What do the Boston Red Sox and just-in-time manufacturing have in common?
No, this isn’t a setup for a bad joke. The answer is “giving fans what they want.” Within seconds of the final pitch of the 2007 World Series, thousands of t-shirts were running off printing lines in the Boston area and other parts of the Northeast. “It’s like a feeding frenzy right now,” says Seth Cook, Northeast sales account manager for sportswear maker Majestic Athletic, a subsidiary of VF Imagewear. “We’ll keep printing t-shirts until it’s over.”
There’s no way Majestic could rely on overseas suppliers to get t-shirts into the hands of Boston fans by 6 a.m. Monday morning (the game ended just past midnight). Being first to market is crucial for Majestic no matter what team wins the Series: Majestic is the licensed supplier of branded apparel for Major League Baseball.
Majestic begins building its World Series supply chain in the spring. Although the company owns several large printing facilities in the U.S., Majestic outsources some of its printing to smaller, local shops throughout the country. By the time the Series rolls around, the company has a pretty good idea where demand will be centered. During the Series, local shops have both teams’ designs on hand. When the last out is recorded, printers get the go-ahead to print shirts for the winning team. These printers are booked by Majestic for the entire run—in other words; they’re not jumping between the World Series job and “Joe’s Garage” bowling shirts. This isn’t necessarily a bad deal for the printers: Majestic contracts other jobs with them throughout the year.
This kind of arrangement gives businesses such as Majestic a high level of flexibility with a minimum of risk. A certain number of t-shirts with both teams’ logos have to be printed in advance: the winning team gets theirs immediately after the game. But the local facilities—in this case, Boston—can also give Majestic a pretty good idea of overall demand. “In any other city, a World Series win would be a one-day event,” says Cook. “In Boston, it could go on for weeks.”
Majestic declines to discuss details about their subcontractors—the company considers this part of their strategic advantage. The company will say it chooses partners that are flexible; dependable and guarantee a high level of quality. “We wouldn’t risk this kind of job on somebody we didn’t have experience with,” says Cook.
By Tuesday, Boston fans were attending the Red Sox victory parade clad in their 2007 World Series Champions gear. The celebration was held “just in time” to fete the Sox before players scattered to their respective winter homes.