Tanners Team Sports gets into pickleball
Not only is Hot Springs home to naturally heated springs and many other attractions, it’s also the home of Tanners Team Sports, a thriving producer of sports equipment and accessories for baseball, and now pickleball.
Vince Signorelli, president and CEO of Tanners Team Sports, speaking to the Rotary Club of Hot Springs National Park at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hot Springs last Wednesday, told the story of how his business grew for Rotarians.
Tanners Team Sports started in 1991 in Richmond, Va., focusing on baseball, producing baseball glove oil and other baseball gear and accessories, he said.
“We are the oldest and largest marketing partner of St. Louis-based Rawlings Sporting Goods as a licensee in the baseball training equipment and baseball accessories categories,” it said. -he declares. “So we don’t make the gloves and bats and balls. Instead, we focus on what they would probably call some of the little things.”
The company makes accessories for major retailers such as Hibbett Sports and Dick’s Sporting Goods, “on a private label basis,” Signorelli said.
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“If you go to the Academy, for example, we probably have 60 to 80 items that are in their baseball department,” he said. “If you take some of these items and look on the back of the packaging, it says ‘Tanners Team Sports, Hot Springs, Arkansas’.”
Tanners Team Sports is the world’s largest producer of baseball glove oil, making as many as 500-700 consumer products, including more eye black, batting tees and scorepads than any other company in the world, he said.
“When I started this company many years ago, you know, it wasn’t the biggest in the world,” he said. “I focused on it really hard, and it’s remarkable to me that over the years our dominance is so incredible that other baseball brands have really pulled out of the category. They can’t compete with us. .”
The business moved to Hot Springs about 20 years ago, he said. Then he bought a site in Mid-America Industrial Park in 2013, where Tanners Team Sports and one of the “corporate-owned brands” Vulcan Sporting Goods have been operating since 2015.
Founded in 2015, Vulcan started with bat grips, “probably still the hottest line of accessories in baseball in sporting goods stores around the world today,” Signorelli said. “You see it if you watch a Major League Baseball game.”
In 2016, the company began its journey with pickleball, recognized as one of the fastest growing sports in the country.
“I grew up playing baseball and then softball as an adult,” Signorelli said. “I played baseball in college, then softball as an adult, and found myself getting worse and worse. So it was depressing, so I learned tennis as a young adult. .”
During the four to six weeks it was too cold to play tennis, Signorelli would go practice at the Hot Springs Family YMCA, he said.
“I hear this strange noise in the room where the basketball court is, and I look around the corner. And I keep seeing these people. Day after day, they are there. Then finally, they let me down. just invited to play, and they were so warm and welcoming. That’s the nature of pickleball.
“Not only did I fall in love with the sport, but I became fascinated with the nature of the industry. I started talking to my team and doing more and more research, but Vulcan started at the Y, at the YMCA.”
While other companies developed pickleball paddles and called themselves “paddle makers,” Vulcan developed not only paddles, but also nets, equipment bags and accessories, Signorelli said.
“So we got into Atlanta at the Atlanta Open in 2016,” he said. “It was the biggest pitch in pickleball history, and it still is.”
Vulcan even has a team of professional pickleball players, “some of the best players, if not the best players in the state and the region,” said Signorelli, who represents the brand.
Professionals even play at Vulcan Pickleball Park, also located in Mid-America Industrial Park in the company’s front yard. Open to the public and free, the pickleball courts remain fairly busy, Signorelli said.
“I call it the busiest park in Hot Springs,” he added with a laugh.