When the cameras zoom in on J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and many other Major League Baseball players up at bat, a company tucked away in the suburbs of Boston gets a few seconds of screen time.
Its name, Franklin, is striped across the knuckles of the league’s official batting glove. Franklin Sports’ logo also shows up on shin guards and basketballs in retail giants such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, and Walmart. And of course online on Amazon.
Despite selling more than 10,000 different products globally and boasting deals with professional leagues and hundreds of athletes, third-generation chief executive Adam Franklin, 40, admits the sporting goods brand that bears his family name managed to fly “super under the radar for all of these years.” Seventy-five years, to be exact.
The company employs more than 250 people, mostly at its Stoughton headquarters and a distribution center in Memphis. Revenue now tops $200 million a year, according to a person familiar with the privately held company’s financials. And Franklin’s hiring to support an online business that will soon outgrow in-store sales.
Franklin said the company is still scrappy. That mentality came from his grandfather, Irving Franklin, who founded the business in Brockton in 1946. With experience in the leather industry, he sold everything from football shoulder pads to women’s bras after World War II. He had a government contract to manufacture military gear during the Korean War, but in the early 1950s focused on sporting goods. It helped that Sears, one of his buyers, expressed interest in purchasing baseball gloves.
“Being the entrepreneur that he was, [my grandfather] said ‘absolutely, no problem,’” Adam Franklin said. “He walked out of [a] meeting with an order for 10,000 gloves . . . and no idea how to make [them].”
He figured it out. But the serial entrepreneur had a vision that extended beyond baseball gloves and Brockton, so he contacted someone he thought might give Franklin’s products big-name appeal: Super Bowl-winning New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath. Athlete endorsements were still a fairly novel idea back then. Today they’re a whole economy.
“My grandfather said ‘everyone knows who Joe Namath is, no one knows who Franklin is, so let’s do a deal,’” Franklin said. The company made a line of Namath-branded football gear, allowing it to enter retail stores across the country for the first time.
In the 1980s, Irving Franklin noticed baseball players were wearing golf gloves to prevent blisters and improve their grip at the plate, so he took a trip to spring training in Clearwater, Fla., and asked Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt to help him design batting gloves. Franklin also wanted the company to generate the same brand recognition on the field that Nike was then gaining with its swoosh logo on shoes.
“Why don’t you put your logo on the back of the hand?,” Schmidt told Franklin. Nearly 40 years later, it’s still there.
Schmidt passed out Franklin batting gloves to players, but eventually during a round of spring training games, it became too cumbersome for the future hall of famer to do himself. He called Larry Franklin — Irving’s son and Adam’s father — and suggested the company send someone down. He and his father turned to a warehouse employee.
“We said, ‘John, you’re going to go to Florida and work with Mike Schmidt,’” Larry, 72, recalled. “John didn’t have a clue.” Today, John Ballas manages Franklin’s entire MLB player program.
“He’s probably one of the most respected vendor reps in the business,” Adam Franklin said, adding that most employees stay with the company for their entire careers.
“People know who they are dealing with when they are dealing with Franklin,” Larry Franklin said.
That family culture permeates the company’s philanthropic efforts. They’ve long supported The BASE, a nonprofit in Roxbury that offers sports and educational programs for urban youth. Franklin provides equipment, and Adam speaks at events and hosts career visits at Franklin’s headquarters.
“Franklin, a global company, wasn’t afraid to put its name on a set of Black and Brown young folks . . . they show up” said BASE founder Robert Lewis Jr. “Everybody is talking diversity now, but Adam was stepping up before that. It comes from the top and it trickles through the DNA of the company.”
Adam Franklin grew up in Newton wearing Franklin gear to Little League baseball games. His first jobs were answering phones in the company’s customer service wing. Before he could work full time at Franklin, the rule was that he’d need to work somewhere else for five years, so he studied athlete contracts on the West Coast. He returned to Franklin around 2010 as a sales representative for accounts on that side of the country, which included retailer Amazon, which was then not quite yet the all-encompassing e-commerce behemoth it has since become.
He realized Franklin wasn’t ready to compete for online sales with its then “ancient website.” So Adam learned all he could, reading articles, attending workshops, and traveling to Seattle.
“I made it an obsession for a few years, and it really paid off,” he said. “When all of our competitors started to embrace Amazon, we had this huge head start.”
In 2010, nearly all of Franklin’s sales happened in-store. Last year, 40 percent of revenue came from online. Soon, Franklin thinks that figure will be 60 percent, and they’re hiring quickly on digital operations. He expects to have nearly 300 employees by the end of the year.
There’s physical expansion, too. The company has been in its warehouse since 1970 and the space was overdue for upgrades. The pandemic allowed it to tack on a new roof, rip out the carpet, replace every piece of office furniture, raise the ceiling, install a working HVAC system, and add 20,000 square feet of work space.
It’s all a part of Adam Franklin’s plan for a “Franklin campus” as the company enters its next phase of growth. That means setting up work areas outside and installing a pickleball court behind the warehouse.
The court is a reminder of where Franklin sees the company going. He’s actually taken a page out of his grandfather’s book, treating pickleball like batting gloves.
Two weeks ago, Franklin’s pickleball was named the official ball of USA Pickleball, the governing body of the sport, and Franklin already has contracts with professional athletes. The goal, Franklin said, is to see pickleball, and Franklin at the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.
“What is happening with pickleball is once in a lifetime; it is not often that a new sport emerges and has retail viability and mass appeal,” he said. “This is a unicorn.”
Many of Franklin’s competitors are public companies, or backed by private equity. Larry Franklin said he’s resisted the overtures to sell the company, even though “we get a lot of them.” Adam Franklin’s on a similar wavelength, aiming to keep the company in the family — and he’s already decided that his kids will have to work somewhere else for seven years before taking the mound.