The Kings of Custom: Kings Bay Athletics

To say Kings Bay Athletics is not what you think it is would be an understatement. For more than 40 years, this family-run business in the Kings Bay Plaza at South Dixie Highway and SW 144th Street has done more than survive; they’ve created a unique and thriving enterprise.

Most people walking through the doors would expect a neighborhood sporting goods store, but they’d be somewhat wrong. Yes, they have cleats, basketballs, lacrosse gear and baseball gloves. But more importantly, that’s just specially selected merchandise to purchase after you are in the store for what you already came for.

Store founders Larry and Colleen Barfield explain, “We generate only 10% of our sales from what is hanging on our walls.” The lion’s share of the revenue comes from custom work that Kings Bay Athletics churns out. Think of them as high-tech graphic artists with massive manufacturing and production capabilities to turn out customized ‘just about anythings’.

You may not realize it, but the store outfits tens of thousands of kids in South Florida’s sports leagues and schools. They also customize apparel and other items for the likes of Fairchild Tropical Gardens and Joanna’s Marketplace. This mom-and-pop business is anything but small, with surprisingly strong revenue.

“We learned long ago that if your business is relying on people just walking in the door, you’re not going to survive,” Larry explained, “That’s why we became what we are today, a highly technological customization business. In our business model, people have no choice but to come in so we can give them exactly what they want.” Barfield is alluding to their couponing system, which took their business to a new level about ten years ago.

Store manager Andrew Wesolowski boasts, “We call it guerilla marketing where everybody wins. It used to be that a league would measure and order baseball uniforms for each player. When we delivered, ultimately some things didn’t fit right. It wasn’t a great experience for anyone until we figured out that by simply issuing coupons and having the child come in, we’d ensure a perfect fit every time.” Larry added, “Once in the store, we’d simply pull exact fit items from our shelves. We’ve developed a sophisticated spreadsheet that ensures we always have just the right stock and sizes available.”

So, for example, with 1200 kids playing baseball in a league, it means 1200 parents walking in the door. Kings Bay Athletics also prides itself in making sure they have the cleats, basketballs, lacrosse gear and baseball gloves ready to go as add-ons, always making sure they are competitive on pricing.

Andrew’s wife and store co-manager Jennie Wesolowski explained, “We carry what we’ve learned people need and we can often sell at or below the Internet pricing. If we can’t, we just don’t sell that item.” This philosophy is a win-win proposition for all. Andrew went on to explain, “We used to sell 225 different models of sports shoes. Now we sell primary cleats only in kids’ sizes. And we have pre-selected the shoes that are the best value for our customers.” Unlike several other sporting good stores that have come and gone, Kings Bay Athletics has figured out what the area needs and they customize specifically to that audience.

Kings Bay Athletics’ ability to innovate in this way has led to their business stability. Over the years they morphed their store from sporting goods to scuba, surf, skateboard, tennis and even a gun shop. “The key is to be what people need us to be, when they need it,” said Barfield. “It’s about being nimble and supplying the demand that is already there. Today they need a smart shop that ‘just gets it done’ and that’s what Kings Bay Athletics delivers.”

 [L to R] Store Co-Managers Jennie and Andrew Wesolowski with staffers Megan Lozano, Matthew Gowin and Mandy Escasena

[L to R] Store Co-Managers Jennie and Andrew Wesolowski with staffers Megan Lozano, Matthew Gowin and Mandy Escasena

Beyond being a great business, Kings Bay Athletics is pretty lucky in love too. The founders Larry and Colleen Barfield have seen employees become families over the years. The friendly staff really love working together and that stems from the store’s culture. Jennie and Andrew Wesolowski met at the store and were married in 2008. They are now the centerpiece of the business and look forward to the next 40 years of growth and community.

If you haven’t already been in, you should stop by. Kings Bay Athletics is located at 14465 South Dixie Highway and their phone number is 305-235-1167.