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John Ryan

On Upgrading Stores and Perceptions

Discounter Sports Direct opened an Oxford Street flagship. Will it be able to translate its design language?

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ON THIS SIDE OF THE Pond there’s a retailer called Sports Direct, which does pretty much what it says on the tin in terms of offering equipment and clothing for a wide range of sports. It does so with a keen eye on the ticket price – this is a place you head for if you’re keeping an eye on your outgoings.

Yet in spite of it being what many might term a discount operation, Sports Direct has aspirations to be something else. Last week it reopened its flagship on London’s Oxford Street having spent around £10m (just shy of $14m at today’s rates) on a revamp aimed at proving that it has its place among the biggest guns. This is a large store, 50,000 square feet, and into has been injected everything from interactive screen after screen to a soccer ball hologram at the entrance and a sports bra fitting area.

The idea is that the money lavished here will be sufficient to alter perceptions about what the brand stands for and, as this is a national chain, to establish a “halo effect” that shoppers will carry with them when they visit their local store, which will not look quite the same as the Oxford Street giant.

The mild problem with this line of thought is the physical reality that will confront provincial Sports Direct shoppers where things may be exactly as they have always been. The challenge for the retailer then is to take the essence of what has been done in Oxford Street and to export its spirit without lashing out as far as capital expenditure is concerned. It can be done, of course, with a judicious use of graphics and visual merchandising, and perhaps a gentle upgrade of the service that is commonly found in a Sports Direct branch. If it is, then ambition may become reality, and certainly the retailer’s stated aim of opening flagship stores of this kind across Europe could become a problem for rivals from branded outfits such as Nike and Adidas, to French private-label giant Decathlon.

There is, however, probably some way to go before Sports Direct can reasonably claim to have made this happen…

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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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