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Industry Profile: Jeff Webb of Varsity Brands, Inc.

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CC&A: How did you become involved in the cheerleading industry and Univer-sal Cheerleaders Association?
Jeffery Webb, chairman and CEO of Varsity Brands, Inc: I was a cheerleader in college at the University of Oklahoma. Right after graduation, I went to work for the National Cheerleaders Assoc-iation with Lawrence Herkimer. Then, about a year after I started there, I was named vice president and general manager. I worked for the NCA for about two or three years.

In 1975, I left the NCA to start the Universal Cheerleaders Association. What we really did with cheerleading and the whole concept of starting UCA was to add an athletic component to cheerleading. In those days, there were very few partner stunts or pyramids. We added that entire dimension including a kind of entertainment aspect as well. We pioneered the look of what modern cheerleading is today.

When we started UCA we wanted to create a structural organization that increased the level of individual instruction, the quality of instruction and the overall experience of the students who participated. You have to remember; in those days there were only two aspects of the spirit industry. There were camps and there was only one uniform company. There were no competitions. We pioneered the whole concept of large competitions with the National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando.

We were the first competition to be televised. When we began being televised in 1980, the idea wasn’t to create a huge event to be on television. We were a small organization, especially compared to NCA; they were still the largest by far. We didn’t have the money to expand nationally and our style and brand were so different that we were trying to create a way for people to see what we were doing so we could expand faster. We didn’t have the capital to expand, so we created the event to put it on television for the exposure.

Back in those days, there were only three ways to be on television: you were on one of the national networks, you were on local television or you were in > syndication. Fortunately, we were able to team up with a high quality sports syndicater; you see, cable was in its infancy at this time so it wasn’t an option at the beginning.

After being in syndication for three year (we had 20 teams at our first event), we continued to grow and in 1983 we moved to a small upstart cable company in Connecticut named ESPN. As ESPN’s footprint grew, we created more events so that we could grow along side them.

CC&A: How did you develop and start Varsity Brands?
Jeff Webb: In 1979, we added the uniform component to our business and we called the line Varsity Spirit Fashions, as it’s still called today. When we went public in 1992 the entire umbrella was put under Varsity Spirit Corporation. Then, when the company was taken private in a management-led buy back in 2004; we had accumulated so many different brands in the spirit industry that we felt we should change the name to Varsity Brands.

CC&A: What do you attribute to the success of UCA and Varsity Brands?
Jeff Webb: I think that we’ve always focused on trying to do the right thing for the young people who are involved in the activity. From the very beginning, we employed in our business culture a lot the things that have been popularized over the last decade--things like continuous improvement and having a customer-centric focus. I think we’ve also been very fortunate to have a lot of great people who have believed in our philosophy, the way we do things and what we’re trying to do. They have been attracted enough to affiliate on a long-term permanent basis with our company. And we’ve benefited from their talent and their commitment.

Building a business from scratch is hard. I ran the business from my apartment the first three years. We’ve had 30 consecutive years of growth and I’m not sure many companies can say that. If you took all the other cheerleading companies’ gross revenues, we’d be larger than all of them combined.

We’ve tried to run the business by focusing on doing the right thing, having great people, delivering a great product, being open to change and running a sound business. We’ve made some mistakes along the way, but you always hope you make more good decisions than bad ones.

CC&A: Varsity is such a large company; do you ever worry that it might be overwhelming to your customers for it to be so large?
Jeff Webb: At crucial times, we’ve regionalized our business. We have regional managers, state directors, and 250 full-time sales people. We want to be able to take advantage of our national scope and be able to create great programs and leverage our strength; we want to do the things that having scale allows us to do. As far as our customers are concerned, we want to be able to deliver and interact with them locally. I think that’s been the key to being able to sustain our growth and to also sustain the relationships that have helped build our business.

CC&A: What would you like people to know about Varsity Brands that you don’t think they already know?
Jeff Webb: We have a number of different organizations and brands under the umbrella of Varsity. Varsity is what you’d call a halo brand. The individual brands maintain their own identity and nuances, so that our customers have a choice. We are committed to that philosophy. The brands operate somewhat independently, although woven through the culture that binds those brands together are certain principles and values like integrity and customer emphasis. Those are the things that we share in common, but they have individual identities so that there is a choice.

Our many companies include: Universal Cheerleaders Association, National Cheerleaders Association, Varsity Spirit Fashions, Cheerleader Danz Team, United Spirit Association, Universal Dance Association, American Cheerleaders Association, National Dance Association, Athletic Champion-ships, Premier Athletics, and Select Soccer Brand.

Varsity Brands, Inc.
6745 Lenox Center Court
Suite 300
Memphis, TN 38115

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