calls "the most important thing for salespeople" – namely, qualifying clients to learn exactly what they need. "If the salespeople qualify the customer properly, they will make the sale," he says. The increasing number of sought-after features – UV protection, snag resistance, new blends, extended sizes – only makes this consideration more imperative.

For clients looking to complete a uniform program, Shi recommends "durability and ease of care – something that can be washed often and still come out looking sharp without requiring much touch-up." But for corporate or executive end-users, though durability and performance always win client approval, "style and sophistication rule the day," Shi says. And Flippo observes how improved styling is widening the appeal of performance polos: "Corporate guys wear these shirts golfing on the weekend, and next thing you know, they're tucking them into their khakis and wearing them to work."

Quality Sells
One happy result of the robust polo market is that the quality of the garments can do some of the selling for you. "The key," says Keefe, "is to show a customer how well-made a polo is and point out the added features." Linwood encourages the same approach: "Get the garment into the hands of the buyer. Many decision-makers are firmly convinced when they actually touch and feel a garment."

You may want to forgo the old good/better/best approach, too, thanks to the downward pressure on prices caused by the slack economy and the increase in quality merchandise. "The price points have come down and now we're getting mid-tier quality at the low price point pricing," Flippo says.

And with those price points at a comfortable level, Tri-Mountain's Shi advises making the ROI the basis of your polo pitch. "Corporate clients see all forms of apparel on a daily basis," she says, "so it's important to take the focus off price and sell value. A high-end polo is going to be worn for years and generate far more impressions than a price-point driven polo."

Keefe agrees: "Explain how the quality of the garment will correlate to the perceptions of their brand. No one wants an inferior polo to reflect on his or her company's brand image." With all the innovation the polo market has to offer, pitching an "inferior" shirt should be next to impossible.