STORE SPACES

French sporting goods giant unveils North American locations

BY Marianne Wilson

Decathlon has dropped anchor in San Francisco and Canada — but don’t expect Nike or any other familiar global brands.

The value-priced French sporting goods retailer, which operates nearly 1,500 locations across some 40 countries, recently opened an 8,313-sq.-ft. “lab” store on Market Street in San Francisco. Decathlon said it chose to focus on San Francisco to allow the brand to become familiar with the practices of local sports fans before a possible expansion throughout the United States. It also is selling online — but only to residents of California.

This is not Decathlon’s first foray in the United States. It previously entered the U.S. market in 1999 when it acquired 18 stores from MVP Sports. But it ended up closing the stores and leaving the U.S. in 2006, according to FashionNetwork.

Founded in 1976, Decathlon began designing and manufacturing its own products in 1986. Since then, it has created more than 25 private brands across nearly every conceivable sport and outdoor and fitness sport category, from running and golf to snorkeling and fishing to badminton and table tennis. Vertical integration allows Decathlon to sell their own brands at prices far below what competing retailers do, according to the company, while still driving innovation based on feedback from their millions of in-store customers. The company files up to 40 patents per year in developing innovative new products for its owned brands.

“What really sets Decathlon apart from other sports retailers is how we innovate, design and manufacture our own brands for each individual sport, which we make available direct to our community of sports lovers,” said Decathlon USA’s chief executive officer, Michel d’Humières.

The San Francisco lab store does not look like a traditional Decathlon store. It is intended more as a space for reflection, creativity and dialogue between Decathlon designers, customers and local athletes. It also serves as a community hub for activities ranging from group runs to workshops and yoga. It also provides maintenance, repair and customization services.

“Presenting new products and high-value innovations are at the core of our business model,” d’Humières said. “With this San Francisco space, our goal is to discover the best user experience in-store and online for Americans by understanding their needs in order to co-design together and create the best platform.”

By contrast, the full Decathlon experience is on display at the brand’s just-opened location at Mail Champlain, in the Montreal suburb of Brossard. The 65,000-sq.-ft. Canadian outpost, which offers more than 6,500 products and accessories, features an array of designated product-testing areas.

In addition to wide aisles where bikes and skateboards can be tested, the location also has a putting green, a basketball court, a small indoor rock climbing wall and a pool of water to try out fishing rods and other water-related products. There is also a virtual reality experience that allows shoppers to view a selection of more than 200 tents as if they were in the outdoors through VR goggles.

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