Downtown retailer reinvents the game
When a business turns 85 years old, as Reynolds & Sons Sporting Goods did this year, it can consider itself established. But to reach that upper stratosphere of longevity, a business has to change with the times — and even reinvent itself along the way.
The longstanding downtown retailer, which has always been located at 12 Monroe Center NW, opened in 1927 as Goebel & Brown Sporting Goods. The business became Reynolds & Brown in 1961 when Stephen Reynolds purchased the Goebel interest.
The Reynolds family then bought out Richard Brown in 1982 and the store became Reynolds & Sons. The sons were Jeff and Stephen II. Jeff purchased Stephen’s share in 1996 and has been the sole owner since then.
Jeff said he wasn’t sure if his store holds the title of downtown’s longest-running retailer operating in the same location.
“I have no idea,” he said with a hearty laugh.
When the store opened, and for decades afterward, it was a full-service sporting goods outlet that sold equipment and clothing for every popular sporting activity, like baseball, golf and tennis, and recorded most of its sales revenue from consumers who bought bats, clubs and rackets.
“Back when the business started out, sporting goods was sporting goods,” said Reynolds. “So we did hunting, fishing and all of that stuff. It was a true sporting goods store.”
But then big-box stores began selling many of the items on the shelves at Reynolds & Brown. Not too long after that change, niche sport shops began popping up that focused on a few popular outdoor activities like fishing and hunting.
So Reynolds & Sons began its reinvention by concentrating on team sales.
“Primarily what we do is team business, and that entails doing business with high schools, colleges, universities, Rocket football programs and Little League programs. So it’s not dependent solely on retail. It’s kind of a two-sided business,” Reynolds said.
Football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, volleyball, softball and soccer are the team sports the store services with equipment and uniforms. Reynolds & Sons has captured a pretty good share of its new niche. “Our numbers are more team than retail, by far,” Reynolds said.
He said the strength of his team sales is with Rocket football. Reynolds & Sons has earned a solid reputation for outfitting the young players at a time when parents and coaches are concerned that the equipment — especially the helmets — fit properly for safety’s sake.
About 10 years ago, Reynolds said the store began losing sales from walk-in customers in the market for sports equipment.
“People with kids are pretty much going to shop in their own geographical area. To me, they regional shop because it’s going to take five minutes to get to Dick’s (Sporting Goods). They run to Dick’s and go home. They’re not going to spend 20 minutes to travel to downtown, try to find a spot to park, and come in, shop and go home. That’s doesn’t happen anymore.”
That situation led to the store’s second reinvention. Reynolds said he decided to change his retail inventory from standard sporting goods items to urban clothing.
“To us, that’s a calling that we had being in a downtown, urban environment, and that’s where we’ve gone retail-wise. So it’s more of a lot of shoes — Nike and Jordan are probably our biggest brand names — and we have urban attire. So retail-wise when you walk in my door, you really wouldn’t be able to tell that we’re a team supplier,” he said.
The transformation has paid off. Reynolds said before the inventory change, about 80 percent of the store’s sales came from the team business and 20 percent came from retail. Since the change, retail sales account for 40 percent.
Interestingly, the store’s reinvention has come about without changing its Monroe Center location. Reynolds & Sons is situated a short block east of Division Avenue across from Monument Square, home to the city’s Civil War Monument, and about a block west of Veterans Park on East Fulton.
The store is also next door to what some have called a major downtown eyesore, the Kendall Building. The five-story structure has been vacant and boarded up for the better part of 40 years, according to one individual. But now 616 Development is getting ready to spend $4 million to renovate it — and that’s good news to Reynolds.
“I’m very enthusiastic about it, to have a tenant in there. The previous owner was not really conducive to working with the city at all. … The basement in the building next door goes out roughly 10 to 12 feet under the sidewalk and that area has decayed. So it’s been probably four to five years that a fence has been around that building because of the decaying sidewalk,” said Reynolds. “So I’m sitting here for four or five years with my neighbor having a fence around the front of the building. That’s a big eyesore.”
Reynolds also said he was excited that 616 Development plans to restore the Kendall to its original state, as much as possible. He said he spoke with the project manager and learned the firm has secured about 1,500 bricks that match the building.
“To restore something that is that old, to me, is a great feature to have. And with what they’re going to put into it, moneywise, to me it’s an expensive project, and that’s probably why a lot of people walked away,” he said. “I’m extremely happy that someone is going to move in there and fix that place up.”
As a bonus, the DDA plans to spruce up Monument Square and Veterans Park next year. Reynolds is serving on the advisory committee looking at both sites. “I think the restoration of both of those is going to be very nice,” he said.