New Sports Shop Caters To The Top 4 -- No More, No Less

Specialization Will Pay Off, Owners Hope

November 10, 1991|By Marie Westhaver | Marie Westhaver,Contributing writer

When Rick Loden decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of owning a golf shop, he found the store's course would be greener if it included soccer, baseball and lacrosse.

Loden personally visited all of thesporting goods stores in Howard and Baltimore counties to scope out the competition and see what sports needs weren't being met. The Sports Connection, opening Nov. 16 in the Columbia Marketplace, will offer merchandise for what may be the four most popular sports in Maryland: soccer, baseball and softball, lacrosse and golf.

In their extensive inventory, Loden and his wife, Margie, have stocked items uncommon in most sporting goods stores, such as officials' uniforms.

"For those four sports, we'll either have it or get it," Rick Loden said. "We can't carry everything. That's why we're the Sports Connection."

Two months ago, when Loden examined the store's 2,500-square-foot space, it still had holes in the walls.

"I knew when I did my first spackle that I had committed myself," he said.

The former insurance salesman isn't looking back. The Sports Connection now displays clothing and equipment and even includes a golf hitting net in the rear of the store. The net can be used for all four sports: for indoor golf practice as well as for trying out lacrosse sticks, soccer balls and baseball or softball bats.

"We want to have a family-oriented, service-oriented store," said Margie Loden. "Having had children who were in sports, we know what it's like to have to buy sports equipment."

With sons in middle school and college, the Lodens also are aware of the importance of part-time work for students. They will hire high school and college athletes knowledgeable about the sports equipment they'll be selling. They also hope to participate next year in Howard County's Partnership program and work withstudents interested in retailing.

Another aspect of the store's commitment to health and fitness is its participation in "Hooked on Sports, Not Drugs or Violence," a program sponsored by the National Sporting Goods Association. Athletes who participate in the program willbe eligible for store specials and discounts on merchandise.

Plans for the store's comprehensive service include coordinating soccer and lacrosse camps, golf club and lacrosse stick fitting and repair, ticket sales for Baltimore Blast and Baltimore Thunder games, and a travel agency tie-in allowing customers to plan sports vacations in thestore. The Lodens also plan to play sports videos in the store and provide a bulletin board for customers to post equipment to buy or sell.

The decision to specialize in lacrosse, soccer, golf, and baseball and softball was based on need and timing.

"Any sport is seasonal," Rick Loden said. "Once golf is out, Christmas is in. Then lacrosse begins after the first of the year, followed by golf and baseball, and then soccer." The Lodens included soccer equipment at the insistence of their 11-year-old son, Damien, who is a soccer enthusiast.

The Lodens' business involves the entire family. Rick's done "all the worrying," his mother designed the store logo, and his father built one of the tables. Margie stenciled the stripes and designs on the store walls, and 6-year-old Megan Loden helped arrange the appearanceof the Orioles Bird at the grand opening after meeting him at Dunkin' Donuts. Jason Loden is flying home from the University of North Carolina to work the cash register for the grand opening.

While the Sports Connection is a specialty shop, the Lodens will help customers find items for other sports. Rick Loden is quick to point out, though, that if they add other sports, it will be a complete line of goods.

"We don't want to have just a little bit of everything, or we'll lose the concept of what we want to do," he said.

However, the time he has spent getting the store ready to open has made him an informed sports equipment shopper.

"After eight months," he said, "I know exactly where to find anything you want."

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