BRADENTON -- Jim Tucker understands what a store like Play It Again Sports means to a community, even before the doors officially open for business in Bradenton.
"I had a mother come in yesterday, she needed a cheap glove for her son who's moving up a level in baseball right then. Even though we're not open to sell, we got her a glove and a helmet. We'll worry about my ramifications with the franchise later," Tucker said, laughing. "We took care of her. That's the aspect of the business I really like."
The new and used sporting goods store is returning to Bradenton at a new location, 3611 First St. E, Suite 710 in the Desoto Junction Shopping Center. The store is accepting new and used equipment to be consigned or purchased by the store for cash or store credit to help build its inventory in time for the Sept. 26 grand opening.
Officially, customers will not be able to buy merchandise until the grand opening celebration.
Customers who sign up for the store's email list at the store or at playitagainsportsbradenton.com will be entered to win either a Schwinn 245 recumbent bike valued at $600, an Easton S1 junior baseball bat valued at more than $230 or a senior pro Bauer TotalOne NXG stick with a Patrick Kane curve valued at more than $260.
The rebirth of the Play It Again in Bradenton can be credited to Tucker, the franchise owner who moved to Sarasota from Tampa to pursue a new career.
Tucker, who has an accounting degree from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, came to Florida in 1987 with his wife to start a career in the Sunshine State.
"As the saying goes, 'What would you do for a Klondike bar?' I moved to Florida in
1987 to work in the finance department for Klondike, which was based in Clearwater at the time," Tucker said. From 1987 to 2011 he continued to rise through the ranks in accounting jobs to the executive level. He stopped finding new challenges in his work and his last employer was bought out. He knew then it was time to move on.
"The last job I took I realized there were no new challenges," Tucker said. "There were challenges, but nothing new, nothing different."
He didn't quite know what he wanted to do until he realized that as he would walk after lunch with his mentor, they would stop in at the Wesley Chapel Play It Again Sports and shop.
"I used to shop frequently at the Play It Again Sports in Wesley Chapel and thought it would be fun," Tucker said. "We landed in Bradenton because it was the closest territory on the west coast of Florida that was open."
Bradenton last had a Play It Again Sports off of Cortez Road that closed in 2008 and the closest one is in Sarasota, but that location lacks a selection of new and used hockey gear. The Bradenton store hopes to capitalize being closer to the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex.
Play It Again Sports is one of the five brands owned by Winmark Corp. with the others being Plato's Closet, Style Encore, Once Upon A Child and Music go Round. Winmark helped research the market for Tucker to figure out what the store should stock and look to buy, Tucker said.
"We do well in team sports and entry level, value-conscious shoppers," Tucker said.
The store primarily focuses on fitness equipment, weightlifting and gear for cardio workouts. Other sports that the store will carry includes baseball, lacrosse, tennis, golf, soccer, ice hockey and water sports.
The equipment he needs to buy from the customers includes used hockey equipment, cardio equipment, kettlebell weights, dumbbells and stand-up paddleboards.
"I talked to the new retailers for stand-up paddleboards, and they get 20-30 requests a week for used paddleboards because they're expensive," Tucker said. A medium-level to high-end paddleboard can cost $1,200 to $1,800 new, he said.
One of the most popular sports will have a smaller selection at the store because of how local leagues function.
"Part of my research, I figured out that while football is huge here in Florida, the leagues provide the equipment, so I'm not going to have a big football section," he said.
Tucker knows the challenges of battling against online retailers and people selling their equipment on Facebook, Craigslist and eBay.
What Tucker stresses is that at Play It Again, there's customer service, a secure transaction and a place to actually feel and try on the gear.
"If you want to know what the Bauer grip is, you can't feel that online," he said. "And it's right now."
Tucker has also been savvy enough to contact folks selling their gear on Craigslist to see if they would be willing to sell it to Play It Again instead.
The store will also regrip golf clubs, tennis rackets and offers skate sharpening, Tucker said, but doesn't offer to repair other equipment. If equipment needs to be repaired, it likely will not be accepted for a trade-in.
If customers trade in used equipment for store credit, they will receive one-third more of the value, Tucker said. The equipment should be in good condition and be safe for someone else to use.
"The two things we look for are: Can we sell it in the store and is it free of defect?" Tucker said.
Tucker and his staff will be learning more about the different sports as they go along, and will be helped by the equipment vendors, tennis instructors visiting the store and his staff's diverse background, which includes two bilingual employees and one tennis player and another former high school football player.
Zach Welch, a Manatee High School grad, who played football when he was younger, helped get the store ready Wednesday and said that even though leagues would provide equipment, it's nice to have a place to find the right socks or gloves.
Halen Justice, a Broach School graduate, loves playing tennis and can't wait to see what new gear comes in stock.
"If they're looking for a good racket, I prefer Head because it has a nice grip, and it just has a flawless motion," he said.
Tucker is impressed with his dedicated young staff so far, including one teenage girl who takes the bus to work and walks a half-mile to get to the store.
"They're enthusiastic, and they're here on time," he said.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.