Profile - How We Won an Olympic License

Preparation And Research Made The Difference

Will AndrewWhen Trimark Sportswear (asi/92122) made its pitch to become a licensee for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, its leadership team knew there were both opportunities and challenges ahead. "We did a lot of preparation," says Will Andrew, president of Trimark. "We researched previous Olympic Games and reached out to various partners to understand the landscape and the risks."

Competing against major Canadian brands, like Roots, Trimark seemed like an underdog. But, the industry supplier not only won a license, it parlayed its gains into even greater business. How did Trimark do it? Keep reading for the answer.

Q: What were the first steps you took to win the license?
A: We went to extra efforts to understand our client, the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee. While every Olympics are different, largely because they're set in different times and economic conditions, there is still a lot to learn from previous Games. The International Olympic Committee does an outstanding job of collecting facts and figures so others can learn from past successes and failures. Like many businesses, they too have challenges and had a continuously changing set of criteria for them to be successful.

Q: So what did you learn that helped you earn the deal?
A: The Olympic landscape is largely dominated by the top sponsors, then national sponsors, and then the organizing committee itself. The licensees are generally at the bottom of the hierarchy, and it was important that we recognized that. Specifically, we knew they wanted the Games to highlight Canadians, and we focused our materials on our Canadian heritage. We also used past Olympians in our photo shoots to highlight our sports heritage.

Q: After you won the license, how did you plan for inventory, shipping and quality control?
A: We spent 97% of our Olympic journey course correcting. We learned quickly we needed to be hands-on at all times and communicate frequently to all areas of the business. The numbers were our only source of accurate data, and time was almost always against us. We held regular meetings to re-forecast the inventory and sales pipeline. During the Games, these meetings were held twice daily.

Q: What items were you able to produce and where did you sell them?
A: We held the activewear license, which allowed us to design, manufacture and sell everything from tech tees to outerwear. We later added, through an acquisition, the rights to headwear. We grew to the largest licensee by product category and shortly thereafter, the largest by revenues. We sold at all major and independent retailers across Canada, online, at in-venue sites and at the Olympic Super Store within HBC.

Q: Did you make a profit?
A: Many Olympic licensees don't succeed because they are undercapitalized. We were able to leverage our size and operational capabilities in such a manner that we were successful and came out profitable. We also had additional management talent, which allowed us to be nimble and avoid distraction from our core business.

Q: What mistakes did you make?
A: We made numerous mistakes, and we had to learn from them as fast as possible. We learned to have frequent daily huddles to revisit our key metrics and determine the best strategy to recover from errors, or from new circumstances we had not predicted. Over the course of four years, we focused on our minimum royalty guarantee, then our inventory position, and lastly our credit exposure.

Q: What business opportunities did the Olympic license lead to for Trimark?
A: The Olympic license was our first license and allowed us to understand that landscape very well. Subsequently, we leveraged the Olympic license by securing a business-to-business license with Roots in Canada. Shortly after that, we secured the license for Puma in the U.S. – again, for B-to-B. Our Olympic experience also led to an ongoing expansion into resort retail and other event retail opportunities.