Modell’s Turns Up the Heat

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From its modest roots in lower Manhattan, Modell’s Sporting Goods has evolved into the nation’s oldest family-owned and operated sporting goods chain. The company was founded in 1889 by Morris Modell and today, 121 years later, the Modell family remains in control (Mitchell Modell is the chief executive). Staying true to its Northeast base, the regional chain has not only held its own, but thrived in the face of larger-format national competitors.

Currently, Modell’s is in the final phases of a chainwide remodeling program. In August, it unveiled its most ambitious store to date: its renovated, 20,000-sq.-ft. Times Square flagship. Complete with a 300-sq.-ft. state-of-the-art high definition LED video screen and other multimedia interactive elements and unique offerings, the store is designed to connect with both local and global sports fans. Among the extras: a cap embroidery station where customers can have their caps outfitted with customized embroideries.

Chain Store Age editor Marianne Wilson spoke with Modell’s president, Seth Horowitz, who joined the company in 2008 as executive VP, merchandising, marketing and allocations and was named president one year later, about the chain’s remodeling efforts.

What was the impetus for the store revamp, and what are some of its key elements? 

The main impetus was a lack of consistency, which even extended to who our customers were. We did a lot of research and that eventually evolved into a strategic plan for the remodeling of our chain.

How many stores have been upgraded? 

More than 90% of the chain [has] been remodeled—134 of 146 stores. The program will be completed by the first quarter of next year.

What are some of the key elements of the program? 

A less cluttered overall appearance, with wider aisles and better sight lines. We created branded in-store shops for our top vendors, such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, and a dedicated Fanzone area to house all licensed product for men, women and children. We also created sport shops built around five team sports: baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse and training. The shops are designed to outfit the athlete from head to toe.

But the major change associated with the remodeling is that our stores are now more sporting-goods focused. Previously, they appeared to be more apparel focused.

What was the thinking behind the Times Square renovation? 

When we started the remodel project, we knew we needed to do something unique in Times Square. Being close to a store with a Ferris wheel (Toys “R” Us) gave us reason enough to do something different. But we wanted the flagship to be the best and most exciting sporting goods store in the country.

What makes it so unique? 

It has a number of features that are exclusive to it, from a lot of exciting multimedia elements to a footwear wall that includes such elite, high-end product as APL (Athletic Propulsion Club). The brand is an online [phenomenon], and Modell’s Times Square is the only retail location that sells it.

The store also features a New York Yankees ticket booth, It’s the only place you can buy same-day Yankee game tickets at a discount.

How’s that working out? 

It has been a tremendous traffic driver—good for us and the Yankees.

What do you like best about the store? 

I love the aesthetics, which are beautiful, and the energy, which is incredible. It is really the energy level that, more than any other element, makes it the kind of place that customers enjoy visiting again and again.

Other exciting elements are the branded shops, which offer great and unique shopping experiences, and our expanded national Fanzone, which carries the jerseys of the national players from all the major sports leagues.

What are Modell’s plans for expansion? 

In September, we opened two additional locations in Manhattan, giving us 16 stores there.

We’re confident that with the remodel program, we have a new model that meets our financial objectives and allows us to continue to grow the chain.

Do you see Modell’s going national, or expanding beyond the Northeast? 

There are still lots of opportunities in our backyard, and that’s what we are focusing on. We’re also working to integrate our shopping channels to make it a more seamless experience for the customer.

Have you noticed a big trend in customers trading down since the recession hit? 

No. Actually, it’s been just the opposite. Our customers sought out the brands they knew and trusted—brands they knew would deliver great value.

What do you see as Modell’s biggest challenge going forward? 

The biggest challenge Modell’s and all retailers face is to evolve as quickly as customer needs.

The need for retail to change as quickly as the customer is changing is not only a challenge, but also a big opportunity for those who get it right.

What’s it like working for a family-owned company whose roots go back four generations in New York? 

Great. I ran a public company (Everlast Worldwide, a boxing company), and this has a different feel.

It’s more locally relevant, more intimate. There is real passion for what we do here that comes from over 100 years of serving the community.

Who do you like for the World Series? 

I’m rooting for a Yankees-Phillies matchup.

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