When first baseman Eric Hosmer squeezed the final out Wednesday afternoon and the Royals clinched a World Series trip, it put Julie Harbour in a buying mood.
“As soon as they won,” the Olathe resident said, “I hit the MLB.com site and bought two shirts.”
That’s one for her and one for her husband. On Thursday she bought two more Royals shirts for herself at the Bunker in Westport — and admitted she might not be finished shopping.
“It’s been 29 years,” Harbour said.
Retailers, big and small, online and on the corner, were ready to quench fans’ thirst for merchandise celebrating the Royals. They have apparel, candles, toys, jewelry, memorabilia — you name it. Even those “We Own the Pennant” shirts the players ran onto the field wearing after the victory hit store shelves within minutes.
At some stores, the goods had to wait in back rooms and boxes until the game ended.
“We’re not even able to open (packing boxes) until the last out of the game is recorded and the final outcome is decided,” said Andrea Bell, store director for Academy Sports + Outdoors in Belton.
But the goods moved quickly to the front of the store Wednesday night, and shoppers appeared. The same scene played out at Dick’s Sporting Goods stores.
“We had a rush within a few minutes of the final pitch,” said Eric Marshall, the Kansas City community marketing manager for Dick’s.
And with the start of the World Series still four days away, shoppers have plenty of time to fill closets that probably are missing Royals blue.
As Harbour said, it has been 29 years.
At the Bunker, shoppers were picking out blue Royals shirts during Thursday’s noon hour as quickly as a clerk could remove them from boxes.
Another employee handled phone calls, telling people that the items in stock early Thursday afternoon might not be there by the end of the day.
“It’s crazy busy,” the employee said between calls.
Royals gear has been Fanatics.com’s top selling Major League Baseball gear since Oct. 1, two days after the extra-innings victory over the Oakland Athletics. In the first five days of the month, Royals merchandise had been ordered from all 50 states.
And the sales keep piling up.
Wednesday’s victory caused a more than 1,000 percent spike in sales over Tuesday, said Jack Boyle, president of merchandising for the site, which calls itself the largest online retailer of licensed team merchandise.
Montica Alexander, who has owned the Best of Kansas City since 1999, had never ordered Royals’ post-season gear before this year.
“Now I feel like I am doing Royals laundry. Fold T-shirts, fold T-shirts, fold T-shirts,” Alexander said Thursday.
“People have a Chiefs shirt in their closet that they can wear in a pinch, but maybe not a Royals shirt,” said Alexander, who was wearing a Billy Butler shirt.
Area grocers are getting into the act too, with Hen House, Price Chopper, Cosentinos and HyVee stores all sporting Royals merchandise.
Balls Foods was getting ready for a late delivery of Royals championship gear Thursday night for area Hen House and some area Price Choppers.
It has ordered T-shirts, sweatshirts and pennants celebrating the Royals league championship but can’t be sure what will arrive first.
“The manufacturers have an overwhelming demand right now,” said Scott Bayne of Balls Foods. “We’ll know that when the truck shows up.”
Retailers naturally count on the hot items to round out shoppers’ sales totals but some have found other ways to benefit.
The Academy Sports + Outdoors in Belton, which opened just last month, stayed open late Wednesday. Employees took advantage of the line that formed.
“We made a lot of friends,” Bell said. “We actually wrapped around the building at one point. We were out there working the line and talking to people. It was just great getting to know the community.”
The long playoffs drought also means October baseball has changed the mix of Royals gear showing up on shelves.
“We never carried jackets or cold weather gear,” said Christy Bieker, events and public relations manager for the seven area Rally House stores.
Until now, that is.
Suppliers have been scrambling to deliver the goods, including The Kansas City Star. Thursday’s edition heralding the trip to the World Series sold briskly in vending boxes, at groceries, convenience stores and other locations.
“I live up north and went to six different places and they were all sold out,” said Tommy Hottovy, a former Royals pitcher who picked up copies at the newspaper’s offices downtown on Thursday.
Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish said The Star printed twice as many copies for street sales as usual, expecting that to keep up with demand. It didn’t.
The presses revved up again Thursday morning to print 52,000 extra copies that makeshift crews delivered around town as well as the stadium.
“The players wanted copies,” Parrish said.
By early afternoon Thursday, Sports Authority’s Lenexa store rang up more sales of Royals apparel than it normally sells of all merchandise on a mid-week day. And it took some risk getting the inventory tied to the Royals’ winning.
The merchandise was on hand even before the deciding Game 4 began, said Lenny Johnsen, manager of the store. Printing began once the Royals won their third straight game against Baltimore so the goods would be available by the time they clinched.
“If they end up losing all four (remaining) games, that’s a problem,” Johnsen said.
Mistakes typically end up being shipped outside the United States to poorer economies where they’re welcome regardless of the games’ outcome.
Sportibles, with stores in the Great Mall of the Great Plains, Independence Center and Oak Park Mall, placed “if win” orders for Royals merchandise. Manufacturers VF Imageware Inc. and New Era had to wait for the Royals to win Wednesday.
The last out started the process for 500 postseason Royals shirts, 1,000 American League Championship and World Series bound shirts from VF Imagewear and 500 hats from New Era.
“Being a small business we order as many as we can buy,” said David Walby, owner of the three area Sportibles stores. “At this point we are pretty much buying anything with a Royals logo on it, and we expect strong Royals sales to continue through the holiday season.”
Retailers also are ready to keep shoppers interested through the week. Different items are on the way. So whatever you saw at the store Thursday, there will be something new Friday and the next day.
Striving for uniqueness
Merchants are stretching their talents almost as far as the Royals players have.
Check out the Royals themed candles at 5B & Co. Candlemakers, a locally owned shop in Brookside. They’re blue and white, of course, but lighting one reveals the scent: leather and fresh cut grass.
“We’re trying to keep up and made a batch to last through the big win last night,” Lindsay Reid said Thursday. “This happens once in a lifetime. Or once every 30 years.”
Prairie Village’s Notes to Self sells a line of socks and other apparel and accessories with positive affirmations. In September, it created special Royals blue T-shirts and headbands with the words “I believe.” But its customers also have been picking the company’s white socks with the words “I believe” and a narrow navy blue stripe.
In another category, toy versions of Royals players are coming off the line at the Oyo Sports factory in Acton, Mass.
“We’re doing really nothing today but printing up Royals World Series, American League Champions mini-figures,” said Mike Ewing, chief marketing officer.
These are snap-together figures that Ewing said “play well” with Legos, Mega Bloks and similar products. These figures’ knees bend and their arms rotate.
Designers also try to make each figure’s face and coloration characterize the player whose name and number appear on the body.
Wade Davis’ Oyo figure has a beard, sure. But it’s a lighter shade and a different pattern from Eric Hosmer’s or Mike Moustakas’ beards.
“It’s not just a toy,” Ewing said. “It’s your favorite player.”
Oyo Sports still sells a George Brett figure but hasn’t pulled the trigger on a complete Royals team set. More popular franchises already have them, but the Royals are available only a la carte.
The Royals might earn that set with this trip to the World Series, Ewing said. The mini-figures didn’t exist the last time Kansas City went.
It has been 29 years.
Charles Gooch and Chris Carter contributed.
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