Remembering Jim Chick of Chick’s Sporting Goods
Jim Chick, the retailer who grew Chick’s Sporting Goods into a multi-million-dollar business often called the Nordstrom of sporting goods stores, died last week. He was 76.
Chick’s was a Southern California sporting goods staple and key industry account after Chick made the leap into surf, a move that placed the business at the center of the action sports industry and its intersection with fashion.
Chick was born and raised in Covina, the home of the first Chick’s Sporting Goods store started by his father in 1949.
Chick began working at his father’s stores at a young age and continued there while studying business at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. When Chick’s father decided to move north, Chick’s grandparents – seeing how much Chick loved the company – pooled their savings to buy the retailer from Chick’s father in 1963. Four years later, Chick bought the business from them.
The company, when Chick took it over, generated sales of about $150,000 annually. By the time Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. bought Chick’s Sporting Goods in 2007, Chick’s had 15 stores and more than $120 million in annual sales.
“My dad was a competitive person and a risk taker, which contributed to his success,” said Chick’s son, Jimmy Chick. “In business you have to think ahead and look for new trends or business opportunities, and he was good at that.”
Jimmy worked at Chick’s for about 25 years, initially selling shoes before moving to sporting goods and then transitioning into management. His sister Angie Anderson also worked at Chick’s and remains at Dick’s today.
“One of the things he always told me is to surround yourself with good people,” Jimmy said. “My dad was very loyal to family, friends, reps, and his employees. At Chick’s, our employee retention was high because it was a great place to work. A lot of employees met their spouses while working at Chick’s, and families were formed. One of the things my dad was great at was a developing a vision or direction, then allowing his employees to run with it. He was a pioneer in the industry! We were often referred to as the Nordstrom of sporting goods. My dad wanted to separate us from the others.”
Part of what separated Chick’s from larger chains and other independents was the company’s product assortment and merchandising.
Chick’s began with bikes and also carried plenty of hunting and fishing gear. When Chick brought in surf and skate, his stores were well stocked with brands such as Gotcha, Maui & Sons, Quiksilver, Billabong, O’Neill, G&S, and Sideout, to name a few.
“He was Mr. Needle in a Haystack,” recalled Christine Ceccarelli, currently director of retail merchandising at the La Jolla Group.
Ceccarelli’s first-ever job was at Chick’s – known then to locals as the “cool” sporting goods store – when she was 16.
“He was so involved in every facet of the company. He was a true merchant. He came with us to appointments at Nike, Quiksilver, and Billabong, and was just so involved in picking product and making changes to categories or expanding, which is what he did when he really dove into the surf side of the business.” Former Chick’s employee Christine Ceccarelli, now director of retail merchandising at the La Jolla Group.
Surf brands were hesitant at the time to sell to big box stores.
“A lot of them didn’t want to sell to us because we were a sporting goods store, but we merchandised really well in those days,” said long-time friend Pam Hunzicker, who met Chick in church when they were 23 and served as the company’s first buyer. “Back then, surf shops didn’t want big box stores having their product because they didn’t think it was specialty.”
Those same brands became converts once they saw the volume that could be done at Chick’s.
The company fostered a tight-knit group of employees who stayed on for years and worked their way up in the organization, learning valuable lessons about the retail business as they went. Stores didn’t have planograms and individual locations were given generous leeway to be creative.
“He urged merchandisers to ‘look outside and see what the weather is,’ before deciding what to display up front. Being a private company, we could do things Jim’s way, take these risks, and bring in new brands, and he was always excited to do that.” Christine Ceccarelli, who worked for Chick’s for 27 years
Attention to Detail
Locals may remember Chick’s annual tent sales, an event in its own right that further solidified its regional popularity.
Hunzicker remembered driving with Chick to the sites the night before the tent sales to make sure everything was in place and the right merchandise was out.
“He was truly the Energizer bunny,” she said.
He was also highly focused on the details.
“He would go around stores vacuum cleaning. He would give vacuum cleaning clinics. He wanted to make sure all the glass was sparkling and shining.” Pam Hunzicker, the company’s first buyer and long-time employee
The company embodied specialty retail with buyers that bought full outfits from vendors, and sales associates on the floor who were educated by brand reps on product so they knew what they were selling. Chick further incentivized a well-educated retail staff by paying commission.
Even when Chick wasn’t in town, his mind was still on the stores.
“He was always 100% focused on the business. He enjoyed spending the summer months at his ranch in Idaho,” Jimmy Chick said. “He loved to fly fish, but while he was there, he was on the phone with everybody at the office daily. He didn’t let go. He had reports sent via FedEx to the ranch so he could keep an eye on what was happening.”
“He was really, truly amazing for his era and an important part of Southern California’s sporting goods and specialty stores,” Hunzicker said. “He was loved by a lot of people and he was just so focused on his business it’s not even funny. He didn’t do it alone and he very willingly and happily gave credit to his employees.”
Industry Brands Remember Chick’s Influence
Those who worked at Quiksilver Inc. during its heyday when it was an independent company had plenty to say about Chick, given how closely they worked with him and his team over the years across their portfolio.
“He brought action sports brands to sporting goods stores. Jim was the first one to realize the kid coming in to buy a baseball bat or volleyball supplies is the same kid who’s into the action sports lifestyle.
“We did lots and lots of business together and he was an entrepreneur who was hands-on in his business. He would come in to meetings, sit down, and want to know everything.” Steve Tully, former Quiksilver and Roxy executive.
Tom Holbrook, a Quiksilver veteran who was one of the first sales reps for the business, remembers Chick driving to the company’s former headquarters on Monrovia Avenue in Costa Mesa.
“Jim was very hands-on and I vividly remember him coming down to our warehouse and office in his pickup truck in the early days,” Holbrook said. “He was amazing, a really sharp guy, and he really cared about the brands.”
Holbrook remembered Chick once telling him during one of his many warehouse visits how his son was beginning to shop at Nordstrom and described the “antique tables” the department store used as displays. He told Holbrook he wanted to do something similar, but in a “cool and groovy” way that fit for Chick’s.
“Chick’s did arguably one of the very best jobs of any kind of mall or big box environment and were one of the absolute best at showcasing our brands and selling them. They were just outstanding partners, and that came from Jim and moved all the way through the organization. He believed in brands. He did an outstanding job educating his team as well as presenting our brands. He was just such a good man, and honest.” John Mills, former Quiksilver Sales Leader
Marty Samuels, former Quiksilver Americas president, described Chick as a “throwback” and “old school” in how he treated his staff and suppliers.
“He was somebody you could always have a conversation with and was incredibly honest and frank,” Samuels said. “He was definitely a one-of-a-kind, unique entrepreneur and I don’t think they make them like that anymore. If they do, it’s very rare.”
Dick’s Sporting Goods Acquisition
Chick spent years carving out a niche for Chick’s Sporting Goods that allowed it to walk the line between big box and specialty – an attractive feature when Dick’s Sporting Goods bought the business.
While Chick’s gave Dick’s a presence in Southern California, its stores were viewed as complementary to the larger retailer.
“Since I met him, I respected Jim Chick, his leadership and his dedication to serving athletes. Dick’s would not be where it is today in Southern California without the great foundation Jim built. I will forever be grateful to have known him and called him a friend.” Ed Stack, executive chairman of Dick’s Sporting Goods, told SES
Dick’s paid about $71 million for the business, with Chick staying on at the retailer for another year. He also agreed after that year to continue in an advisory role.
Once Chick left the company, he filled his time with friends and family, but didn’t stray far from business and numbers.
“He loved the stock market,” Jimmy Chick said. “My dad was a numbers guy. He loved to gamble, so investing in individual stocks or options was something that kept him focused.”
The Chick’s stores were ultimately converted to Dick’s. Yet, the name, some 16 years after the acquisition, continues on. Every now and then Ceccarelli will spot someone with a Chick’s license plate frame or someone will mention shopping at Chick’s.
“He always said people don’t come in here because they have to buy something boring. They’re not buying a refrigerator; they’re here because they’re doing something fun, going to the beach or a ball game. And he was right.” Christine Ceccarelli
Chick is survived by his wife Karen Chick; his son and daughter Jimmy Chick and Angie Anderson; sisters Betsy Muenyong and Cindy Chick; Jimmy’s wife Christina Chick and Angie’s husband Mark Anderson; grandchildren Brittany Anderson, Brianna Anderson, Alexa Anderson, Tyler Chick, and Cody Chick; and five great-grandchildren.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to:
Cal Poly Pomona Philanthropic Foundation
P.O. Box 3121
Pomona, CA 91769
Checks may be written to CPPPF
Memo: Jim Chick Scholarship Fund