Diane Mathis (l) and Donna Goodwin
Underdog Sports started out modestly enough as a home-based sales operation for custom screen printing and embroidery. Founded 15 years ago by Diane Mathis, who was later joined by her sister Donna Goodwin, the company always promoted the spirit of female athleticism.
But the creation of the edgy 'atta girl™ sports clothing and accessory line in 2000 was the catalyst for Strongpoint Inc., and what is now a thriving, multichannel business centered on empowering young women.
The 'atta girl™ concept had been developing for years in Mathis' mindand on napkins, the backs of envelopes and scraps of paper. However, it wasn't until both sisters had young daughters that the product line came to fruition.
"We'd shop for clothing and think, 'Why are we not seeing anything for female athletes?' It was kind of odd. There was all kinds of stuff out there for boys, but nothing for girls," Goodwin recalls. "Diane resurrected this stack of scraps with all these touchy, attitude-packed T-shirt designs specifically for female athletes. And we said, 'Well, we have these ideas, we own the screen printing and embroidery businesswhy not put these two things together?'"
Shortly after the first 'atta girl™ T-shirt was printed, Goodwin decided to try selling one on eBay on a lark.
"It literally was a whim," she laughs. "I had nothing to lose, so I put it on eBay and it sold. I was so surprised that, not only had someone found it, but they bought it. I decided to put up another one and it sold, too. And I thought, 'We may have something here.' So we put up all our designs and away it went."
On the ball
Volleyball is such a big sport for girls, yet it's sadly underrepresented in the traditional retail market
Since that time, eBay has become the company's main outlet, comprising 50 percent of revenue. But referrals from individual eBay sales have also been a boon for the Underdog Sports side of the business, which primarily fulfills bulk custom apparel orders for sports teams, organizations and school events.
The online sales model has proven to be highly efficient, with Mathis being located in New York and Goodwin in Ohio. Since finding success on eBay, the sisters have further expanded their Web presence to include storefronts on Café Press and Zazzle, where they can offer their 'atta girl™ designs on a wider array of productssuch as mouse pads, bumper stickers and coffee mugswithout having to carry inventory.
They tried operating an eBay Store as well, but it was too costly to maintain, they say. "Auctiva has been much more productive for us," Goodwin notes. "Not only do we pay a lot less in fees, but our listings look much more inviting."
She first learned of Auctiva through a girlfriend who's "an avid eBayer," Goodwin says. "I looked at her stuff, and it was very appealing. So we signed up and directed our Web domain there, and we've kept it there ever since.
"I love the eBay templates and the fact that the Auctiva Store has the look of a traditional Web site. And we can put up lots of pictures without fees," she adds. "And now I'm really excited because I can list things until I either close them or they sell, so that saves me having to relist things every seven days."
Goodwin declines to say what the business' annual revenue is, but says the 'atta girl™ message seems to resonate with a lot of peoplewith volleyball and softball designs being the two biggest sellers.
"Volleyball is such a big sport for girls, and that's what my daughter plays. Yet, when we walked into a local major sporting goods store last fall, we had a choice of two volleyballs. Not two stylestwo volleyballs in the whole store," Goodwin says. "And there was not a T-shirt to be had for her sport.
"It's sadly underrepresented in the traditional retail market," she laments.
We're trying to expand the company to recognize all those strong young women that are out there
Another T-shirt niche Goodwin hopes to develop is sign language designs. A former teacher of the deaf, Goodwin researched the sports apparel market and found that virtually every language was represented but sign. So in March, Strongpoint introduced a simple "Win" design for softball, which will be followed by similar offerings for volleyball, soccer, tennis and other sports if there's enough interest, she says.
Early this year, Goodwin took over Strongpoint's business operations, including graphic design, production and distribution, allowing Mathis to focus on developing the first of what they hope will become an annual "empowering expo" for women. The goal of the event, to be held in August, is to bring together business women, athletes, speakers and other inspirational female figures to recognize girls and young women for their academic, athletic and civic achievements.
"One of our initiatives for 2009 is to give the proverbial 'atta girl to girls around the country," Mathis says. "We feel it's important that businesses move beyond just selling products and making profit, and think about how we can give back and recognize younger kids for more than athletic excellence. We hope other businesses will pick up on that."
"Our products are still very sports-specific," Goodwin adds. "But we're trying to expand the company to recognize all those strong young women that are out there. And we have the perfect tie-in with 'atta girl™. It's a good play on words, and it fits well with our product and what we stand for as a company."