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Making More of Smaller Spaces Downtown

Decathlon opens a store on Kensington High Street




Big box retailers are moving into central London where they might previously have taken the cheaper route of trading from its fringes. A prime example is Decathlon. This is a French sports retailer that has been in the U.K. since 1999, and in all of that time it has operated from big sheds on the edges of towns and cities.

Last week, however, it broke this habit by opening a store on London’s ritzy and central Kensington High Street. Property value in this neck of the woods is steep, which means, with the exception of the three-floor Whole Foods Market just up the road, that stores tend to be small.

Decathlon is no exception and the overwhelming majority of the space that it trades from is in the basement (cheaper).

In spite of all of this, the retailer has managed to fit clothing and equipment for 50 different sports (it offers 71 online) into a space that is just shy of 12,000 square feet. It has also been very careful to stock the store with the urban shopper being top of mind. To this end, there are foldable scooters and road bikes (we don’t do touring “sit up and beg” bikes in London) for those wishing to make the work commute faster. There are workshops for both and a personalization area ensures that whatever you buy is yours.

What this perhaps shows is that it’s possible to get an awful lot into a small space, but what’s required is a bit of careful thought about the shopping mission involved. Trading from Ken High Street is likely to be nearly as expensive as a massive edge-of-town shed, but Decathlon, and others like it, obviously see the exercise as worthwhile.

Heading downtown has its constraints, but it’s a moneymaker if you get it right (Target on New York’s 34th Street is the nearest comparison that can be made, and it’s still very sizable), but be aware that compromising and editing are essential, and these are good things.    



John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.




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