It was after winning the national championship with his traveling softball team in 1991 that Steve Crampton, president of Champion’s Choice, really hit a home run.
Then a general manager at Stavis Seafoods in Boston, Crampton, now 58, was approached by companies seeking sponsorships with his successful softball club. His friend, Gary Niland, said he should aim higher and enter the sporting goods business.
At first, Crampton was hesitant.
“I told him I’m not a salesman,” he remembered. “He replied, ‘You’re a people person.’ ”
That was all Crampton needed to hear. He started by selling sports apparel out of his home, but realized that in order for his business to grow, he needed to strike a deal with a big-name brand.
With that in mind, Crampton contacted Adidas, and following a dinner with then-New England representative Chris Masters, he was set.
In 1999 he opened Champion’s Choice, then a small retail business, in Wilmington, Mass., and connected with Reebok, which had an agreement with the National Football League. It rapidly grew.
“The success of the New England Patriots didn’t hurt with all of the hats and T-shirts,” Crampton said. “I was right by the train station, so after the Patriots won the Super Bowl on Sunday, I went out at 2 a.m. and picked up T-shirts and hats, and I had them at 6 a.m. at the train station for people going to work. They were going in on Monday wearing the gear before the other stores were open.”
Crampton eventually left the seafood industry to completely focus on Champion’s Choice, which has since become a major player on the sporting apparel scene, not only in New England, but also nationally.
Champion’s Choice has five-year agreements, some of which already have been extended with two additional five-year deals, with four Division 2 NE-10 institutions, many Division 3 schools, six Independent School League schools, other prep schools, Catholic high schools and select public schools, to provide uniforms, footwear, travel clothing and practice gear.
In 2007, Champion’s Choice became the largest-volume team provider in New England for Adidas, Reebok and Champion. It became a Three Stripe Dealer, Adidas’ highest team dealer designation, in 2009. Two years later, it was the largest team dealer in the United States.
Also in 2011, Crampton opened a new office, warehouse and manufacturing facility. Last month, he expanded again, this time to an 18,000-square-foot facility, and held a grand-opening party with several Adidas executives, including Masters.
“He was the first person to believe in me,” Crampton stated.
His relationship with Adidas has become so close that he can contact the company’s global vice president, Mark Daniels, with one phone call.
“I don’t think there are many dealers around that have that kind of access to senior management,” Crampton revealed. “They’ll do anything I ask and vice versa.”
What separates Champion’s Choice from its competition comes down to customer service and relationships.
Explained Crampton: “My business partner, Dan Hughes, is a big believer in, ‘You can’t be a farmer and a hunter.’ If you’re out hunting, then you’re not taking care of your farm. Our account reps are not sales people; they are account reps. Their only job is to take care of the few accounts that they have, to make sure our customers are happy with their customer service, and to get as much business out of those accounts. If you’re compensating your account reps for new business, they’re going to go after new business and are going to forget about their accounts.”
Crampton deflects all the credit for his company’s success to his employees. “Champion’s Choice is not me,” he asserted. “Champion’s Choice is not this big building. Champion’s Choice is the people who work here. Without them, we are nothing.”
Crampton is expecting his business to climb to higher levels after Adidas signed a seven-year deal with the National Hockey League in September 2015 to become the authentic outfitter of on-ice uniforms and a supplier of licensed apparel and headwear starting with the 2017-18 season.
“Hockey is one sport that kids want to wear what the pros wear,” he said. “I’m excited about it. It’s perfect timing moving into a new building. We are going to have a partnership with some youth programs, which we’ve never done before, and when you sign an agreement, you’ll get a stipend back from Adidas to outfit your coaches. It’s going to be huge.”
It’s yet another step for Crampton, who couldn’t be happier about his decision to enter the team sports arena.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Crampton concluded. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world. Both of my daughters work here. My grandkids run around the office. It’s a family business and it’s a lot of fun. It’s not work.”