Images talks to the manager of a non-league football club shop to find out what he is looking for from his decorated teamwear suppliers

Every weekend hundreds of thousands of people across the UK grab their scarfs and head out to cheer for their favourite football team. It doesn’t matter whether the team plays at Old Trafford or the slightly less well-known Dripping Pan: football fans are a dedicated lot and their unconditional love for their team means there is a constant demand for branded merchandise.

The Dripping Pan, (or the Pan Siro as it’s known to the locals), is home to Lewes FC, (The Rooks) a community-owned football club in East Sussex that is currently playing in the Ryman Premier League. The shop is run by volunteer shop manager Barry Haffenden, and offers a range of T-shirts, polos, hats, caps, rain jackets and bodywarmers. Barry, who is now in his fifth season as manager, explains: “When I first started in the shop there was very little in store. I brought in the polos, retro scarves, beanie hats, keyrings and pens.”

Barry initially searched online for different suppliers, but found that most of the bigger companies wanted him to buy in large quantities to get better deals. “I then started looking more locally and found a few that would offer fair prices regardless of the quantities ordered. Pinnacle in Worthing, West Sussex, supplies me with T-shirts mainly. They embroider the badges on and they also do the printing.” A friend recommended Wealden Workwear in East Grinstead, West Sussex, for hats, scarves and polos; the company helps design and embroider the garments.

“Both companies offer me very good deals, which is just what a non-league club really needs. Though I do mainly use these two, I always keep looking out for suppliers that could be good for the club. Some companies use the same brands but charge different prices: for a non-league club like us it does make all the difference. Every penny counts, as they say.”

Lewes FC shirts sell in smaller quantities, but cost the same as those of bigger Football League teams

Barry tries to offer a new garment each season. “Last season I went for bodywarmers/ gilets after seeing a few Premiership managers wear them – they seemed to be popular amongst fans. I tend to look for something that would appeal to me and a number of other fans. I’m always asking for ideas from the supporters to see what they come up with, and then I see if it’s possible to do. For example, last year one said he doesn’t wear T-shirts but would love an Owner’s polo shirt instead [there are currently more than 1000 paid-up club owners]. I offered this in two colours and lo and behold, it became a top-seller last season, especially when I offered personalised versions with their owners’ number on them.”

The quality of the fabric is important, as is the price, confirms Barry. He tends to buy Solo T-shirts, explaining, “They are a fair price, look decent quality and hold their shape well. I use Beechfield for the hats and caps – their beanie hats are very popular with the fans, especially in the winter for keeping their heads nice and warm.” The shop’s best-selling garments are hats and scarves, especially at midweek games on a cold winter’s night.

For garment decorators looking to target football shops, Barry has this advice: “You have to know the market you are attempting to get into, and realise that, at the lower end of the football pyramid (we’re in the seventh tier of English football), it’s very difficult to look at bulk purchasing – not only because the demand is dramatically reduced, but also that the margins required for clubs such as ours are the same as any football club. Just because we are semi-pro doesn’t mean that we can sell them cheaper. We have to sell a home shirt for £40+, the same as at bigger clubs, but obviously in much smaller quantities.

“So, get to know your potential customer, build the relationship, offer good discounts, and remember that perseverance will pay off, because one day…one day…that club will get that dream tie, that one-off Cup game against a big club that will send merchandising into the stratosphere, taking you and your profits with them! That’s football!”

One of the club’s owners wearing his official Owner’s T-shirt

All photos courtesy of © Barry Collins

Working at the Dripping Pan in branded hi-vis gear

A mighty Rooks fan wearing his allegiance on his chest