About Nation's Best Sports
Nation’s Best Sports (NBS) is a nationwide sporting goods buying group. Established in 1956, NBS is comprised of over 350 independent retail members representing over 1,200 store fronts across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. NBS offers independent retailers a diverse portfolio of buying opportunities in all categories of outdoor sports and general sporting goods. You are invited along a journey through six decades of our company history. Follow the timeline to see the advancements NBS has made over the years.
The buying group grew from four friends to nine, then to 15, and by the end of the '50s, it had nearly 40 members. In the beginning, the small group of members was a tight-knit group who knew each other personally as well as through NBS. They met in small venues for the buyers markets, with very little fanfare or frills. "I remember we had a meeting in Hot Springs once," recalled Gene Lockwood, of Gene Lockwood's in Little Rock, Arkansas. "Claude Manning ran the meeting, as usual, and his chair was an Igloo ice chest. That's how we did things back then." Despite the bare-bones surroundings, members found incredible value, not only in the purchases, but by being able to talk with other members in the sporting goods industry. "We found that just talking with other members was one of the most valuable benefits of being in the group," Manning recalled. "We'd share information on our suppliers, and talk about how various products were selling. A lot of our members were doing innovative things the rest of us could learn from and we wanted to have time to discuss those things," he said.
As the group continued to grow through word of mouth and with the support of vendors, NBS gathered steam. Not only were members joining, but vendors who'd ignored the buying cooperative years earlier were eagerly wanting to attend the meetings. By 1961, NBS had 40 members--the most permitted by the by-laws at that time--and buying sessions had expanded from four days to seven days. Members reviewed offers from 55 vendors, and divided their time between member-only business meetings and buying products. The buying sessions had become full buyers markets, and with a growing member and vendor base, more room was needed. However, NBS was maintaining the independent spirit it had been founded upon. In 1962, Sheldon Coleman, president of Coleman, Co., spoke at the 15th semi-annual meeting. In his speech, he lamented "…how small retailers are being swallowed up" by large mass merchandisers, and praised NBS for "…leading the merchandising revolution."
To accommodate its dramatic growth, NBS moved offices several times throughout the '70s. Additionally, the buying markets moved to the Fort Worth Convention Center, where it has remained ever since. Eventually, both the private meetings and markets would be held at the Fort Worth Convention Center. However, NBS faced challenges in attracting some vendors, who felt pressure from customers outside of NBS, large retailers and the sales model at the time, which included "jobbers" who took a 30% cut. Manning's vision would cut out the middle-man, helping retailers lower their own prices. Vendor representatives were wary of associating with NBS. As time went on, however, the benefits outweighed the risks and even vendors wanted to sell to the group. NBS' focus and commitment to quality products helped fuel its success and the success of both its members and vendors. From 1970 to 1979, membership increased from 69 to 146 members.
As the group continued to grow, it was time once again to move to larger offices, and the NBS Board of Directors wanted one matching NBS’ professional image. "We looked for weeks and must have seen 15 or 20 buildings," recalled Glenda Fletchner. Finally, they found a building that had housed an old window manufacturing company. Less than five years old, the 24,000 sq. ft. building also had a loading dock that could help accommodate the large vendor shipments NBS was receiving then redistributing to its members. Eventually, the Board approved the purchase of the building and the four plats of land it was situated on, and became the NBS headquarters.
NBS began expanding the categories represented in order to accommodate a change in the industry and market demands. What had started as primarily military surplus, hunting, fishing, and outdoor-focused activities shifted to team and winter sports, and has now swung back to the rugged outdoors. Additionally, all buying functions of NBS were brought in-house, with five on-staff buyers. Making the buyers in-house staff helped NBS grow while also adapting easily to changes in the market. Also, with in-house buyers, NBS avoided any issues of conflicts of interest, ensuring fair treatment for all members and vendors. This was a time of transition, and the group hired Herb Biddle as President, and Jim Chandley as Vice President of Marketing. Chandley made implementing improvements a priority and among the changes he implemented, he incorporated the use of information technology. "In 1997, we had nothing," said Chandley, so he launched an overhaul, bringing technology and networking systems up-to-date, not just for NBS' offices, but also for the buying markets.
Today, the technology changes Chandley implemented in the 1990’s has been fully embraced, and "everything is standardized and networked." In 2004, Chandley was promoted to President when then-president Herb Biddle retired. Through innovative marketing programs like consumer circulars and team sports catalogs, the group grew tremendously. "We've achieved tremendous financial success, and over the past five years we've had record attendance at our markets from both members and vendors, and we had a record number of members (256)," said Chandley. In order to keep the group growing, Chandley committed to remaining dynamic. "We can't say, 'It worked in 1978, so it will probably work in 2008,' because it won't."
NBS underwent several key changes in how it attracts new members including a logo redesign and launching the Summer Outdoor and December Specialty Markets. These efforts paid off when NBS reached an all-time high of 350 members in 2014. To better address the needs of its growing membership, NBS moved into its new headquarters in August 2014.