Member Perspective: United Sporting Companies Celebrates 80 Years of Growth

Member Company: United Sporting Companies d/b/a Jerry’s Sport Center, Inc. / Ellett Brothers
Location: Chapin, SC
Interviewee: Brad Johnson, Chairman, President  & CEO

NASGW wholesaler member United Sporting Companies is arguably our most diversified member. Recently we sat down with President/CEO and Chairman of the Board Brad Johnson and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Chuck Walker to discuss the USC 2013 business outlook.

InSIGHT: 2013 will mark Ellett Brothers 80th Anniversary as a wholesale distributor. Tell us a little about your company (number of employees, territory covered, and expansion with the purchase of Jerry’s, product lines and mix, etc.)

Johnson: Since 1933, Ellett Brothers has grown to market and distribute a broad line of products and accessories for hunting and shooting sports, marine, camping, archery, and other outdoor activities. Our product lines, which encompass over 60,000 SKU's, include firearms, reloading, marine electronics, trolling motors, optics, cutlery, archery equipment, ammunition, leather goods, camping equipment, sportsman gifts, and a variety of other outdoor sporting goods products.

A little known fact about Ellett Brothers is that there never were brothers in the business.  One of the two brothers decided not to be a part of the business after the signs and stationary were printed but the original name never changed.  Thus was born, Ellett Brothers.

Today the combination of Ellett Brothers, Jerry’s Sports Center, and Evans Sports is represented under the umbrella banner of United Sporting Companies.  Collectively, USC employs nearly 600 associates in 13 locations and has a national reach with its shooting sports and marine products.

InSight: What qualities would you consider a great customer to possess?

Johnson: We have an exceptional customer base that pays on time and is loyal to us. We believe that our company’s ability to offer a highly trained and knowledgeable sales force that can communicate with customers through telephone and more advanced methods, as well as provide firm dates of delivery has earned us their business and loyalty. Our customers are becoming more sophisticated and this has given us, as their distributor, an opportunity to set new goals that will meet and exceed their expectations. Great customers deserve great distribution partners.

InSight: How competitive do you feel the current market is compared to 5 years ago and how has it affected your business?

Johnson: The industry is becoming more and more competitive due to technological advancements in manufacturing processes, and IT based enhancements across the board.  As opposed to five years ago, many dealers now view and compare price points from as many as five different competitors at the same time using the internet to save time and money for their purchases.  Distributors must provide more accurate, timely information and service than ever before to meet the demand of our dealer partners. Our staff specialists are there to meet the needs of both our vendors and customers.

InSightYour dealer show in early January is one of the largest and most successful. What’s new (innovative) with this year’s show?

Johnson: That’s a trade secret!  You have to come to the show to find out!

InSight: How does your company stay viable and thrive during this period of constant change?

Johnson: Communication is the key.  USC is constantly in touch with vendors, rep groups and dealers.  We scour the market for data.  We analyze it, formulate and communicate an action plan, and then execute with excellence.  If we get it wrong, we are quick to make course corrections.

InSight: What do you believe to be the biggest challenges facing wholesale distributors in the sporting goods industry?

Johnson: Getting enough of the “hot products” is always a challenge.  That said, I worry more about the things we can’t directly influence such as industry detrimental legislation.

InSight: Do you feel that your communication with your manufacturer partners have improved or declined in recent years. If so, how?

Johnson: Manufacturers are getting better and communication has improved. Part of the challenge of the industry is that there is no concentration of manufacturing with many competing companies. We believe USC has always had good communication with our manufacturer partners.  However, I think more recently, we have improved the communication via more frequency and clarity of objectives.

InSight: United Sporting Companies makes extensive use of the internet and technology. How do you see the World Wide Web as part of your marketing and sales mix?

Johnson: This is a growing part of how businesses go to market with one another.  USC is no exception. We will continue to focus on and grow our use of web-based ordering which streamlines the ordering process for our dealers.  Of course, we will maintain our best in industry sales team and service models as well to facilitate those orders that need the personal touch.

Our vendors are becoming more sophisticated and are beginning to use EDI (Electronic Data Interchange). It is somewhat difficult to measure ROI with this technology but EDI is certainly effective, efficient, and reduces errors. Our warehouse and fulfillment process is completely bar coded and by using RFID tags we are able to successfully track, manage, and ship inventory more efficiently than ever before.

InSight: What do you think the shooting sports market will be in 2013?

Johnson: We are bullish on 2013 with continued growth. Companies that remain nimble and adapt despite potential legislation and regulation should continue to remain profitable and successful.

Thanks Brad. Brad Johnson can be reached at

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