Follow-Up File: Sports Warehouse hangs tough

Name: Mark Sczbecki

Job: Chief operations officer and co-owner

Business: Sports Warehouse Inc. What they said then:

In April 2008, Sports Warehouse Inc. was preparing to move into a Suburban Road building the San Luis Obispo company had purchased from Copelands Sports for $6 million, The Tribune reported.

The online sporting goods vendor was also opening a distribution warehouse and office in Germany.

“We consider the 20 million European tennis players a real market opportunity,” said Rick Kerpsack, vice president of new business development.

Owned by Drew Munster and Mark Sczbecki, Sports Warehouse manages global e-commerce for several individual retailers.

Starting with Tennis Warehouse and Racquetball Warehouse, it expanded to sell equipment and clothing for running, skating and fishing.

The pair owns a share in each individual company, while all employees work for Tennis Warehouse. One of the largest employers in the county, it had 220 workers in 2008.

The following year, Art’s Cyclery joined its retail complex when the companies partnered for online sales.

What he says now:

The move to Germany was bumpy, said Sczbecki. Settling in a town called Schutterwald, Sports Warehouse soon discovered the intricacies of selling in the European Union.

“It was a lot harder than we expected it to be,” Sczbecki said. “It’s much more complicated.”

For example, each European country maintains a different tax rate — and Web prices must include all sales taxes — so Sports Warehouse had to develop a unique Internet site for residents of each nation.

“We’re not losing money the way we were when we started,” Sczbecki added, declining to put a number on the investment in the German location. “The set-up costs were more than we expected. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The move was necessary to keep doing business on that continent, he added.

Responding to pressure from European distributors, some manufacturers, such as Nike, don’t allow American retailers to ship their products to Europe.

“Other companies are jumping on that band wagon,” Sczbecki said. “The exchange rate is favorable. We still ship some stuff from here.”

Overall sales growth has slowed over the past couple of years, but the companies’ annual sales are continuing to increase.

“People can still afford to buy a tennis racket,” he noted. “They may not go on vacation to play with it though.”

Tennis Warehouse’s workforce has grown to 400 people locally. With about 160,000 square feet, including the upper levels, Sports Warehouse has no plan to expand.

“It’s already getting a little snug,” said Sczbecki. But “I don’t think we’ll move from here. The facility is great from a retail standpoint.”