Kraemer is the director of Rawlings sports marketing and licensing and Worth brand management for St. Louis-based Rawlings, which manufactures baseball, football, softball and basketball products. The company was established in 1887 and today manufactures authentic, high-performance equipment and apparel for professional, amateur and entry-level players.
Throughout its history, Rawlings established a legacy in team sports with advisory players that include legends such as Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial, as well as recent stars, including Derek Jeter, Alex Gordon, Madison Bumgarner and Albert Pujols. “Over half of major league players use Rawlings’ products,” Kraemer says.
The company also is the official supplier of baseballs and helmets for Major League Baseball. “Whereas our competitors have authenticity in different categories, we have a big advantage on them” when it comes to America’s pastime, he says.
Outside the Lines
Rawlings continues to develop new products, including apparel and lifestyle lines. “The ‘athleisure’ world is expanding,” Kraemer says, explaining that consumers want products for “lounging around the house or going to the grocery store. We’re getting into the space of being a little more lifestyle-centric.”
This includes a partnership with Red Label Accessories, a St. Louis-based fashion-consulting firm that specializes in developing and marketing bags, wallets and belts. Red Label President Tony Spielberg explains that the idea of partnering with Rawlings came to him when he was at an airport with St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny.
“I was trying to help him get a product placed into Dick’s Sporting Goods,” Spielberg recalls. But as they walked through the airport, other men stopped Matheny to ask him where he got his Rawlings briefcase, which the company no longer manufactured.
Spielberg then approached Rawlings about making more lifestyle products. “They liked what we were doing, but we didn’t have a platform in place to do men’s products,” he recalls. “They asked us to get feedback from retailers.”
After doing research, Red Label developed a plan to grow Rawlings “outside the lines of the baseball field,” Spielberg says. With this plan, both companies target fathers who grew up with Rawlings products, as well as wives looking for presents for their significant others.
Creating a Bond
Today, Red Label’s licensed Rawlings products include duffel bags, briefcases, backpacks and wallets, which are sold by multiple retailers, including Lord & Taylor, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, and luggage and boutique stores. Recently, “[The products] received a full page spread in Lord & Taylor men’s fashions,” Spielberg says.
The companies’ biggest success has been in the wallet category, which brings back fond memories to those who caught fly balls with Rawlings’ gloves when they were young. “Every time a guy reaches into his back pocket, he can feel like he’s at his sixth grade championship game,” Spielberg says.
“It’s quite an emotional male bond,” he continues. “There are no other brands you grew up with as a guy. As a kid, you had to have that Rawlings glove.”
Kraemer agrees, adding that Rawlings recently gave players several of the new products at its Gold Glove Ceremony. “It allows us to do stuff from a social media standpoint and grow the brand on multiple levels,” he says.
Spielberg adds that Red Label has worked closely with Rawlings throughout the product development process. Its team meets weekly with Rawlings’ design group to touch base.
“We talk to the people who develop the bats and gloves, all the way up to Robert Parish, the CEO, so we’re not so far off from where the message is going,” Spielberg continues. “As a licensee, we couldn’t ask for a better partner. Everyone in our office would say the same thing.”
A Driving Factor
Technology plays an important role in Rawlings’ success, Kraemer says. “[It] is one of the biggest driving factors,” he says. “If you’re not putting money into technology, your product is going to suffer in a pretty quick order.” This focus helped Rawlings develop its football helmets, e-commerce platforms and a new line of baseball bats it has in the works. “It should revolutionize our place in the marketplace,” Kraemer predicts.
The company also has a technology laboratory located 15 minutes from its headquarters, which ensures “we are staying up with trends and designs,” he says. “We are keeping up with manufacturing standards as they relate to products.”
Accentuating the Positive
Rawlings has nurtured a very fast-paced, team-oriented environment, Kraemer says. “We are really a bunch of people that are united to bring the brand to a higher level,” he says. “That’s what we all strive for.”
Kraemer, who has been with Rawlings for nearly 10 years, says the company hires those who are not only willing to work hard, but those who are dedicated and fun, as well. “The industry drives off of people that are well spoken, outgoing and have the ability to move in a fast-paced environment,” he states.
The company also enjoys low turnover, with employees who have up to 25 years with Rawlings. Kraemer credits this to the company’s positive culture. “There’s not any negativity in the grand scheme,” he says. “Overall, there has been a positive attitude throughout the company.”
Cream of the Crop
Rawlings plans to continue pursuing lifestyle products, as well as maintaining its role as a source for authentic sporting goods, Kraemer says. “We want to be strategic in how we go about it through partnerships,” he says.
He adds that Rawlings’ relationship with Red Label will only grow stronger. “These guys are tremendous partners,” he says. “[They are] really helping elevate us and take us to the next level. There’s nothing holding us back now.”
Spielberg agrees. “As we create additional touch points for the Rawlings brand, [it] will become part of everyday retail,” he says. “You won’t find a stronger bag with the DNA we put in this product.”
This strength, Kraemer notes, is what Rawlings looks for in licensees. “It’s got to have the DNA that takes it to the next level,” he says. “It’s got to be the cream of the crop.”