The Evolution of Football Teamwear Dealers

Then

When the first football clubs emerged in the late 1850’s and 60’s there were no uniforms as such.

Players would turn out in whatever they had to hand and teams would be distinguished by wearing distinctively coloured caps, scarves or sashes over cricket whites (many clubs were formed by cricketers seeking a team game for the winter) or whatever else players had to hand. The first reference to “colours” comes from the rules of Sheffield FC in 1857, which stated:

“Each player must provide himself with a red and dark blue flannel cap, one colour to be worn by each side.”


The first uniform kits began to appear around 1870. In England colours were often those of the public schools and sports clubs with which the game was associated: Blackburn Rovers first wore white jerseys adorned with the blue Maltese Cross of Shrewsbury School, where several of their founders were educated. Reading first played in the salmon pink, pale blue and claret colours of the rowing club that spawned them. Caps, cowls and other headgear were de rigeur throughout the decade.

In first FA Cup final in 1872, Wanderers wore pink, black and cerise while their opponents, The Royal Engineers played in dark red and navy shirts. The game was played almost exclusively by men from the upper middle class and minor aristocracy, men who could afford to buy a shirt in their club’s colours from their tailor. That said, plain white shirts were very popular, being both relatively cheap and easily obtainable. As one might expect, given that players bought their own jerseys, there was considerable variation within a team. Early photographs of The Wednesday, for example, show players wearing hoops of varying widths.

…and now

All a far cry from today’s football teamwear market where a multitude of brands, colours and designs (both on and off field) are available.

I know the teamwear market very well and, as I reflect on 2017 and look at 2018, I’ve been thinking about the future of the teamwear dealer and what the ultimate dealership might look like.

We are all well aware of the impact that eCommerce has had on the sporting goods industry however, certainly to date, the selling of teamwear online has not seen the same explosive growth.

Sure, there are good dealers who are seeing growth, however the experience of adding sponsor logos, names, numbers, choosing embroidery, print and all of the other bespoke elements means that to order online is, perhaps, more difficult than ordering face to face.

The result is that the “offline” dealers can compete with the “online’ dealers in a way that many retailers focussing on individual sports are simply unable to do.

Likewise there is very little cross border trading in teamwear and, of course, the third party platforms are also not suitable as an environment to order embellished teamwear.

So with these factors in mind it appears that, certainly in the short term, the football teamwear dealer can grow offline. But how can the experience be improved further?

Location

It is certainly true that as High Street rents have continued to climb more and more teamwear dealers have moved to out of town sites.

Here they have the advantage of plenty of parking spaces and lower rents. A small business unit offers the flexibility of office, showroom, production and warehouse space and can provide an excellent environment for teamwear sales.

Since the nature of the product on offer is a considered purchase (rather than a passing trade opportunity) this location does not harm the proposition and, as is often the case, can provide a much more compelling environment for the end consumer to make his or her buying decision.

Showroom

A showroom is fundamental. It should be fully stocked with brand samples (both designs and colour options) in an organised and logical way.

Perhaps most logical is to group options in colour collections rather than by brand. This allows the club to see their “live” choices and options together to make an informed choice.

Embellishment

Whilst those in the trade fully familiar with embroidery machines, it always surprises me how fascinated end consumers are with these machines. So make a feature of them. I cite the example of the Barcelona FC shop at the Camp Nou where all of the embellishment machines are behind glass and the customer can see the number or name being applied.

Why not use this approach to bring some theatre to your business as well as showing the customer you investment (which I often considerable) working. This, after all, is your key selling point – the ability to offer embellishment on site.

Bar and Events

When I think of the ultimate teamwear buying environment it would be sitting on a comfy sofa, with a pint (or a coffee) in hand, viewing ranges, options and prices and with a game on in the background.

Why does nobody create this environment?

Imagine a showroom, a bar, Large TV screen on the wall and space to make choices, watch a game, make decisions.

Link into the local leagues and clubs and this environment could become a focal point for shop events – “Champions League tonight – Come and watch the game and get 5% discount off any club kit purchase”.

I see a multifaceted space that is commercial (I.e selling kits) as well being an entertaining space.

The deeper the connection with the consumer and club the more the attraction to come to a venue such as this.

Catering could add an additional element -as the cycling brand Rapha does very well in its London store.

Eat, watch, shop.

Club Shops

Of course any modern teamwear business needs to offer a comprehensive online solution for the club. An online club shop is a critical tool in gaining business in today’s competitive market making it easy for club members to purchase kit and ensuring ease of payment.

Second Tier

Alongside offering core inline products a second tier solution adds additional value to the club. Find a supplier of non branded products, get some shirt designs done using the likes of fiverr.com and offer a bespoke club specific fan range. Even small clubs would be interested in this as a proposition.

Add all these elements together, create a focal point, some theatre, a reason for clubs to visit (and not just when they are purchasing product) and one can create a destination football teamwear store that stands out against any online competition and can truly establish itself as the “go to” teamwear store in the area.

Good luck!

Black Friday

Background

For many UK consumers Black Friday is directly associated with amazon and their increasingly aggressive marketing of this busy shopping period, as well as becoming an increasing focal points for suppliers and retailers to drive end of year business.

However, in reality, Black Friday originated as the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November). Since 1952, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season with the phrase being traced back to 1960’s Philadelphia where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving due to heavy shopping activity.

By the early 2000’s Black Friday activity in the US had risen to new levels with stores opening earlier and earlier (culminating eventually in midnight opening) and with greater and greater activity around the date.

By 2014 Black Friday hysteria had finally hit the UK. More UK-based retailers adopted the Black Friday marketing scheme than ever before to the extent that during Black Friday sales in 2014, police forces were called to stores across Britain to deal with crowd control issues, assaults, threatening customers and traffic issues. After such chaos in 2015 many retailers took a step back from the activity and the pure play online dealers moved to take advantage. In 2016, total spend on online retail sites on Black Friday 2016 was £1.23bn, marking a +12.2% increase on the £1.1bn spent on the same day in 2015.

The truth is, whether you like it or not, Black Friday has become a fixture in the retail calendar and it appears to be here to stay. According to the most recent predictions from Retail Week, Black Friday is set to break the £2 billion barrier with 33.5% of consumers planning to buy something – but where, when and what is in the retailers’ hands as they take back the reigns of this pre-Christmas mega sale.

The consumer is now in control

So what impact has this huge shift had on our own industry and on shopping in general?

In the past, promotions were driven by the need to shift end of season stock, as a reaction to an unforeseen sales slowdown, or around key events such as Mother’s Day or Christmas. Mike Watkins, Head of Retailer and Business Insight at Nielsen UK, emphasised that “the challenge we have is that shoppers` no longer think in this way.”

The recession and discounting trends within the sector have fundamentally changed the consumers shop. Research from Conlumino reveals that 75% of consumers would rarely buy certain products at full price, and 62% say they wait to buy until a product is on offer or discounted.

In today’s digitally enabled world consumers can shop for anything, anytime from anywhere. No longer are retailers, distributors, or brands in control – it is the consumer that is firmly in the driving seat. “Put simply,” said Mike Watkins, Head of Retailer and Business Insight at Nielsen UK, “we should now consider ripping up the old rule books for promotional strategy.” As such, retailers need to find a way to play their cards better to make the most of this new consumer mind-set.

Of course the major activity is being driven by the major players, however Black Friday generates additional footfall in most town centres and online and there is no reason why the smaller independent sports retailer cannot take advantage of this new sales opportunity.

According to Dominic Allon, Europe vice president and managing director of Intuit QuickBooks there are five key things that owners of smaller retail organisations should consider when preparing their business for the Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending weekend.

1. Giving the right discount

Shop owners must be smart with the discounts they offer and make sure they are still able to make a profit whilst remaining competitive.

2. Buy first, return later

Smaller retail owners must think beyond the weekend and factor in the chance of returns into their finances, otherwise they could fall short when predicting their profit and loss.

3. Buying stock is a balancing act

Buying from suppliers may be costly, and on normal days when the shop isn’t as busy, having two of every item in stock may just be enough. However,more shoppers are expected on the high street during this bumper sales weekend, so having enough stock in store to cover extra sales is crucial.

Use data from previous years to understand what is likely to sell, and buy enough stock to keep customers happy. But, do bear in mind that going overboard and not selling risks problems for your cash flow.

4. Having to rely on others

Unlike larger retailers, most small business owners do not benefit from having their very own logistics service that can adapt to the demand over the busy period.

Instead, retail owners must rely on external services that are already busy with multiple other suppliers.

Small retailers must offer customers a guaranteed delivery time that aligns with what their courier service can offer.

Introducing a slightly longer delivery time over the busy period could help with the demand and keep your customers satisfied.

5. Plan, predict and manage

No matter how big a business is, the key to success over the Black Friday weekend is preparing for every eventuality.

It should not be weeks in the planning but months, and failing to have a complete overview of your finances could stop you in your tracks.

Having a holistic view of your finances that monitors all money coming in and going out is crucial to surviving the weekend of extra sales and extra returns.

If you play your cards right and plan for every outcome, your small retailing business can reap all the success of this long weekend of serious spending.

T-Commerce

The notion of consumers wanting to purchase products from their TV screen has been around for years.

TV shopping channels

Its nearly 25 years since TV shopping channel QVC first opened its doors in the UK and, after a rather shaky start, the business has continued to grow and evolve where others -most notably JJB and Argos – have failed to gain traction in the marketplace.

Of course things have changed dramatically since the mid 1990’s. We now consume our TV content in so many different ways whether it be mobile, catch up, streaming, sitting out our desk or sitting on the sofa ,giving us a almost unlimited flexibility.

The growth of Ecommerce

During that same time frame our shopping experiences have also evolved. The internet and Ecommerce came along allowing us more freedom of choice as to when, where and how we purchase products.

It was with these two thoughts in mind that I read with interest the recent announcement that Amazon had outbid Sky to win exclusive ATP tour tennis rights. The Amazon Prime streaming service will now show nearly all elite men’s tennis events, except the four grand slams.

A few weeks later Ed Woodward, Manchester United Vice-Chairman, was commenting in a call with analysts that he believes Amazon and Facebook are likely to bid for Premier League streaming rights in the future.

Its a development that, on the surface, simply underlines that our TV habits are shifting, however dig a little deeper and a vision of the future begins to materialise.

T-Commerce

For years commentators have talked about the potential to purchase goods through your TV whilst watching sport. Imagine rolling the mouse of a TV remote control over the football boots that have just scored or the shirt that a certain tennis player is wearing. The price and option to buy comes up and the transaction is made with one click.The result – TV (or T-) commerce.

T-commerce — interactive shopping integrated with programming — has been a small but growing space for the past 5 years or so. US company Delivery Agent had been at the forefront, powering the “shoppable” Katy Perry’s Super Bowl XLIX halftime show in 2015 among other projects. Customers included Discovery, NBCU, Fox, CBS, HBO, Showtime, CBS, FX, Turner, Comcast, Cablevision Systems, AT&T and Verizon, among others, along with studios such as Lionsgate, Legendary and Sony Pictures.

However, in 2016 they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Some questioned whether the filing represented a death knell for t-commerce, The Wall Street Journal however noted that the filing comes after Delivery Agent’s plans for an IPO failed, and added that a lack of a scalable platform, too much expense in its operations and overspending completed the company’s woes.

Imagine then that a huge global organisation was to embrace T-commerce and overcome such issues. A company that already has a massive Ecommerce AND TV streaming service. Imagine that this company brings these two elements together in the sports world, and imagine the impact that this might have .

In my opinion that company could be Amazon.

Amazon

We are all aware of the continued impact the company has on the sporting goods (and TV) industry. Its a small step to imagine that whilst sporting rights brings a new subscription (Amazon Prime) audience, could these same rights also be monetised through a clever T-commerce strategy?

After all there is already a huge amount of sports product for sale within Amazon. To begin to link these lines back into streaming, to evolve the amazon firestick remote control to navigate in screen purchases and to ultimately drive additional revenue seems like to logical bringing together of TV and sports.

The key point, as I see it, is that Amazon is an Ecommerce business moving into the TV space as opposed to, for example, Sky who are through and through TV/media company who do not have the expertise to really drive Ecommerce success.

This fundamental difference would allow Amazon to address the T-commerce opportunity in a way that Sky (or for that matter many other broadcasters) would be unable to.

Lets think deeper about the Amazon marketplace model. If marketplace sellers in the sporting goods industry had the chance to put their listings in a streaming environment then the ad revenue opportunity for Amazon and the additional sales opportunity for that seller looks interesting.

Not only could a marketplace seller bid to place their listing predominately within the traditional amazon listings, they may also be able to bid to place that item on screen during a sports event which was being streamed by Amazon.

In the same way the traditional wholesale/brand partners, such as Nike and adidas who sell direct to Amazon would be able to bring a deeper marketing strategy to the relationship. Launching a new product at a sporting event streamed by Amazon with the opportunity for the viewer to purchase this new item in one click certainly seems a compelling proposition and would enable a much stronger connection between sales and marketing strategies as well as the ability to clear track the P&L of such an activity.

Time will tell whether the T-commerce route is indeed one that Amazon will explore. What is however clear, in my opinion, is that, despite the Delivery Agent bankruptcy, the merger of sporting rights and the ability to retail sporting goods (and any other products) products on screen appear to be a logical development within our industry.

I will watch the space with eager anticipated.

US Sports Retail in “Panic Mode”

Early August 2017 and the shares of Dicks Sporting Goods – the leading US sporting goods retailer, and one of the biggest sports retailers in the world, drop over 20%.

Dicks CEO Edward Stack announces that “There’s a lot of people right now in retail and in this industry in panic mode with how they’re pricing, and we think it’s going to continue to be promotional, and at times irrational, going forward.”

Many of Dick’s partners and its rivals were being dragged down with it. Hibbett Sports shares sank more than 10 percent. Shares of Under Armour, Foot Locker and Big 5 Sporting Goods were all falling around 4 percent. Cabela’s was down 3 percent, Callaway Golf Company down 2 percent, and Nike down 1.8 percent.

Pittsburgh-based Dick’s had hoped to benefit from rivals’ bankruptcies, including those of City Sports and Sports Authority, but competition from specialty retailers like Under Armour and Foot Locker remains a threat.

The company recently launched a private-label clothing line, called Second Skin, that aims to compete directly with Under Armour’s niche. But it’s too soon to tell if the line will help boost sales

So whats going on across the pond and are the same issues being reflected here?

Amazon

Last month I covered the new trading relationship between Nike and Amazon and, whilst it is far to early to tell what impact this will have, market sentiment both in the US and here suggests that this further increases pressure on any sports retailer who doesn’t have a credible ecommerce proposition. Dick’s is just another example of Amazon becoming the new middleman.

Certainly an increasing number of brands who, perhaps in the past, refused to deal directly with amazon are now jumping on board. This is most likely to affect those market place sellers, many of whom are independent retailers who see this as their last hope to maintain their business. If the brands begin to “control” this channel in conjunction with amazon then its logical that, over time, they will want to implement selective distribution strategies and begin to prevent marketplace sellers and try to control retail price erosion.

A warning then, perhaps, for any retailer who currently has too many eggs in the amazon marketplace basket. Is this a sustainable long term strategy?

If prices continue to tumble and amazon continues to grow, as one retail analyst puts it, “Here we go down the gross margin rabbit hole”.

And, indeed, it is gross margin worries that are driving brands and retailers to address their pricing strategies.

Margins

Whilst on the one hand, amongst other things, massive currency fluctuations over the past twelve months have driven up the cost of goods and driven up retail prices, on the other hand increased private label activity and consumer pressure for lower prices has resulted in margins falling across the industry.

In their latest results, for example, Sports Direct show deteriorating margins across the board and a 59 per cent plunge in underlying pre-tax profit, even with an extra week in this financial year.

Difficult then to implement the strategy “to become the ‘”Selfridges” of sport by migrating to a new generation of stores to showcase the very best products from our third party brand partners” when margins from those partners are substantially lower than own label products margins.

A shift to increased third party partners will inevitably lead to further margin pressure.

Brands becoming retailers

Increased brand focus on driving direct to consumer sales strategies is likely to add further pressure on the traditional sports retailers.

Multi channel offerings from the major brands and easier direct access to the end consumer enables the brands to drive innovative retail strategies which they would simply be unable to offer through their retail partners.

Increased use of technology, increased direct feedback from consumers and getting products to the market quicker will all enable sports brands to gain a greater retail market share over time.

Will the next generation of mega sports brand be one that doesn’t even have a wholesale strategy?

Analysts

So what do the analysts make of the challenges facing the industry;

UBS analyst Michael Lasser on Dicks- “DKS is operating in a tough sporting goods retail landscape. While it’s managing the environment better than its brick and mortar peers, it isn’t fully immune from the external environment.”

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown on SDI – “Sports Direct still faces challenging times….the weak pound is increasing costs, and the British consumer is facing rising inflation and weak wage growth, not a pretty combination for the price-sensitive shoppers who turn to Sports Direct for a bargain.

Striking similar sentiments with neither indicating that the short term future will be any rosier.

I have commented many times within these articles how quickly things are changing and how multi faceted the factors impacting our industry have become.

So what future?

Retailers continue to evolve into brands and brands into retailers. Ecommerce continues to have a huge influence on shopping habits. Amazon, at 40%+ of UK ecommerce traffic, continues to throw up challenges. Our independent retailer base is declining. Our major retailers are struggling under increased margin pressure albeit many are growing their revenues. Our brands are increasing their direction interaction with end consumers.

There are so many influencing factors that will shape the future of the trade.

But one thing is for sure. Those within the trade who consider the changes and adapt accordingly will survive.

Failure to adapt will, undoubtedly, lead to extinction.

Good luck!

The rise of extreme events

A record total of 253,930 people entered the ballot for the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. With 50,000 runners accepted and, with a proportion of entrants dropping out due to illness, injury or other reasons before Race Day up to 45,000 runners finally completed the race.

There is no doubt that the popularity of this event continues to grow, and, in fact, since the event first started 36 years ago it is true to say that the profile of running as a sport has seen a huge evolution and has grown to be a mainstream form of exercise.

However, in recent years, it is not running in its purest form that has been attracting more and more participants – the sport of running and its industry alike have undergone a metamorphosis of sorts, where for many runners, the main goal of competing in events is finishing a race–and having fun doing it–rather than breaking records.This shift in the sport is due in large part to the growth of popularity of non-traditional races, such as the Tough Mudder, The Colour Run and Rat Race.

What’s driving the growth?

But what is driving the growth of participation in non-traditional running events?

On the one hand, the sport of running as a whole has experienced unprecedented growth. Sports Marketing Surveys Inc (SMS) estimates the UK’s running population has reached an impressive 10.5million runners with one in five adults running four or more times a year, while 25% of under-18s also qualify as active runners under these criteria.

Yet, leaders in the running industry are quick to note that it is not just the growing participation in the sport that is driving interest in non-traditional events. Many of these leaders believe that society’s shift toward a more localised lifestyle is at the root of the growth of non-traditional running events.

In the US, for example, Mikal Peveto of adidas America comments – “There is a seat change going on in the world, where we are embracing our smallness and local communities. Whether it’s fresh foods and farming or stores becoming a more vital part of the communities they’re in, we are seeing a natural reconfiguration of our values in terms of localness. The same applies to running. Today, the fastest growing events in the sport aren’t established marathons, but things like obstacle course races and the Tough Mudder, which are all very community based,”

Many market commentators also believe that there are economic reasons behind the growth of running and the associated Extreme Events.

Running is accessible. Equipment requirements are low. There is no coaching required, rules to learn, clubs to join. Simply put on your shoes and off you go!.

Certainly growth in running has accelerated since 2008 – perhaps directly influenced by the challenging economic period that has presided since that time.

More Women

Along with economics, another interesting aspect is the unique role that women’s growing interest in running has played in shaping the sport.

Many of the women signing up for ultra marathons and marathons today will take for granted their right to compete. But only 40 years ago, it was not an option.

As recently as the Eighties, it was thought to be too dangerous for women to run long distances. It wasn’t until the late Seventies that big city marathons began to allow women to compete. And women were not allowed to take part in the marathon at the Olympics until 1984.

Since then, women’s participation in marathons, ultra marathons, and adventure races has flourished.

There are likely a number of key reasons behind this evolution but certainly it does seem that a lot of women are using endurance races and events as a target to help motivate them to lose weight, or improve their fitness.

Social Media is undoubtedly a driver with many women using posts as a self motivational tool -much in the same way that those attending weight loss groups traditionally used their peer group within the circle to “compete against” they are now able to reach out to their wider peer group to help encourage them to achieve their goals.

It is also true that this “social” side has been the driver towards increased participation in non timed, but fun, events.

Impact and opportunities for the industry

With the growing participation of women in the sport of running and a shift in the types of events interesting runners our own industry is seeing some changes and some opportunities.

Extreme events have driven both the growth in specialist products (think innov8 and the cross over products from trail running) as well as more “informal” running apparel (think leggings, performance t’s etc).

In fact the latter category (in particular leggings) has seen the boundaries between street fashion and sport once again become blurred.

Brands such as Sweaty Betty and Lululemon have driven demand and several online retailers have launched sportswear verticals, such as Boohoo Fit, Missguided Active and Net-a-Sporter.

Likewise, as retailers recognise the “local/community” element to many of these events, the proactive dealers have created bespoke printed apparel options to further enhance both the fun and (often) team element of the race.

The future.

Given the fast and sizeable growth of participation in the sport of running recently and the non-traditional races facilitating that growth, where is the sport of running headed?

As we have already established, running isn’t an elitist sport in terms of costs. On top of that, research shows that most participants are of a higher educated, higher income bracket and professionally employed base. Therefore, they have the means to travel and pay entry fees and other associated costs with running.

The interesting shift is going to be watching and paying attention to the next generation.

How will millennials and their approach and attitudes towards life–whether it’s how they’re employed, where they live and how they spend and donate–impact the sport? Will the popularity of non-traditional events continue to grow with the millennials?

My own conclusion is that, as todays consumer continues to search for experience based events these sorts of activities will indeed grow. Perhaps we will end up with a sliding scale of events from the very extreme (think multi-day/multi discipline) through to the more traditional 5/10k as the consumer continues to demand more choice.

It does seem that participation numbers look set to continue to grow and thus, as an industry, the opportunities will continue to become available.

I’m off to get my old running shoes on and get dirty……

Breaking2

Waffle Trainer

Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was having breakfast with his wife one morning in 1971 when it dawned on him that the grooves in the waffle iron she was using would be an excellent mould for a running shoe.

Bowerman, who was a track and field coach at the time, had been searching for a way to make shoes lighter and faster and was inspired by his waffles!

Several ruined waffle irons later, and after much experimentation, the Nike Waffle Trainer launched in 1974.

Nike was on the way to becoming the multi billion dollar company that it is today.

Nike Air

When one looks back at the history of the brand there are various sign posts along the way when it comes to product development.

The Waffle Trainer indeed sits in the category, however it is perhaps the Nike Air that is the true legacy product.

Back in March 1977 a former NASA engineer, Frank Ruddy, and his business partner Bob Bogert sat in the Nike conference room presenting their new idea – to inject air into a running shoe.

Phil Knight recounts the story in his autobiography – Shoe Dog – “I set down the shoes and gave Rudy a closer look, a full head-to-toe. Six-three, lanky, with unruly dark hair, bottle-bottom glasses, a lopsided grin, and a severe vitamin D deficiency, I thought. Not enough sunshine. Or else a long-lost member of the Addams Family”

Perhaps not the image one thinks of behind one of the worlds best known shoe technologies, but nevertheless in 1978 the Nike Air Tailwind was launched.

As the 1980’s progressed and the global trainer market gained momentum so Nike continued to develop new technologies and, combined with shrewd athlete endorsements, grew to the force it is today.

Many of you, of course, already know this.

So what? I hear you say.

Well maybe, just maybe, the next major chapter in this story is upon us.

Breaking2

As a part time runner I became intrigued recently by the news coming from Nike HQ that they had embraced the challenge to break the 2 hour marathon mark – “Breaking2”.

A huge barrier that, with the world record currently standing at 2:02:57, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya in 2014, is no easy task to break.

To put this into perspective, to break the magic mark would mean running at an average of 4:34 per mile for 26.2 miles!

The athletes have been chosen – after more than two years of research, preparation and testing, three top distance runners—Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea—have officially started their Nike-backed build-up.

The track has been chosen – the Autodromo Nazionale Monza complex, a racetrack outside Monza in northern Italy, where the surface is asphalt and speed is certainly king.

But what about the shoes?

For months there have been rumours about a Nike shoe being created for the event, with suggestions that its sole would contain a special spring, which would circumvent the rules of the athletics governing body, the IAAF.

However, having now been unveiled, its now clear that the new Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite will instead have an internal gently curved carbon-fibre plate to minimise energy loss without causing cramping in the athlete.

Along with Flyknit, Flywire and other established Nike design features, the major advance comes from a patented carbon fibre insert that is reported to dramatically change the performance and profile of the shoe. The plate acts as a ‘stiffening element’ according to Nike’s design team, yet its impact on the shoe as a whole is perhaps more important. The curve of the plate changes the foot shape in the shoe, placing it more in the toe-off position and this does a couple of key thing; it helps improve on running economy due to reducing the strain on the lower leg thus delaying the onset of fatigue and it allows for increased cushioning in the shoe without a loss of performance.

The foam that covers this increased cushioning in the midsole has been improved too, as Nike’s Zoom foam becomes ZoomX. What does this mean? Well, apparently an 85% energy return compared to the typical 60-70%. This makes a big difference over 26.2 miles.

And then there’s the heel shape. This is the result of aerodynamic testing where a design driven by data has shown the tapered heel is there to improve the way the shoe cuts through the air.

All these elements, Nike believe, will give the athletes maximum assistance in the record breaking quest.

Other factors

Of course, if this barrier is to be broken it wont just be the shoe technology that makes the difference.

Other factors have to be taken into account:

  • Athlete selection:
    No matter how perfectly everything else is planned, there are probably only a few people on earth who have a chance of breaking two hours.

The team started with a pool of the hundreds of distance runners that Nike sponsors—a large group, but one that notably omits the three most recent marathon record-setters, Kimetto who are all sponsored by Adidas. The final selections were then based on a huge variety of parameters following extensive trials and testing.

  • Course and environment
    The Monza race track is relatively flat, relatively sheltered and relatively dry.

There are suggestions that a “drafting” approach where runners are constantly changing positions (much like a peleton within cycling) will also be an approach that could yield rewards.

  • Training and 4. Nutrition/hydration:
    T
    hese are the basic areas that most of us worry about when preparing for a marathon. Nike has a huge scientific staff ready to offer every possible support in these areas; still, over the coming months, each of the three athletes will continue to train with his own coach and in his own environment. Getting this balance right, so that the athletes benefit from extra support without disrupting what has worked so well for them in the past, will be a delicate task.

Conclusion

It remains to be seen whether the goal is finally achieved – it looks like Spring 2017 is the anticipated target date – and it also remains to be seen whether the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite will join the Waffle Trainer and Nike Air as an iconic shoe.

One things for sure technology will continue to evolve and records will continue to be broken…all thanks to a waffle iron!

Wearable Tech

Background

I have a confession to make. I’ve joined the wearable tech movement!

First it was my wife with a Fitbit, then one of my work colleagues with his Apple Watch and finally, after a little research, I took the plunge with a Garmin.

It felt, during the run up to Christmas and during the post festive season, that the “lets all lose weight and get fit” marketing messages finally wore me down.

On social media my friends have started posting the number of steps they have achieved that day, the press has a running commentary on whether counting steps has any benefit whatsoever, and the sporting goods and tech industry continues to drive the development of these devices towards more user friendly models.

The global fitness wearable market, which includes fitness wristbands, sport watches and smart garments, is now at over 68 million units sold per annum, according to a November 2015 report from analyst firm Gartner, and certainly at the recent ISPO the prominence of brands such as Samsung and Garmin underlined the impact that this is having on our own sporting goods industry.

Pro Level

At pro level wearable technology is playing a growing role in sport all over the world, from the UK’s football Premier League, worth more than £5bn ($7.1bn; €6.3bn) in global TV rights alone, to Aussie Rules Football, the first to pioneer the use of location-tracking GPS devices in 2004.

Wearable technologies and big-data analytics are enabling coaches, trainers and general managers to analyse previously unquantifiable aspects of athletic performance in fine detail.

Indeed some would argue that part of the success of the Leicester City side of last season was their use of technology in monitoring players personal performance and health with them coming in as the Premiership side with the fewest injuries during the season thus allowing them to play their strongest selections on a regular basis.

Scott Drawer, formerly Rugby Football Union’s performance manager and now with cycling’s Team Sky, says: “It may be that they have been using the data in a much smarter way to rest, rotate and recover players appropriately.

With such headlines it is absolutely clear then that it’s the athletes and the people on the frontlines that will help define the industry – much as in many areas where the “pro model” eventually becomes affordable for the mass market consumer.

The future

But what of the future the wearables market?

There is evidence to suggest that the technology will evolve from being a singular system (for example a watch) to a system where there are multiple sensors around your body at any point in time.

As already discussed, this is already being seen at pro athlete level with systems gathering motion-sensing data through the accelerometer and gyroscope inside. Technologists are working on ways to derive meaning from multiple sensors on the body at one time, to give a person a holistic view of how her body is moving or performing across multiple devices and sensors.

The most likely evolution here will be the wearable garment that is able to track multiple points and provide this type of feedback.

Conclusions

Of course technology is not just evolving within the sporting world and perhaps it is here where things start to get really interesting.

We continue to see advances in technology within the home allowing us to automatically turn on or off our heating, remotely control our TV’s or “talk” to our fridges.

Jen Quinlan, VP Marketing at the gesture recognition company Rithmio, imagines a world where “wearables converge with connected homes to drive efficiencies without having to tap a button on a screen. Imagine approaching your home’s door with groceries in hand, and the heartbeat signature via your wearable signals the door’s smartlock to unlock. While crossing your living room, a sensor on your wrist wearable notices your core body temperature is above average and automatically interacts with Nest thermostat to trigger the air conditioning. Your wearable also includes a sensor to detect hydration levels, and it triggers your smart refrigerator to automatically pour a glass of water for you as you enter the kitchen to unload your groceries”

The retail opportunity?

So are there opportunities for sports retailers?

Well, certainly those specialist stores who have a strong performance and/or individual sports angle do appear to be riding the wave, however stiff competition does exist from other channels such as department stores, electronics retailers and, of course, amazon – all of whom are looking for a slice of a global market worth approaching $2.8bn!

Anyhow, now I’m “in the club” I, for one, am excited about the future of wearable technology, so I’m off to ensure I reach my 10,000 steps for the day, climb at least 10 fights of stairs, hit my minutes of intensity target and get an adequate amount of sleep tonight!.

The Future of Sports Retail

I’ve written regularly in this column about the rapid change of pace currently being experienced within our trade.

The influencing factors are varied, but a new morality within which our lives are being deregulated, with more flexibility and different and more varied working hours, is certainly one element driving this change.

Consumers have multiple tools to connect with brands and products and hyper-connectivity is giving a greater power to the shopper and influencing the way in which business is being transacted.

We are becoming a society of value hunters -looking for the best bargain and relishing the experience of sharing our value experiences within our social circle to create a status within our peer groups and, of course, we are embracing online shopping in ever increasing numbers across all elements of consumer spend.

Online spend set to double

A report released by O2 in 2014 concluded that the proportion of online spend will double by 2020 and account for over 20% of all retail sales – up from just under 11% in 2012, whilst physical stores will see their share of spending decline by 10.6 percentage points over the same period.

However, whilst the increase in online spending comes at the expense of sales in physical stores, this doesn’t signal the much-lauded death of the high street. Instead, the report shows the extent to which the high street will impact overall retail sales and why it cannot be ignored.

As people shift from bricks to clicks, the relationship between online and high-street retailers is evolving as retailers create a world where experiences flow naturally between home and store, street and aisle, mobile and market.

Technology is breathing new life into the high street. With more and more people shopping on their smart phones and tablets, stores are no longer just about buying.

As online sales increase, the role of the high street store will evolve, provoking counter-innovation from brands and an increase in the “show rooming” trend where stores become experience rather than sales led.

The report shows that a quarter of all shoppers are hitting the high street, no longer to buy, but to socialise with friends and family. Half (51%) of us go to shops to be entertained, a third (33%) to eat out and three-quarters to be inspired.

These results show there is a clear opportunity for retailers to continue to introduce social spaces and turn shopping into a source of entertainment – the latest form of leisure. As a result, stores will see an increasing focus on engagement, providing the shopper with tactile and sensory experiences which cannot be replicated online.

How can the sporting goods industry respond.

If we look more closely at these conclusions and ask what impact this is likely to have on the sporting goods industry, one obvious link is the relationship between sport as a leisure activity and shopping.

In much the same way that cinemas and food outlets have grown the shopping experience, whereby consumers populate destination shopping centres for the the whole day and embrace multiple activities can the sport, and sporting goods retailers, enhance the proposition?

On a recent visit to Dubai I found myself embracing this very scenario where, in one of the worlds largest shopping malls I skied in the morning, shopped in the afternoon and dined in the evening.

The sports retailers were clustered around the focal point of the indoor ski slope and in another part of the mall the ice rink.

As the definition of “shopping” becomes broader can the relationship between sport and shopping evolve and the sports brands and retailer be a part of this change?

Technology

Savvy sports retailers can certainly strengthen customer relationships, and increase interaction, by creating spaces and experiences which will inspire consumers to share their shopping experiences either by commenting, photographing or broadcasting their in-store interactions via their social networks and sport offers the perfect environment for this activity.

Whether it be testing a demo racket or golf club, shooting a football at a virtual goal whilst trying new boots or trying on the latest outfit whilst looking in an interactive mirror all these experiences will enhance your experience.

There are already some examples emerging in our industry with Oxford Streets Nike store or Pro Direct’s LDN19 and undoubtedly sports retailers who seamlessly connect the in-store and online experience will see the biggest gains with the savviest taking the opportunity to deliver timely, tailored offers and discounts direct to the palm of our hands.

The O2 report concludes that this seamless integration between online and offline shopping will continue to put the high street at the heart of customers’ online experiences; 85% of online shoppers return products in store and 75% go to stores to collect products bought online. The popularity of click and collect is expected to increase further to 2020, growing by 260% to 7% of all retail sales by 2020.

Feilim Mackle, Director of Sales and Service at O2, comments: “Technology is breathing new life into the high street. With more and more people shopping on their smart phones and tablets, stores are no longer just about buying. They are becoming go-to destinations for social, inspiring and rewarding experiences that ultimately drive sales online.

The High Street is here to stay.

Retailers have to recognise that the high street store is here to stay but its role has fundamentally changed. As the distinction between digital and physical becomes increasingly outdated, the brands that truly embrace technology to create a seamless experience for all their customers, wherever they choose to shop, will ultimately win the greatest share of both sales and customer loyalty.

The opportunities for own label sourcing.

Why?

In recent years the own brand, or private label, phenomenon has been making big headlines.

In grocery Aldi and Lidl continue to make huge strides with their combination of a small targeted number of branded products sitting alongside their own private label offerings.

In the outdoor sector many retailers have embraced a similar philosophy.

Consumers demand brands for the quality assurance and emotional satisfaction, however it is becoming ever more apparent in the outdoor goods market that these brands do not have to be manufacturer brands.

Indeed there are many pros and cons of undertaking your own private label strategy and perhaps this is the starting point for any discussion;

Pros & Cons

The pros of private label products:
-They are usually lower in price than branded products.
-Multiple private-label product manufacturers will compete with each other to earn a retailer’s business, giving the retailer the opportunity to provide the best balance of quality and price for their customers.
-The product quality is generally good (better than most people anticipate when thinking of private label products).

The cons of private label products:
-Some are just plain low quality offerings made at the lowest price point. These are the things that people will refer to when they say “you get what you pay for.”
-Retailers lack direct control over the manufacturers of their private label products, which can slow responsiveness to changes in the market.
-Private label products tend to be “me to” goods that are trying to match branded product performance. They are rarely innovative. Innovations and product improvements will usually be led by branded products.
-Customers are tied to a retailer to get private label products that they like. You can get branded products almost anywhere.

If you run a successful outdoor outlet then your business is likely to be driven by a combination of “must have” sellers – I.e brands/products that are requested directly by the customer and “sell themselves” and those items that you can influence directly.

It is this latter category where one is most likely to find a private label opportunity for one to source directly.

The good news is that, as a starting point, you will already have an understanding of the potential volume of goods that you can sell and therefore but able to react to any manufacturers MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity).

However, don’t just consider the sales opportunity that may exist for these goods in one channel.

Do some research. Does the opportunity exist online? What about ebay or Amazon?

Many successful sellers find an Amazon niche, source goods and then use FBA (fulfilled by Amazon – effectively the amazon warehouse) to establish a very solid business base.

Looking at these wider opportunities may further assist in assessing the product opportunity.

The next step is how do I source these goods.

How

There are several options available but, thankfully, the process (in theory) is much easier than it was some years ago thanks to the internet.

I) Trade Show

Traditionally the most effective sourcing route was to attend trade shows. Most notably ISPO where the many sourcing halls allow direct access to manufacturers from nations such as China, India and Pakistan.

A combination of the wide variety of goods on show, the opportunity to talk directly to the manufacturer and the chance to “shop around” means that this is still an excellent place to start and one that comes highly recommended.

ii) Alibaba.com

Failing that the next port of call is Alibaba.com. Founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, Alibaba is a business-to-business portal that connects Chinese manufacturers with overseas buyers. In 2012, two of Alibaba’s portals handled 1.1 trillion yuan ($170 billion) in sales with suppliers from other countries now supported.

Think of a combination between amazon, the Yellow Pages Business Directory and a dynamic search engine and you have some idea of the power of the site.

An advanced search engine allows you (in my experience anyway) to literally find any item that you are looking to source.

For reassurance there is a rating system, simple messaging systems and even “off the shelf” products that can be sourced at aggressive prices.

Iii) Sourcing Agent

The third option is to use a sourcing agent. Often specialising in bringing in goods from specific nations or factories many agents focus on specialised areas and become the “go to” resource in their field.

Without doubt they will ensure that the sourcing process is (relatively) pain free and will (usually) find an excellent solution, however this will mean that (since they usually get paid by commission) that the goods will (probably) be more expensive than if you were to source the goods yourself.

The pitfalls

Having found a solution and a manufacturer the next step is to get the product produced.

Invariably, particular with a first time, or small, order this will mean payment up front.

Often this will mean FOB (freight on board or free on board) price (usually quoted on US$) .

In a simple FOB origin arrangement, the seller agrees to pay all expenses related to the transportation of the freight to a specific point. Once the freight reaches that point, the seller’s responsibility ends, and the freight becomes the property and responsibility of the buyer.

Note that this therefore does not include any duty or other fees that may be due.

My advice, before even starting the import process, would be to visit the Government Website www.gov.uk and search “importing goods”. This will provide a solid overview of the processes involved and any additional costs.

Do not calculate your profit based on the FOB as there are other costs to take into account (shipping, duty, customs clearance etc) but these depend on the item being imported and the list would be too onerous to list here.

Once your comfortable with all the implications here its time to place that order.

The end result

So you’ve made it!

Don’t forget the lead time -it can take 6-8 weeks to arrive by sea from the Far East and perhaps 4 weeks to manufacture an item so it is prudent to allow 14-16 weeks.

Don’t forget the design, the packaging, bar codes etc as these also add to the cost and lead times.

But get all these factors right and you could end up with a private label product(s) that fills a niche, provides excellent margin and are a perfect compliment to the branded goods within your store.

There is no doubt that, done correctly, the sourcing of ones own products can be a positive contributor to any business but the additional margin rewards will inevitably come with additional work and responsibility.

Good luck!

Solutions for Sport new Digital Joint Venture

Solutions for Sport, one of the UK’s leading provider of Sales & Marketing solutions for sports brands and retailers, has further enhanced its Digital Services Division in a new partnership with Cirencester based Unseen Web Team (UWT).

The partnership will see the two companies combining the sports trade expertise of Solutions for Sport and technical expertise of UWT to create website solutions for sports brands and sports retailers through a newly developed CRM web platform.

Commenting on the partnership Paul Sherratt, Owner and Managing Director of Solutions for Sport said “this is an exciting opportunity for us to further develop our web offer following 18 months of business development in this area. It will also allow us to clearly establish ourselves as the go-to company within the sporting goods industry for any sort of website – from a catalogue site to a full blown eCommerce proposition”.

UWT, established in 2012, has grown rapidly to become a leading web development company with a core group of local and national clients and with a unique user friendly web solution to suite all business sizes.

Solutions for Sport already has an exciting rosta of web clients with brands such as Aresson rounders and Vibram Five Fingers to sports retailers such as RJM Sports and bigfootbasketball.co.uk and we look forward to welcoming new customers on board” continued Sherratt.