Purchasing sports equipment can be expensive, and for people playing multiple sports, or children wanting to try new activities, costs can rack up very quickly. This is where Play It Again Sports, the largest sporting goods resale franchise in North America, steps in. The retail brand buys, sells, and trades new and used sports equipment and fitness gear, and the customer reaps the savings. It’s a win-win for the entire family and the community.


We spoke with Harold Gaston, owner of Play It Again Sports in Kimco’s Crossroads Plaza in Cary, North Carolina, to hear more about the retailer’s unique business model and how the Cary store is gearing up for the busy spring sports season.

Could you tell us about Play It Again Sports and walk us through the reuse, recycle, replay concept?

Harold Gaston: We are a branch of a national brand with about 300 stores in the system. The store that’s in the Cary Crossroads Plaza has just surpassed its 20th year in business. It’s been a successful business. We serve the community primarily in team sports like hockey, lacrosse, and baseball, but we also have additional categories, including fitness and soccer. We offer a value-conscious opportunity for our customers to come into our business and purchase equipment with cash or by trading in their used equipment. So if they want to purchase something new, they can bring in something used and trade it in, and then we resell their used equipment to another individual looking to purchase used equipment.

We do about 10 percent of our business in the year’s new gear from all the name brands including Easton, Bauer, Sher-wood, Warrior Sports, STX, Louisville Slugger, and more. In total we have about 50 vendors, all the majors. Another 30 percent of our business is in new equipment, but it’s closeouts, so we go to the same vendors, and we purchase their older equipment that’s still brand new, and we offer it to our clients at a price that might be 25 to 35 percent lower than what it was the first time it was placed in a traditional retail store. And then the remainder of our business, we try to shoot for about half, would be in the used business, and that’s the recycling of the customer’s older gear.

What’s your title and role at the Crossroads location?

Gaston: I’m the owner of that business. I’m an off-premise operator. Matthew Sawyer’s been the manager of the business for eight or nine years and he’s a partner of mine. He runs the store’s floor operations and we do the paperwork, billing, payrolls, taxes, and rents from our home office.

How did you get involved with Play It Again Sports?

Gaston: I was in Michigan originally and my friend had a Play It Again Sports store in Kalamazoo about 23 or 24 years ago, and he invited me down to take a look at his business and I found it intriguing. I did a demographic analysis to try to figure out where a location would be successful and Cary, North Carolina showed up as that sort of a location. The area is family-oriented, there are three universities nearby, and a lot of team affiliation. So I moved from Michigan down to North Carolina specifically to open that store. For twenty years I worked the floor of the store myself and then just this last year, about six months ago, I pulled off the floor and turned it over to Matthew.

How does the store gear up for the busy spring sports season?

Gaston: Usually, we do a complete store turn around. Right now we have winter gear in the store. We’re one of the larger winter category businesses in North Carolina—there’s not a lot of ski shops and snow board shops in the area, so we do transition. About November 15, we bring in a lot of winter gear, and then right around now, we take all that out, recycle it, and bring in lacrosse and baseball gear primarily. We might go to a buying show in the fall and purchase something, set a receiving date that will be somewhere in the March-April timeframe, and the goods will show up because they’ve been previously ordered and scheduled. And then we’re continually buying used equipment from the clients. What happens in the spring is everybody has a little bit of cabin fever, so they clean their garages out. Around this time of year, we have an influx of used gear coming in because it’s a fresh start for the year and everybody wants to go through their inventories and decide if it’s going to be the sort of equipment that will work for them this year.

How can customers sell their gear at your shop?

Gaston: We offer a cash value and a trade value on the equipment. Generally speaking, if somebody wants to just sell the gear outright, we’ll offer them about 40 percent of what we’re going to sell it for. And if they want to do a trade with us, we offer them about 50 to 55 percent of the selling price as long as they spend the money on another purchase in store. That’s about right with normal margins of regular stores as well. Most stores operate in about a 50-point margin.

Is there any type of equipment that tends to be more sought after by buyers?

Gaston: Some of the equipment that people are looking for regularly are used hexagon dumbbells, for instance. They’re expensive and they’re sold by the pound, and at the traditional retail stores they might be $1.20 a pound. We might be able to sell some used ones for 50 cents a pound. And nothing really changes with the equipment—a used dumbbell is the same as a new dumbbell. In the team sports area, a lot of the youth who come in are just starting in a sport. The parents don’t want to spend the hundreds of dollars that it would normally cost, especially in the expensive sports like lacrosse and hockey, and in that case, there’s always a demand for high-quality used team sports equipment.

How do you determine whether the equipment is sellable or not?

Gaston: We have to make sure that we screen all items. Helmets have been a big deal recently with concussions occurring so often, and so they have to be certified, and we always make sure the equipment is safe when we resell it. We can’t take in things that are broken. We want it to be able to be used almost as if it’s brand new. A baseball glove through the years doesn’t really lose its ability of use. We’ll screen that but for items that are damaged, we’ll decline to purchase from the customer.

How do you promote your store in the local area?

Gaston: We do a lot of direct mail, and some radio. There are three stores that are in the Triangle so we try to do a cooperative with them when we do radio. Some of it is print as well. There’s a store in North Raleigh and there’s a store in Durham, and then our store in Cary, and the three of us together often co-advertise.

Do you ever work with any other sports stores, other than Play It Again, in the area?

Gaston: Oftentimes a store will be overloaded in a particular category or sometimes they go out of business, and they’ll call us to come in and bid on what’s remaining in their stock. So we do receive equipment from some local stores.

Do you ever hold any special events at your store or within the community?

Gaston: We do sponsor a few events in the community. In downtown Cary, on the day after Thanksgiving, there’s always a disc golf tournament and we will provide the discs. There are also possibilities of having vendors come in to explain the equipment to the clients. It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while, someone like the Bauer rep will come in to the store and talk about their line of hockey equipment. We also sponsor one of the community baseball teams where the players wear a Play It Again Sports t-shirt which is provided by our funding. We pay money directly to the city of Cary for them to be able to run their leagues.

Do you have any advice for other retail franchise professionals?

Gaston: Persevere would be the number one word. Life is challenging in all categories. No matter what profession you pick, there’s going to be challenges in front of you, and that holds true for small business as well. Often it takes some time to get up and running, so I would advise being very well capitalized and making sure you don’t go in underfunded. Just try to be current. Find a business that you really feel has a need in the community, something that’s maybe underrepresented.

I also fully believe in the franchise system. I have done other businesses in the past that I’ve created myself and they haven’t worked out as well as the franchise stores that I’ve been involved in. So for a person who is kind of a quasi-entrepreneur, not solely an entrepreneur, and who comes up with fun ideas but doesn’t want to be his/her own boss, my advice would be to go into the franchise system where someone else has done a lot of the leg work for you.

Interested in franchising? Visit our FastTRACK Franchise page to see how Kimco can help you find space to either launch or expand your growing business.

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.