Durham Bulls Break Records with E-Commerce for 2020, Creative Pivots Rule the Year

“We had no traditional way to operate during a pandemic, so we tried anything and everything.”
– DBBC Asst Director of Merchandising Ashley Larson

The Durham Bulls recently sent an e-blast thanking fans for their support in 2020.  “You showed up in a BIG way” headlined the email.  The Bulls ended up with a record-breaking year in e-commerce, which was like hitting a homerun on a full count and two outs.

Durham Bulls - Your Showed Up in a Big Way

The January 13, 2021 e-blast from the Durham Bulls

“When the pandemic hit, and then the eventual cancellation of the season, here at the Bulls we knew we had to completely change and evolve as a business to get through the year, and be as successful as possible,” said DBBC Director of Merchandising/Team Travel Bryan Wilson.  “From World Series watch parties, movies on the field, to chicken sales, no idea was too far-fetched or off the table.”

As the DBAP closed down, the Bulls Store had to find a new way to operate.

“In the merchandising department, we had some very unique challenges in front of us,” said Wilson. “How do we keep our fans interest in the team and store?  When our store was closed down, we were lucky enough to be able to stay open through our e-commerce store.  Ashley Larson, who heads our e-com and the marketing department went to work.  No idea was off limits, no promotion was off the table.  Within days we could see our sales increasing dramatically.  The teamwork from the front office staff was extraordinary.  The fan support was amazing.”

DBBC Asst Director of Merchandising Ashley Larson stepped up to the plate and learned fast.

“It was my second year leading our E-commerce efforts in the Retail Department heading into 2020, and I was excited to see what all we could do with our new Shopify platform,” she said.  “We had only been about 6 months into using Shopify with little knowledge of all that we could accomplish through this platform, and 2020 became a crash course in ALL THE THINGS E-commerce and Shopify!”

She continued, “Even with the store closed for a little bit, Bryan & I were still processing and shipping out the orders being placed​. Like many other divisions and departments in CBC, we had to re-think what our focus was (in-store, games, face-to-face customer service) and worked with every department like we never have before to reach customers, create content and keep selling.”

Wash Your Horns

The Bulls “Wash Your Horns” tee was among the Top 3 Bulls merch for 2020.

Wilson outlined the trajectory of the most popular items of the year.

Our first giant success was the “wash your horns” tee that we created in support of the United Way.  That really was our first glimpse of what we may accomplish in e-commerce.  Then came the masks.  This turned out even better than expected because not only did it help us with sales, but our partners OT Sports in Burlington created them for us.  They are milb’s biggest jersey manufacturer and with the season ending they had to get creative as well, and their masks are a big hit.  

Then came the Bullshirt.  When the season was cancelled, a couple of milb teams came out with “Undefeated 2020”, or my favorite “2020 Unflocking Believable” from Myrtle Beach.   These teams were having success and we knew with the Bullshirt we would as well.  Ashley went to work on our store site to set up for the pre-order of tees.  We set it so there would be no limit on how many fans could order, and we would just set our order from the vendor from there.   Marketing then did their magic with email blasts, and social hits everywhere.

Our goal initially was about 750 tees.   That would be an incredible achievement.   We did 2,000 in 10 days!  We had no plan to keep selling this tee, but 5,200 by the holidays later we still have it here along with the new 2021 version.  If you all could have seen how we transformed our sponsorship office area into a makeshift shipping facility!

The Durham Bulls did just about everything to play ball, short of playing ball, during the year of the pandemic.

“We leveraged curbside pick-up, we designed T-shirt styles that would not have otherwise existed, we utilized a pre-order concept where we could promote products we didn’t have in store yet to keep relevance with current times,” said Larson.  “All of these ‘pivots’ allowed us to see opportunity in a different light. And shout out to our Marketing team – they made it look easy! We had no traditional way to operate during a pandemic, so we tried anything and everything.”

Durham Bulls Bullshirt

The Durham Bulls’ “This Is Some Bullshirt” tee was the #1 merch items of 2020.

The front office staff truly worked as a team.  Every person dug in their heels, doing whatever task was necessary to keep the DBAP successful.

“I am super thankful for all our co-workers who helped us with processing, packaging and shipping out orders and a platform that allowed us to create and provide a quality shopping experience online for our customers during this wild year!” said Larson.

A key player in all of the success has been the Bulls’ dedicated fans.

“Between the great teamwork of our office and the incredible fans, we were able to achieve some incredible store numbers even without games,” said Wilson.  “Ashley did a phenomenal job all season pushing some fantastic ideas and promotions out, and it showed with our sales and great customer service.”

See all of the creative things the Bulls are already up to in 2021:

Also keep up with the latest on Bulls social media and the hit podcast:


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