January 23, 2011

The Bottom Line: Maine-based chain scores big points with small-town stores

Olympia Sports keeps a low profile, yet it has 185 locations.

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WESTBROOK — An off-the-beaten-path town straddling the Canadian border might not seem the best place to open a retail sports store.

click image to enlarge

Wendy Levasseur sorts T-shirts at Olympia Sports’ distribution center in Westbrook. Olympia ships an average of 4,000 boxes to stores each day.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Kevin Kennie moves boxes at the Olympia Sports distribution center in Westbrook. The company employs about 2,000 people throughout the Northeast.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Related headlines



HISTORY: Olympia Sports was launched in 1975 when Munjoy Hill native and former math teacher Edward Manganello opened a 2,700-square-foot store in what was then a new Maine Mall. 1998, the company operated 50 stores. Today, Olympia runs 185 locations in eight Northeast states.


EXECUTIVES: The company is run by President Dick Coffey of Windham, who is known for a reserved leadership style. Manganello is chairman and CEO.

WORTH NOTING: In 2000, Manganello launched the nonprofit Olympia Sports Foundation, which allows Olympia Sports to donate a percentage of profits to charitable projects, according to the Olympia website. The foundation's first project was a clothing bank at the Westbrook office.

FINANCIALS: Olympia's yearly revenue is roughly $180 million and has increased in each of the two years following the 2008 recession.

After all, Derby, Vt., has just 5,000 residents and is hours by car to the nearest big city, Montreal.

But for Olympia Sports, a 185-store chain based in Westbrook, towns like Derby are keys to success.

Olympia, which was founded by Portland resident Edward Manganello 35 years ago, has expanded across New England and grown into a major player in the retail sports industry, thanks in part to a strategy of selling family sports equipment in towns lacking a large retail presence.

"We went to smaller, remote markets that have little or no competition. There is quite a need there," Olympia President Dick Coffey said Tuesday in his Westbrook office. "If you have a young family with a bunch of athletes, we like to think we carry the stuff you are looking for."

Coffey remembers visiting Derby before Olympia opened a store there in 2004. He was on a scouting mission, and the townspeople told him they desperately needed stores.

"People said, 'We gotta go to the hardware store to get our underwear,' " Coffey explained.

Derby isn't a unique demographic for Olympia. Many of the company's 185 stores are in small towns – places like Presque Isle, Waynesboro, Pa., and Geneseo and Olean, N.Y. Olympia competes in big cities, too, with a strong presence in and around Boston.

CEO and Chairman Manganello, a native of the Munjoy Hill section of Portland and a former math teacher at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish, opened the first Olympia store in 1975. He chose a 2,700-square-foot space in the then-new Maine Mall and sold products that have became Olympia staples: footwear, sports equipment and clothing. Coffey, one of Olympia's first employees, managed the Maine Mall store.

But Manganello had his eye outside the Portland area, and by the 1980s had opened stores at regional malls in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. 1994, Olympia owned and operated 33 stores.

In the mid-1990s, the company began expanding into strip malls, and in 2002 moved its corporate offices and distribution center to a 118,000-square-foot building in on Bradley Drive in Westbrook.

Today, Olympia has some 2,000 employees and 185 stores in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

Coffey said expansion continues. This year, the company plans to open 17 new stores.

Matt Carlson, president and CEO of the Illinois-based National Sporting Goods Association, finds Olympia's expansion impressive because the sporting goods market has consolidated in the last few decades.

Citing industry data, Carlson said the number of so-called "full-line sporting goods stores," a category excluding discounters like Walmart and department stores, has dropped from 7,959 in 1987 to 6,441 in 2007, the last year of available data.

Carlson said consolidation and the proliferation of massive national retailers drove the decline.

But through the years, Olympia expanded.

"Olympia is operating in an industry undergoing tremendous consolidations. Something they are doing is really working well," Carlson said.

It's difficult to gauge the health of Olympia, or to learn much about its internal operations because the company is privately held. Coffey said Olympa intentionally keeps a low profile.

He did say, however, that yearly revenue is roughly $180 million and that the recession hit Olympia hard, pushing sales down by double digits.

But Olympia has rebounded and revenue has risen in the last two years.

In addition, Coffey said holiday sales were strong.

Indeed, the entire retail segment is starting to rebound from the recession. According to the National Retail Federation, December and November retail sales jumped 5.7 percent over 2009, the biggest holiday gain since 2004.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

"If you have a young family with a bunch of athletes, we like to think we carry the stuff you are looking for," said Olympia Sports President Dick Coffey.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)