At their Friendsgiving dinner party in November, Bill and Deanna Phillips hosted ten Rossmoor families and during dinner asked them all what they were thankful for. “Everyone had a few words to say about friendships, kids growing up on our safe streets, and the uniqueness of our neighborhood,” Bill said.
Deanna added, “I love that we live in a neighborhood where we are able to drop in on people to chat. It’s so spontaneous. We just love Rossmoor!”
It’s no wonder then that the business they own is community driven and people focused — Play It Again Sports.
More than any other, I believe Play It Again Sports to be a business misunderstood. Even I, with kids who grew up in Rossmoor, wasn’t quite sure what this business had to offer. Is it a used sporting goods store? Can I get new equipment? Is it a consignment shop? You’ll be happy to know — I got all the answers last month when Bill and Deanna invited me into their office to share their story.
But let’s start first with how they ended up in Rossmoor.
Bill is originally from La Canada and moved to Long Beach after graduating from Arizona State University. “I had a great job in Phoenix and had planned to plant roots and start a family there, but an opportunity to move back to southern California to work for our family business to grow markets south of the border was presented to me. I decided to make the move.”
As the company continued to grow over the next 18 years, there was the need to travel more often and over longer periods of time. “I was traveling two to three weeks a month between Latin America, Europe, Asia, Canada and all across the US. I was never in town, and when I was, I was usually at the office planning my next trip.”
Deanna grew up in Woodland, a small town north of Sacramento, and earned her degree in Kinesiology from Sacramento State. She moved to southern California after graduating and worked in sales at a student travel company where she spent most of her time on the road and outside the country.
Bill, his two boys, and former wife moved into Rossmoor in 1998 after hearing about the “unique little neighborhood” from close friends who had recently bought a home here. He bought an original Yale Model, and although, at the time the price seemed well beyond their means, they made ends meet.
Not long after, the two split. Bill, however, kept the house, and the kids went to the neighborhood schools. Their oldest son, JP, started kindergarten at Hopkinson Elementary and that’s when the long term friendships he still has today started. “It all came together when I met the parents of JP’s friends, and we started hanging out together every weekend. Over twenty years later, we’re still best friends.”
Around that time, Bill and Deanna were introduced to each other through a mutual friend and gradually began building a family. Ryan, Bill’s 2nd son also attended Hopkinson Elementary and, like his older brother, went on to Oak Elementary and eventually to Los Al High School where he is currently a senior. JP is currently in his junior year at Chico State, working on a degree in economics.
Deanna eventually moved in with Bill and the boys, and they were married in 2009. The following year, their son Matthew was born. During that time, Bill was on the road a lot more than normal. “With two boys active in sports and a mom with a newborn and dad nowhere to be found, it was looking like a recipe for disaster. Something had to give,” Bill told me.
Imagine Deanna’s surprise when after his stable 18-year career, their one-year marriage, and a two-month-old baby, Bill came home one afternoon and told her he was taking time off “to rethink” his career.
After a restless few weeks, Bill walked back into the house and asked Deanna, “How would you feel if I started my own business?” “Shocked” probably isn’t a strong enough word for her reaction. She knew, however, something had been brewing, and with the challenges of being a one-parent show to a baby boy who couldn’t sit still for 30 seconds, she gave it some thought.
“It was by far the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but without Deanna’s support, none of this would have happened.” Turns out, Bill had walked in to Play It Again Sports a few times during his “break,” back when it was in a 900sf space between the dry cleaners and the wig store on Los Alamitos Blvd. He was coaching Ryan’s football team, and he went in to buy a football. He noticed a pamphlet on the counter with the words “Own Your Own Business” while he was waiting and asked the owner to tell him more.
It just so happened that the owner was looking to sell. “It didn’t take long to percolate — the idea of not having to commute or travel weeks on end. Between that and being able to put my energy into a local business and get more involved with the community I’d been living in for 10+ years sounded pretty darn good.”
After due diligence and by the end of his “break,” in November 2010, he was the owner of a local sporting goods store. Then by the time the lease ran out in 2012, it was clear that they needed to find a larger location with a lot more parking spaces if they were going to continue to grow. They found it in the old 24 Hour Fitness on Katella Avenue that had been vacant for years — a location just steps from LAE, McAuliffe, and LAHS.
In the end, it was a perfect fit for their young family and the community. It was local, rather than global. Offered a nice commute, rather than weeks of travel. It cultivated friendships, rather than business partners. Additionally, as a dad with sports-playing kids, he knew he could relate to the customers.
“So what exactly does Play It Again Sports offer?” I asked while we chatted to clear up my own confusion.
He told me it’s a sporting goods store, but also more than a sporting goods store. His specialty is baseball, but they carry equipment for fitness, surfing, soccer, basketball, football, golf, tennis, and more. “What we carry in the store is a reflection of the community we’re in. We’re not tied to some big nameless, faceless corporation who dictates what to stock, how much to stock, and when to stock it. We kinda do what we want. As a part of a 300+ store international franchise, we have the same buying power as the major retailers. In fact, after two of the most dominant chains went out of business, many manufacturers have focused more energy on stores like ours.”
He shared with me the beauty of what they offer — a retail model that enables kids to try new sports without bankrupting their parents. “The majority of what we carry is actually new,” Bill said, which was a surprise to me.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say a young girl has outgrown last year’s softball bat and needs a new one, which can potentially retail for hundreds of dollars. “Because we’re the only sporting goods store around that carries gently used gear, people bring in what they have outgrown or simply stopped using. Our staff evaluates it and offers three payment options based upon the current market value,” Bill explained.
Consignment pays the most, but the majority of customers choose to trade, which gives them 30% more than if they were to take cash. He added, “We’ve got customers who bring in gear all year round and let their trade account build. By the time they are ready for a new ‘whatever’ — new or used — they walk out the door without ever touching their wallet.” But consignment isn’t the only option. Kids ready to try a sport for the first time have the opportunity to buy something slightly used without having to pay top dollar.
Sounds like a win for everyone.
After several years, as any good entrepreneur, they saw additional business opportunities. Out of necessity, they opened their spinoff business — Game Day Gear Shop.
Play It Again Sports has always helped facilitate the printing of names of baseball, football, and basketball uniforms each season. It was a mess of a process. By their second baseball season, it was obvious they needed to handle this process in house rather than farming it out and loosing control of quality. They quickly developed a package for the league and began doing their own printing. They started this in their kitchen at home and are now in a 2000sf warehouse space. “We make thousands of custom jerseys, more custom hats than I ever imagined, event shirts, corporate gifts, trade show products, travel team fan wear and uniforms, shirts for Lakewood PD, banners, flags, pop-up booths, and anything else. I’m not sure what’s next, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Clearly, this business has taken on a life of its own. It has now even blossomed into online ordering for elementary fanwear, boosters, clubs, class reunions, family reunions, tournament, HOAs, and everything in between.
This online component is a customized ordering platform that eliminates waste and provides a way for parents to order one piece at a time. Bill builds custom team, school, and corporate ordering websites. He opens a window for ordering, and when the store closes, production starts.
Game Day Gear Shop then delivers orders in bulk and offers the option to have his team handle fulfillment. “When we deliver to schools, we bag each order individually and separate it by name, grade, and classroom, so the PTA can place the volunteers in the classroom instead of the supply room.”
His marketing background has provided Rossmoor a unique, fully-transparent opportunity to easily fund-raise for any organization. The beauty of Game Day Gear Shop for the customer? If no one buys, no problem. If 100 orders come in, great. You need sweatshirts? Tanks? A specific brand? You name it, he can do it. Bill has negotiated national programs with just about every brand name apparel company out there, so he can offer any option to meet just about any budget.
After I grilled him about Game Day — I was fascinated by the prospect and began brainstorming my own printing needs — we got back to the business at hand … Why do you love Rossmoor?
They both said their love of the neighborhood is hard to describe, but people from the outside, who see it for the first time, can see it — and oftentimes want it for themselves. Bill and Deanna live on Woodstock, in that original Yale that has since been leveled and rebuilt, with an open door policy. Friends or neighbors, their door is always open.
I see their business as their perfect fit. It gives them the ability to give the community something unique in the sporting goods industry — an important part of being a Rossmoorian — and receive goodwill in return. He said, “It all just feels right.” He then told me a side story about how Rossmoor captures for him something he experienced as a kid when his dad used to take him to Coopers Hardware Store. “The owners always us and asked about the family. Call me nostalgic, but there is something nice about walking into a local store where people know your name.”
Between Bill and Deanna, you can guarantee your orders will be delivered on time, your projects managed professionally, and your sports needs be fulfilled — and with their customer service focus, you might even end up with lunch delivered by Deanna herself.
Go ahead, stop by — it may not be as flashy as a store at the mall, but you’ll probably recognize most of his staff, and they’ll probably recognize you. It’s nice to think our little neighborhood still has a place where everybody knows your name. And when you arrive, just like Cheers patrons of the 1980’s who found a home in their neighborhood, be sure to call out, “Hey, Bill,” when you walk in the door.
Because, now, everybody knows his name.
Play It Again Sports
4141 Katella Avenue
Game Day Gear Shop