Ken Hicks, CEO, Academy Sports + Outdoors

This content relates to : MARKETING INNOVATION.


An omni-channel presence is critical to success in today’s retail environment.

The success of brick-and-mortar stores can be facilitated by dot-com initiatives (e.g., buy online/pick-up in store.).

Dot-com initiatives should emphasize dot-com sites that are faster and have improved search capability,

Ken Hicks

Chairman, President, & CEO, Academy Sports + Outdoors

The Snyder Innovation Management Center presents the 2022 CEO series focusing on innovations in the retail sector in partnership with The Robin Report.

Ken Hicks:

A lot of the initiatives like the dot-com initiatives we put in, buy online and pick up in store, which took us several years to get that in place. But we’d just put that in before COVID and that was a game-changer, that made our dot-com business much more viable and it made it profitable. Then we put in curbside literally over a weekend, so people didn’t have to come into the store if they didn’t feel comfortable. And with the focus that we put in, our merchandising and our dot-com and our stores, we started to see good results and the customers reacted. We improved our dot-com site, made it faster, added content, we improved the search capability, many things that helped us over the 2 1/2 – 3 year period have positioned us for where we are.

By the way, during that time, we went public and you know we were the first retailer in about 2 years to go public and everybody’s going “You got to be kidding me, a retailer going public in the middle of COVID?”

And one of the things that we did as part of the strategy was to localize it. And so, I mentioned we had the Texas stuff up in Carolina; well now each market gets their own assortment and it’s really easy, unlike the team sports, so I know I put the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta, I put the Astros in Texas, I put the Kansas City, you know Royals or Chiefs, in Kansas City. That’s easy. But what kind of fishing bait do you put into a specific market? You have to know what the fish are. What kind of fuel do they use for barbecuing? Do they use pellet? Do they use wood? What kind of wood? Is it pecan? Is it oak? You know and all those things we now localize to the store and we become the local sporting goods stores for each of our markets, which is exciting.

Our omni-channel business was really, when I got here, it was a dot-com business and it was basically a clearance site. We got into the game late, we didn’t get into it until 2011 and we really ran just a pure transactional site to get rid of merchandise. We were not particularly good at it. It was very unprofitable and it was only about 4% of our business. And we put together, again, a strategy of what we were going to do over time to grow it and make it true omni-channel, connect it to the stores and to the dot-com.

So one of the things that we did that sounds a little bit counterintuitive is originally we were going out all across the country with trying to get people from outside of our area to buy on Academy. The problem with that was it was expensive to ship and, you know, people had no idea what Academy was. So we spend a lot, we literally on a Yeti tumbler, we spent a dollar per click for the tumbler with a 1% conversion. So we spend $100 to sell a Yeti tumbler, you know, nationally.

We said “We’re not going to do that. We’re going to focus in our markets and we’re going to be really good. We’re going to improve the site.” And so we improved the speed, you know, we were kind of like me when I was playing football. I was, you know, slow and small. We were slow. We had, you know, lousy presentation, bad search, bad navigation, we improved all of those. We didn’t have any content, put in content. We added, you know, we didn’t have Apple Pay. We didn’t connect to the stores, they would run, dot-com would run an event and the stores would run an event and they didn’t overlap and confused the customers. We didn’t have buy online/pick up in store. We didn’t have curbside, which was critical during the pandemic.

And we put all of those in place over time and we added things like ship to store, so if the store didn’t have a swimming pool or a particular treadmill, we could ship it from our distribution center to the store so you could pick it up. And we used the store, 75% of what we sell online is serviced from the stores. Twenty-five percent is shipped to home from the store. And 50% is buy online/pick up in store and that was a game-changer because that made it profitable. Because now the customer would order and a lot of our stuff is difficult and expensive to ship, a kayak, a treadmill. you know or swimming pool and the people in the market would come in and pick it up. And all of a sudden, we weren’t having to pay the freight, they were picking it up and it changed the whole economics and now our dot-com business …; literally was talking to some analysts and said “Think about this. Think about a $700 million business that grew 475% over the last 3 years, is profitable, you know. what would you value that business at? That’s our dot-com business and it’s now 10% of our overall sales, it continues to grow and we continue to make the investment in it. So we’re excited about the dot-com business and the growth as we are with the growth in our stores because and that’s a big opportunity.

Robin Lewis:

So where do you think it will balance out in the future? You’re 10% now, how high do you think it can go or you want it to go?

Ken Hicks:

I look at it, the customer will tell us. I’m not trying to force one or the other– Yeah. We are true omni-channel. As I said, most of the business is served from the store. The marketing supports the store, supports online. As we grow stores, we will grow online and we use online to speed the market and then once we’re there, more people in the market will use online. I think, ultimately, it’ll probably be in the 20s, maybe up to 30 but a lot of what we sell needs to be touched and felt. People want to hold the baseball bat. They want to see how sturdy that grill is. They want to test the treadmill. They want to feel the whip in the fishing rod. And so a lot of what we sell, people want to touch and feel. And I think that it’ll help keep the stores doing well and also the link to the dot-com because people want to reserve, they want to shop. They’re coming in very knowledgeable because they’ve done a lot of research online to know what it is that they want to look at.


Ken Hicks

Chairman, President, & CEO, Academy Sports + Outdoors