From Wrigley Field to Clark Street: Hometown heroes hit a home run with Fulfil

Overview

Phil DeLeon learned about inventory tracking and customer fulfillment while still in his teens. In junior high school, he sold sunglasses, ball caps, and t-shirts at Chicago's Wrigley Field, along with his older brother Jason and a couple of their pals. They worked for an older gentleman named Albert, who ran the souvenir business and taught the boys how to sell. The tightly-knit group spent summers working full-time at the ballpark and took part-time mall and coffee-shop jobs during the school year. 

One day, a customer asked for a cap that was in stock from another cart. Phil ran halfway around the stadium in the summer heat and dashed back to fulfill the request. This lesson in putting the customer first still resonates with Phil, who completed a computer science degree, but is still in the sports memorabilia business after all these years. Phil remembers,

I learned to put the customer first, even if it meant running laps around Wrigley Field.

From summer side hustle to a thriving retail chain

After a few summers working for Albert, the boys pooled their resources and started a new business. They bought their own merchandise and continued to sell it outside the stadium. In 2004, they took it from a side hustle to a full-time endeavour and opened Clark Street Sports, a retail store within a stone's throw of Wrigley Field. This year-round operation sold merchandise for all Chicago sports teams, not just the Cubs, and got off to a strong start. But they faced an inventory hurdle early on. 

The Cubs were red-hot in 2004. The team was headed to the playoffs and possibly the world series for the first time in almost one hundred years. But the dream failed to materialize when they were knocked out in the first round. Having anticipated big success for the Cubs, Clark Street Sports was left with piles of Cubs merchandise with no one to buy it. That's when Phil and his buddies hatched a plan to open a holiday pop-up store in a suburb north of the city. 

We needed to move our surplus merch, so we opened a holiday pop-up store. It was so successful, we kept it going into the new year.

It was a winning play, so Clark Street Sports kept this store open into the new year and transformed it into their second permanent location. Its launch marked the beginning of years of expansion. The company now runs 12 retail stores, including an outlet, a mega warehouse for bargain-hunting sports fans, and a second location on Clark Street in Wrigleyville. 

Learning retail as the championships kept coming

The first few years were challenging as the young partners learned the ins and outs of retail. But they refined their formula and kept expanding. Fortunately, the hometown teams kept winning, driving the demand for sports memorabilia. 

It was a great time to be a Chicago sports fan. The Cubs' crosstown rivals, the Chicago White Sox, won the World Series in 2005, and the Blackhawks won hockey's Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013, and again in 2015. The Bulls earned NBA conference titles in 2011 and 2012. And then came the biggest win of all. 

A Personal and Professional High Point

When the Cubs won the Series, I worked 36-hours straight at our warehouse to get Cubs merch into our customers hands. It was a great day to be a sports fan.

Phil's beloved Cubs finally triumphed in the 2016 World Series. The team came back from a three-game deficit to take Game 7 in the 10th inning, ending professional sports' longest championship drought. The vibe was unreal as the city celebrated the Cub's first Series title in 108 years.

There was pandemonium at Clark Street Sports' warehouse store that day. Customers jammed in, shoulder to shoulder, and lined up around the block to buy Cubs merch.  Phil had never seen anything like it and worked 36 hours straight fulfilling orders. November 2nd, 2016, was a personal and professional high point for the lifelong sports fan.

KEY FACTS

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COUNTRIES SHIPPED TO

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WAREHOUSE

REVENUE GROWTH (YOY)