The new pricing policies for top-end bats implemented by Easton Sports and Hillerich and Bradsby have given team dealers who have struggled to maintain profit margins breathing space but have attracted protests from catalog houses. The policies prohibit dealers from discounting Easton’s Redline C-Core and Hillerich and Bradley’s Air Attack bats more than 10% of their normal retail prices.
The bat pricing policies initiated by Easton and Hillerich & Bradsby appear to be an early success, but are not without their detractors.
Riverside, CA-based catalog Western Athletic has asked the Iowa state Department of Justice to investigate Easton, which came to last February’s Super Show armed with policies barring dealers from discounting top-end bats more than 10 percent off their SRP’s. H&B’s Louisville Slugger announced a similar policy at the same time.
The brands were reacting to widespread discounting on their top bat models from both catalog houses and big-box retailers, which were known to use these products as loss leaders – much to the chagrin of local team dealers and the manufacturers themselves.
But not everyone is happy with the new limitations. Western Athletic, which successfully sued Rawlings and buying groups TAG and ADA several years back for refusing to sell to them, said it will look to take on the manufacturers again.
“We intend to comply with the policy, but will try to fight it,” said John Lenertz, a manager at Western Athletic. “We don’t want to say anything other than that we disagree with the policy.”
Although both Louisville and Easton’s written policies state that each was enacted unilaterally, Western Athletic has called for an investigation of possible collusion between the two vendors, something both companies emphatically deny.
Meanwhile, the policies come as a life rope to team dealers struggling to maintain margins in the face of growing competition.
“The catalog sales are eating into our bat business like crazy now,” said Stan Nill, general manager of Nill Brothers in Kansas City, KS. “It kind of got to the point where nobody was making any money on softball fastpitch bats. Why somebody would sell a bat for $20 or $30 over cost is beyond me.”
He said the new policy makes sense, if it can be enforced.
“I think overall it’s going to be good for the bat business. If they maintain the integrity of that and have a way to police it, I think it will be fine. But I think it’s going to be more difficult to police than they think,” he said.
Both Louisville and Easton report that to this point they are not aware of any violations of the policy. But the policies cover just the top-end bats (the Redline C-Core bats from Easton and the Springsteel and Air Attack bats from Louisville), which just began shipping in recent months to select accounts. The real test will come in Spring ’98, when every big box and mail order service gets its first deliveries.
While no one claims to know how the new policies will play themselves out, the manufacturers steadfastly maintain that everyone will benefit in the long term.
“We feel the way the policy is written is going to create the greatest demand for our product,” said Bill Clark, national sales manager at Louisville Slugger. “We feel like whenever you enhance the brand equity of your product, you’re going to sell more bats.”