Survival During Covid-19: An Interview with American-Made SportPort Activewear Company
From its beginning and knowing the costs to do business would be higher than for other competitive brands, SportPort™ has always kept its design and manufacturing of sportswear products Made-in-the-USA. Quality, control and support has always been important to Kim Highfield, the owner and CEO of SportPort.
When Covid-19 hit and businesses closed and many lost their jobs, the sportswear industry took a big hit financially. Kim made a very conscious and active decision to be different from the others. She would keep paying her employees and find ways to keep the internal business going as best and as safely as she could while everyone awaited, and still awaits, any kind of normal reopening and even if external sales might go to nothing.
This is our interview with her to discover how her small-business has been surviving during the unprecedented times of Covid-19.
Interview date: May 20, 2020
Q: We know that SportPort is small women’s activewear company based in North Carolina. Can you tell us a little bit about what your company did at the beginning of the entry of Covid-19 to the US?
Kim: While SportPort has its goal to sell our sportswear, health and safety plays a major role in why we exist at all. Our marketers and researchers are really good at being on top of health and safety-related news and so they were able to alert us to the severity of what was coming to the US and even before any of the States closed businesses or issued stay-at-home orders.
Q: So what did you do or how did you set up shop at home for your business and employees?
Kim: When I first started my sportswear company, I wanted two things to happen, one was to manufacture and sell our products only in the United States. To me that meant creating a work team that was also USA-based. The other thing was to find really good people to work with me, experts in their fields, and not only look within my own State of North Carolina. So, our SportPort team is actually found in many locations East to West coast of the USA. It has allowed me the opportunity to create a truly expert group of individuals working for me and for the business.
Q: We know that the Coronavirus caused a huge financial blow to many. Especially affecting consumers and how they are buying during these times. Can you tell us more about those affects in the sportswear vertical?
Kim: Oh yes, the virus affected every sportswear brand at every level, big or small, well-known or not, US-based or globally. While we know many of our customers have been living in their yoga pants since day one, they simply stopped buying new ones. Everyone seemed to stop spending on clothing and that’s still continuing at present. We were doing the same. Our team is comprised of women-only and we all love shopping but, every single one of us stopped buying new clothes ourselves. We believe its temporary but expected. It wasn’t a shock to see our sales go down drastically as we expected it.
Q: So, how is your business sustainable during these current times?
Kim: Having a strong team is key to any company’s success, especially during this time. And our responsive reaction to Covid-19 is just another example of this. Since the virus hit America, we have been pivoting and changing our business strategy to weather the storm. We have several virtual meetings per day, seven days a week, to discuss how and what we should do to keep the business going and pivot as needed. We also decided to reduce pricing to wholesale because we wanted to make things manageable price-wise as best we could.
Q: What was your pivoting strategy?
Kim: We have been good at always addressing our core and looking at what people have found helpful from our business. We have survived because we go beyond a focus on sales and have always looked to offering information of interest and importance around health and wellness for women. Not only will you see our Blog posts with truly current news, but also with up-to-date ideas for health and exercise routines that people want now and use now and actually find useful.
One of the things we noticed early on during the Covid-19 stay-at-home requirements is that so many were turning to virtual live or YouTube exercise routines to help stay in shape. Even for us, we noticed a problem and that was finding fun, interesting or specific sport-related online at-home training options, especially if you had no equipment. With our team alone, we have competitive runners, avid gym-goers, yoga fanatics, a world champion fencer, and a new mom complaining about her post pregnancy body. So, we created a clever all-in-one-place calendar where anyone with any ability or interest could more easily see and find a variety of exercise routines, including basic core or upper and lower body exercise sessions, Tai-Chi, mindful Meditation focused ones, fun and funky dance routines, HIIT routines. And our calendar setup is much easier to scan through than individual searches on YouTube or trying to find who or when a next Live event was taking place in your own time zone. We also focused on finding full routines of various lengths and only free ones too. It’s been tremendously useful and used and shared by many. For us, it’s helped with substantial growth in our Brand Awareness.
Finding and giving information that is useful and we need too has helped other women around our brand to participate with our brand. We love it when we are all engaged!
Q: Was it just focusing on looking what people needed for new information or is there anything else you are doing now too?
Kim: The other aspect that has brought us the most in actual sales during this time is that so many more people located in the United States are wanting to now buy from USA suppliers and manufacturers. It seems to be a trust issue along with knowing that their product doesn’t have to travel far or through a lot of different hands.
We have always been hugely supportive of USA-made and kept our focus that way because of overall quality, control and higher standards but it’s been more apparent to us that others appreciate that support from us too and now, more than ever. This has served as a strong reminder as to why we don’t want to move things to a farther or cheaper place for our manufacturing.
Q: Good point. Has anything changed as far as how your warehouse runs or your shipping process?
Kim: Our warehouse is locally run and operated, so we are always talking to them about conditions for safety and processing. We are working with things now to consider changing how we have packaged and stored our products before Covid. We are reviewing antimicrobial packaging options for our new products. Things continue to change and we aren’t afraid of change. So, expect there’s more to come in what we are doing and planning to do at SportPort.
Q: Good to know. Are there any other things going on at SportPort that you can share with us now?
Kim: Well, a couple of things. We are continuing to expand our line of athletic wear with the inclusion of our patented phone pocket designed into not only our sportswear bras and tank tops but in our leggings and yoga pants and also preparing to come out with a fitted athletic jacket that will have our EMF protective phone pockets too. And, to go with your sportswear, we are about to release matching neck gaiters and buffs to help with any State-wide mask requirements we might have for a while. Those are all coming soon!
Q: Thank you for your time today in answering how you are surviving the times. Where can we get more information about SportPort?
Kim: Of course on our website at https://sportportactive.com. You can contact us from there or off our social media sites too. We love to hear from our customers and happy to help you find or fit into what you need. We’ll answer any questions you have.