America is obsessed with sports, both in terms of watching professional sports and playing sports themselves from childhood to adulthood. And just about any sport you can think of requires some amount of specific equipment or apparel. Entrepreneurs who want to score big with a proven franchise concept have three solid options that deserve a closer look on this list of the top three sports equipment and apparel franchises.
What’s striking about this list compared to many of the others we’ve presented is how different the three companies are. Each one serves a different niche market from the others. Play it Again Sports is a place to buy and sell used sports equipment, Fleet Feet is for running shoes and related products, and Destination Athlete has an extensive offering of products and services geared specifically to local youth and high school athletes and teams.
The combined categories of sporting goods and fitness equipment, sports apparel, athletic footwear, and licensed products make a market currently worth nearly $88 billion, and one that continues to grow at a modest pace.
Here are our picks for the best sports equipment and apparel franchises of 2018:
1. Play It Again Sports
Play It Again Sports has been offering customers a place to both buy and sell used sporting and fitness equipment since 1983. Families with growing children know all too well how quickly kids outgrow equipment, sometimes even during a season. Many of them would prefer to buy gently-used equipment rather than brand new every time, and like having a place where they can sell what they need to replace.
The chain is part of the Winmark Corporation (formerly Grow Biz), which has made a name for itself in the niche of reselling high-quality used items. Winmark’s other franchise brands are Once Upon A Child, Plato’s Closet, Music Go Round, and Style Encore.
The mix of items in each store really depends on what sports are popular in the community. Customers have the option to sell their equipment outright for cash, trade it in towards other equipment, or sell via consignment for higher-end items.
This company currently ranks #247 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1983 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations has leveled off in recent years after a steady decline from 2008-2014 and currently stands at 290, all of which are in the U.S. and 34 of which are company-owned.
2. Fleet Feet
Fleet Feet serves the niche market of running shoes, apparel, and gear. It was founded by best friends Sally Edwards and Elizabeth Jansen when they established the first store in Sacramento, California back in 1976 – a pretty gutsy move for two 28-year-old women given that running was a man’s world back in those days. People loved their store, so they opened a second and soon people were asking how they could open and own their own Fleet Feet store.
Fleet Feet is known for taking accurate foot measurements and conducting gait analysis to make sure customers end up with the right running shoe and a good fit.
The company just rolled out a brand refresh that includes dropping “sports” from the name and a new logo that inserts a stylized torch symbol between “Fleet” and “Feet.” Individual stores have the freedom to add their city or town name where “sports” used to be for better local marketing and PR.
This company currently ranks #90 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1976 and franchising since 1978, the number of locations has grown in recent years to the current total of 171, all of which are in the U.S. and 34 of which are company-owned.
3. Destination Athlete
Destination Athlete has developed a unique concept that specifically serves a community’s youth and high school athletes with a broad range of products and services, including sports and field equipment, uniforms, spirit wear, varsity jackets, and fundraising solutions.
In addition, its performance platform called Complete Athlete 360 offers customizable guidance and resources for the leadership, mental, educational, and wellness facets of development. Destination Athlete provides a single bundled service geared towards teams, coaches, administrators, athletic department professionals, and corporations.
The comprehensive approach the chain is taking from “training to trophies” in support of local youth athletes and sports teams is one that appears to be catching on, especially when local coaches don’t have a breadth of expertise that spans areas such as sports psychology, reward and recognition, sports nutrition, sports medicine, and training.
This company currently ranks #304 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 2008 and franchising since that same year, the number of locations has started moving up rapidly in the last two years and currently stands at 41, none of which are company-owned and all of which are in the U.S.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.