If you had been out of Australia for the past five years or so and returned for a stroll down any capital city main street or one of the country’s top shopping centres, you would notice a big change.
International brands such as H&M, Uniqlo, Zara and Topshop now occupy all the prime sites. At the same time, Australian brands like Target, Big W, Best & Less have been placed on life support.
The rise of these international brands caught our Australian retailers napping. ‘Fast Fashion’ retailers from the likes of Spain, Sweden and Japan are now the preferred destination for Australian shoppers, who willingly try new brands they have seen when travelling the world and change their shopping to embrace new concepts – look no further than Aldi for more proof.
The next wave of international retailers is now on its way down under. Leading the charge will be Decathlon from France. They are a Large Format sporting goods store, operating in over 40 countries.
The first Decathlon store opened in 1976 and they now have well over 1,000 stores globally, including 200 in China. They currently have no stores in the USA or in Australia, but they have their sights on more international growth. Decathlon will open its first Australian store in Sydney next year and according to news reports plans to open 35 stores here over the next decade.
I had the chance recently to spend two days visiting the Decathlon HQ and flagship stores in Lille, France. Their range covers 70 sporting activities, 80% of what they sell is their own brand, and it’s all based on low-margin, high-turnover. They take the long term view in new countries and are prepared to support the market to allow take-up.
What drives them is passion for their products. They invest heavily in R&D to come up with new customer-focused products. A typical example is the face mask/snorkel combination they have released. It comes in one piece and is easy to use, no need for a snorkel bit in your mouth.
They are now the No. 1 bike seller in the world and they make all their own bikes. This came about in 1986 when a large supplier could not deliver their order on time for the summer season.
Their focus is on the everyday user experience, such as bikes for the weekend family user which is 80% of the market. It is all part of their passion for making sport accessible to all – you won’t find any Tour de France hi-tech bikes here. Same with golf, they have their own brand targeted at the social golfer, not the next tour pro. All up, they have around 20 subsets of brands for specific sports activities, all designed for the everyday user.
They design test and manufacture their own products with all this in mind, they seek constant feedback from their customers and if a product falls below 3 Stars in its rating it is taken off the shelf and sent back to R&D.
Expect to see a different style store with Decathlon. Click and collect at the front of the store, wide aisles laid out in different sport categories, information on screens around the product, and areas to try or ride the equipment in the store or in the carpark .They are also big on hosting community events and using pop-up stores to get the word out.
The quality and attention to detail in all their range is evident. One example is their $5 backpack that comes with a two-year guarantee. Australians with their love of sport and all things outdoors should love it. I expect them to spend all weekend there as it is more like an entertainment park than a shop.
My favorite purchase was socks. I do a bit of walking and they sell these amazing socks. It is like wearing another pair of shoes, there is a left and right sock made with different material and zones and they are anti-blister. It is like you have had your feet strapped and they’re fully supported.
Socks with sole, and soul! A great example of the passion brands heading our way.