Who's on the ball among the sports retailers?

Marker leaders pick their market leader
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Peter Cowgill, finance director, JD Sports Plc

Our target market is the lifestyle wearers rather than the sport participators. There is an overlap between the two, but we are oriented towards clothing and footwear.

The sports goods retail market has settled. It was a fast-expanding market, particularly in the early Nineties, and there was an influx of operators. Some have disappeared and the level of overlap between the main players has reduced.

We have a strong relationship with the brands in product development and have a vast number of exclusive ranges with them. We do have some own-brand produce, but mainly we have exclusive lines with the likes of Nike, Reebok or Adidas, which we helped to design.

We admire the philosophy of JJB Sports. They're in the slightly more volume end of the market, perhaps more price-driven rather than fashion or commodity driven.

Jim Tucker, general manager, Nike UK

What we have created with Niketown is a retail experience, but it's designed to enhance the brand message.

It's a fast-moving business, so you have to be in tune with consumers and consumer tastes and preferences. You've got to be knowledgeable about the sport the consumer wants to participate in so they get the appropriate product. Something we've seen in Niketown, and we'll see happen in retail, is an expansion of the offering and the accessibility of products to women athletes. The area in Niketown is one of the largest women's dedicated sports areas in retail in Europe.

I like the range Lillywhites offers. They cover all kinds of sports, so whatever your interest or activity, Lillywhites has a product range for you.

David Whelan, chairman, JJB Sports

The two big growth areas are the kiddy market and the ladies market. The kiddy market has been changed by television, by Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, the stars who come on television and play football. Everybody dreams of following in their footsteps.

From the age of two, the youngsters are saying, 'I want to wear those Nike shoes or those Adidas shoes', and the parents get driven by the youngsters to buy them what they want. At present, we only sell golf equipment, replica shirts and keep-fit equipment online, but that will be expanded over the next year.

JD Sports specialise in the fashion end of sport, and we don't take them on in that area, but they are very good at it. Blacks Leisure do more outdoor stuff than we do; they seem to do that very well, and we don't take them on at that. The other one is probably Allsports, and they again are good at the fashion end of the sports market.

David Broughton, managing director, Intersport GB

When I came into this business in the Seventies, there were huge areas of merchandise, which, at the end of the season, you could pack up, put away and bring down next year. That has turned on its head; the amount of business you can do on a year-round basis that isn't fashion driven is small - down to what we would describe as consumables, like footballs. Almost everything else has a limited shelf life.

Because of the nature of our businesses, the focus is on an attempt to identify what the consumer wants, and how to handle inquiries that require the detailed knowledge senior assistants would have. We put a lot of store behind being able to handle technical queries.

I admire JD Sport. I think JD dug themselves a pit when they floated; the City asked them for bottom-line growth relentlessly. I'm not questioning the flotation, but long term I see problems. They've turned that business around and gone back to what they are good at, and it shows in the results.

Tom Knight, managing director, First Sport

The common theme that runs through the successful sports retailers is that they are entrepreneurial. I started the business and sold it to Blacks (Leisure Plc), but I stayed on and grew it for the shareholders. Our target market is a more discerning consumer, probably more fashionable than into health and fitness. We target the female consumer - our ladies' business grew by 40 per cent.

The turnover of stock has to be fast. The lifespan of a product if you're at the aspirational end is fairly short. If you're at the commodity end, like JJB Sports, the product life is longer because you sell on price.

To achieve differentiation in the market, what we have sought to do is develop more special products exclusive to us. I think David Whelan (of JJB Sports) knows what he is doing.

Felix Funcke, managing director, Lillywhites

Our target is people who want to participate in a certain activity or sport and are passionate about it.

We put almost every member of staff through training in sports categories because product knowledge and customer advice is very important to Lillywhites' business. Each member of staff has to know at least all the specifications of one, two or even three categories. Our range is wide because we cover all necessary products, be it footwear, equipment or accessories, for all the most important sports categories.

Most of the retailers that are sports anchored are independent, and they are almost in our formula of success, which is clearly excellence in service.

Sport and Soccer have a consistent formula and it is a discounting operation. They have developed a brand that is owned by them, Donnay. They are pioneers in this area and have been very successful.

Garry Haydon, executive chairman, YHA Adventure Shops

Our main market is young, adventurous travellers. We target safety and security as well as trying to ensure we play a part in their enjoyment. We are unusual, even in the outdoor sector. Products in our stores include disposable syringes, for instance. You don't usually find those in a sports shop.

Everybody seems to want to do something when they go on holiday, cycling, light walking, or so on. Lots of grandparents come in with children and they are the ones taking the children out there and doing it. I've been impressed by the way Gap marketed a particular lifestyle and did it well. Where does an activity jacket become an anorak or leisure jacket? The lines are blurred.

Richard Lancaster, general manager, GT Sport

The industry is trying to regain some of the sales we lost to the fashion houses, hence more lifestyle products from the major sports manufacturers.

Five or six years ago, good product knowledge was seen as essential. It's become less so with the arrival of the multiple operators. We have always trained because we can offer something multiple operators can't in the knowledge of our sales assistants. We don't have the big volumes to negotiate with that the major players do, so we have to make sure we can give something for terms.

We give discipline in-store, how and where we display products. I do admire JJB Sports. Anyone showing a 64 per cent profit increase commands respect.