CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's the most wonderful time of the year at Sport Mart.
No, not Christmas. Football season.
Since 1930, Charleston-based Sport Mart has provided sporting goods, apparel and equipment to teams and fans throughout the Kanawha Valley and beyond.
While the company sells merchandise for just about every sport imaginable - ranging from fishing to darts - the big money maker is America's fall tradition.
"Football is the biggest contributor to our sales," retail sales manager Justin Cherry said.
And just like the fans, the company takes the season very seriously.
"We start preparing for high school football season the day after the last game is played in November," Sport Mart president Bob Lilly said.
Each year, company sales representatives head out to schools throughout West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia to take orders for Little League, middle and high school team supplies.
The company literally equips players from head to toe, selling helmets, jerseys, pants, pads, mouthpieces, all the way down to socks and cleats.
It takes a lot of planning to line up all of that equipment, even before the sales are made.
"We have buyers that will go to shows and see what's coming out for the next year's season," Cherry said. "So we really have to plan a year ahead as far as the merchandise we're going to carry."
Lilly said the company also needs about six months' lead-time to produce custom jerseys for an entire team.
Production hits a fever pitch in July and August, when orders start shipping.
Since all that work happens in the back of the company's MacCorkle Avenue store, most everyday customers don't realize what's going on when they browse the showroom.
"We can be slow out here on the sales floor, but it can be like Christmas time in the back," Lilly said. "We have people working overtime and double-shifts just to get the orders out the door."
Lilly said in recent years, schools have been cutting back on their sports budgets. But he said parents are picking up the slack.
Cherry said most also want to go the extra mile to make sure their sons have enough equipment to play injury-free all season.
"The big issue right now is with concussions," Cherry said. "Even if the school does provide a helmet, the parents will still come in to ask for something extra to protect their kids."
Those parents also aren't just equipping their sons, but their daughters, as well.
"Whenever you have a football team, you have cheerleaders, too," Cherry said.
In addition to football team sales, the company does a lot of business supplying cheerleading uniforms and supplies each year.
Once the first high school game of the season is played, though, Lilly said the company goes headlong into its college sales season.
"It should really start next week prior to the opening game," he said.
Company vice president Buddy Clendenin said each year, customers come in for the latest apparel and tailgate supplies so they can be fully stocked and prepared for that first game.
They also want their clothes to match the people on the field, he said.