Leicester City's success a big missed opportunity for local retailers
LEICESTER, England -- As Leicester City closes in on what will be nothing short of a miracle Premier League title, fans are struggling to find anything to show their support of the team.
Kits from this season have been sold out for more than three months and production and shipping timelines have made it difficult for Puma, which makes the club's uniform, to have anything more at the team's home, the King Power Stadium, and in local shops.
At JC Sports in Leicester's city center, a grateful yet frustrated Ashok Chatwani stood at the cash register on Friday afternoon.
Chatwani has had this sports retail shop for 30 years and the Foxes' shocking success has led to a record year in business for him, but he often wonders how much better it could have been.
Chatwani's store has sold out of the home, away and goalkeeper kit in 12 different sizes all the way up to a 4XL. All that remains are kits that can fit a 2-year-old.
"We haven't had an adult kit to sell since before Christmas," Chatwani said. "We get some simple Leicester City T-shirts in and they are gone right away. Today, we had maybe 1,000 people come into the store and half of them walk out because there's nothing to buy."
The one adult jersey that hangs behind the register is Chatwani's and he won't sell it. He says he has been tested several times, including when a man recently offered $400 for it.
Chatwani said Leicester City gear used to make up about 60 percent of his annual business, but thanks to the success of the team, which had 5,000-to-1 preseason odds to win it all after nearly being relegated last season, Leicester City has made up 99 percent of his business this year.
That's even with not having nearly enough supply for the demand. Some customers walk into Chatwani's shop and determined to not walk out empty-handed, they will buy anything left, like the last of the remaining mugs with the name and jersey number of one of the Foxes' star players, Jamie Vardy.
It's no better at the King Power Stadium, where rack after rack is empty as more and more people come through its doors. The only items available from this season are a couple of player photographs.
To prevent such merchandise shortages from occurring in the United States, leagues and apparel partners authorize companies such as Fanatics to print shirts and jerseys on site and sell them immediately when a player or team becomes hot. While margins shrink because the jerseys made overseas are cheaper to make, no money is left on the table.
A Puma representative declined to comment on this year's shortage of Leicester City kits, but typically preseason orders are dependent on sales projections. No one could have imagined the Cinderella story that Leicester has become.
Chatwani says he's thrilled to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime story, but every day has turned into a challenge as the doors of his business swing open and, more often than not, customers walk out empty-handed.
Ironically, he's surrounded by jerseys from the teams that always provided his business stability -- Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
On Sunday, Leicester City can clinch the title by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, which means that Chatwani isn't going to sell any red and white gear anytime soon.
Even at the half-price discount he's offering.