February 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Scoring by breaking out of a niche

Sport Supply Group, which specializes in selling to schools, government agencies and youth sports leagues, is turning to Amazon.com and GSI Commerce to go beyond its 9-month niche and cash in on the lucrative fourth quarter by selling b2c.

Time was when a marketer catered to a b2b market or to a b2c market. The Internet has changed that. With common systems that can extend a marketer`s reach nationwide, the web makes moving from b2b to b2c easier than ever. Take Sport Supply Group Inc. as an example. A manufacturer and direct marketer of sports and recreation equipment ranging from basketballs to billiards tables, Sport Supply specializes in selling to institutions.

It also provides products and fulfillment services for about 50 catalog and online sporting goods dealers who cater to the same niche. It`s a solid business, but it`s mostly limited to nine months of the year.

Sport Supply also sells direct to consumers through its own eSportsonline.com, but now it is turning to Amazon.com Inc. and GSI Commerce Inc. to go beyond its 9-month niche and cash in on the lucrative fourth quarter. In the past year, Sport Supply has sold more than $1 million worth of merchandise in a marketing arrangement started a year ago with Amazon.com, COO Terry Babilla says. It`s hoping to extend that to GSI as well.

If consumers search for a sporting goods item on Amazon and choose a basketball listed from eSportsonline, for instance, the order is placed through Amazon`s shopping cart and passed to Sport Supply for fulfillment.

The tactic builds incremental revenue without adding costs, Babilla says, adding that using Amazon and GSI means Sport Supply doesn`t have to invest in new consumer databases or marketing campaigns. For the six months ended Sept. 30, 2004, Sport Supply`s revenue rose 7.5% to $3.39 million over the year-earlier period. Operating income rose more than tenfold to $2.4 million from $224,000. Sport Supply Group is owned 53% by Emerson Radio Corp.

Expecting to build on its success with Amazon, Dallas-based Sport Supply last month said it will use GSI to sell through several of GSI`s online retailer partners, including Dick`s Sporting Goods.

"This seasonality complements our core business of institutional sporting goods sales, which are traditionally softer in the December quarter," says chairman and CEO Geoffrey P. Jurick.

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