Australian footwear specialist Sportitude won the major gong at the recent Retailer Awards for its store design concept. Here, CEO Roumen Staykov and general manager Josh Willoughby discuss how the brand began, its expansion plans and how it’s become part of the Adelaide running community. Inside Retail: What’s the story behind Sportitude? Roumen Staykov: Sportitude is actually a combination of two businesses. There was an Adelaide business called Joggers World with a history spanning back t
back to 1979. It was a local running footwear specialist with a single store in Adelaide, CBD. They built up a cult following with runners in the local community. In 2011, I came along with an online business idea for a social network for sports teams and sports clubs to manage all their activity, and got the Joggers World family involved. As we evolved that project, we wanted to commercialise it. So we thought, we’ve got this retail business that’s already a partner, let’s put some shoes up on the website and see how that goes.https://294318ec8046d430b85d495ab7e7364a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html In May 2011, we launched what was then called the SlashSportand month by month, it started to grow. We were doubling sales month on month, so we thought clearly there’s some need that we’re filling here, let’s go into more of an e-commerce play, so SlashSport ended up becoming a marketplace for sports retailers. We had someone who was a specialist in soccer and football. We had someone who was a specialist in tennis, cricket, and golf. We were trying to be a marketplace for different sports. As we continued further down the track, we saw the most traction was through the product range and the relationship we had with Joggers World on the marketplace. Over time, we decided to rebrand the website because Slash Sport really wasn’t initially meant to be a retail play, it was something completely different. So we rebranded to Sportitude in 2016 and we continued to bring on supporting brands in dropship arrangements through our marketplace, which was really supporting the running audience we were building. We still kept on a few of the other sports, but really, running ended up being the major focus. More recently, over the last 12 to 24 months, as the two businesses became dependent on each other, we merged the two – the Jogger’s World physical business and the Sportitude online business. It came to the point that the Jogger’s World store in the city was slowly declining because of the decrease in foot traffic in the city. Josh was actually from the Jogger’s World business and he was managing that particular store. Josh Willoughby: For us, the brand itself had kind of run its race, we couldn’t do anything new with that brand. All of our resources were wearing two hats. It was just the right move for us to relocate to a site four kilometres away from where we used to be, with a much larger footprint, in Hindmarsh. Rebranding to Sportitude was the best decision we had ever made. It was tough because we were taking an existing iconic brand and we had to bring all of our loyal consumers on the journey [and tell them] that we are still the same people, we’re still the same operation, we’re just bigger and more accessible. We had to really tell the story to bring people along. RS: We’ve got two stores. We’ve got the Sportitude Running in Hindmarsh, which won the store design category at the Retailer Awards. We’ve got another store in Fullerton, which is just called Sportitude. That one is across all different team sports. It’s more of a family environment there. We’ve got a lot of local schools in the area, but footwear is still our hero. IR: What are unique features of the Sportitude Running store? RS: Our store challenges the traditional cluttered and uninspiring sports store model with a technology-led, interactive, and experiential retail environment where the running community feels welcome and inspired. We provide an experience to help people get the most out of their running. To help runners find their perfect shoes, Sportitude Running offers two Australian-exclusive running shoe fitting experiences that blur the line between the physical and digital worlds. Beginner to intermediate runners are invited to use the Motion Metrix treadmill at the front of the store, with a synchronised big digital screen. Using a 3D camera and force plates in the treadmill, we capture running movement data that our experienced staff use to provide personalised shoe recommendations. The process takes 5-10 minutes. For intermediate to advanced runners, we have two RunDNA fitting studios for 45-minute premium fitting assessments that are by appointment only. Each studio features a state-of-the-art Woodway treadmill that’s synchronised to an on-screen digital avatar running through a cityscape. The runner wears accelerometer pods on their shoes to collect running data that is distilled by our fitting experts to highlight how different shoes affect the runner and home in on their perfect shoe. Dynamic sports vision is projected onto large screens on the rear walls of the studios and is visible throughout the store to create ambience and exceptional depth of field. A large touch-screen console near the front of the store allows customers to browse the entire range of Sportitude products housed in our adjoining warehouse. Customers can try on and purchase straight away, or arrange to have items home-delivered. Purpose-built click-and-collect lockers in the store are used to hold parcels for online customers who opt into this collection method. As a hub for the Adelaide running community, the store transforms into a unique event space after hours, with a dropdown projector screen and integrated audio system. The space is used several times each week for free, by sports clubs, allied health service providers like physios and podiatrists, and other sports-related entities, to conduct information sessions, training, launches, and awards nights. The overall design philosophy is to distance ourselves from anonymous box-shifting retailers, so we’ve removed overload of signage and piles of product. Customers navigate the store through logically positioned product zones with clean displays and accent lighting to highlight products. The attention to detail, including our bespoke scent (uplifting and vibrant), quality furnishings, lighting, and fixtures of the open-plan design, has redefined the way sports stores can heighten the customer experience. Running performance footwear is the hero of the store, with a 10-metre-wide shoe wall showcasing 150 styles complemented by illuminated try-on seating that was custom-designed to match the curves of the Sportitude logo. Curated apparel and accessories are displayed on minimalist steel racks that are easy to move. This allows us to reconfigure the apparel area to host race number collections through our partnerships with local marathons, triathlons, and trail runs, bringing hundreds of runners through our door before each event. IR: What research did you undertake prior to implementing this store design? RS: Sportitude researched current customer shopping habits across different channels. We interviewed a set of in-store customers from different demographics and running experience levels to find out more about their needs from a running store and their online vs in-store shopping behaviours and expectations. Following that, we surveyed a segment of our most active online customers with a similar set of questions. The results were consistent among both groups. The key findings were that 65 per cent said they visit a store to see and try on a product before buying and 62 per cent visit a store to get product advice. This information helped us in devising the layout of the store and deciding to dedicate about 25 per cent of the available floor space to immersive, educational fitting experiences. The other research we performed was visiting our competitors’ stores and trialling their fitting services to rate the overall experience, reading industry blogs and press releases, and reviewing innovations and trends in other retail verticals in Australia and overseas, to learn how technology was being used in experiential retail stores. From this research, we set out to improve the experience and how we engage with customers, focusing specifically on the needs of runners. IR: What impact has the new store design had on the business? RS: When comparing the performance of the new Sportitude Running store against the Joggers World store that we closed just prior, we’ve seen store revenues jump by 63 per cent, year-on-year, for the period March to October 2021 vs 2020; units per transaction increased from 1.45 to 1.75, and average transaction value increased by 12 per cent. Our formal partnerships with local running groups and allied health professionals (such as podiatrists, physios and exercise physiologists) have almost doubled, primarily through the introduction of our exclusive RunDNA fitting service to help their clients find their best running shoes, and through the use of our event space after hours. Customers who use our Motion Metrix fitting service convert into sales 95 per cent of the time, while RunDNA customers convert 100 per cent of the time and purchase an average of 1.95 units after the experience. Staff performing these services track this performance in a spreadsheet. Although we don’t currently solicit Google reviews from customers, and we really should, a few customers have organically reviewed the new store and we have a current ranking of 4.9 stars from 22 reviews. Opening the new store has also made a significant impact on our online visitors. In the nine months since launching the store, we’ve seen a 24 per cent increase in South Australian online sessions on our website, compared with the period prior. Online sessions from other states increased by up to 14 per cent, which is significantly lower than the South Australian growth. IR: How would you describe the sports industry right now? There’s always a new brand or a new retailer coming out, so there’s obviously a lot of the pie to go around. JW: If we look at the last 10 years, there has been growth in options. All the major brands – your New Balances, your Nikes, your Asics – they’re producing more models within their own brand for running. They’re catering to the market, because running is the number one participant sport globally. So there’s obviously huge demand there. While they’re making more shoes, you’ve got new brands that are popping up as well. So you’ve got, like, Hokas, On Running and new ones like 361. There are a number of new brands popping up to cater for this huge demand in the market. All that does is make life incredibly challenging for the consumer, because they don’t know where to look. It is a very noisy space. It’s a saturated market. We are competing against our suppliers; they have online platforms and bricks-and-mortar vertical stores.Then there are the Footlockers, Athlete’s Foot and Rebels of the world. There are a lot of options in Australia. Our point of difference is we specialise in footwear. We do play in other sports, but running is our bread and butter. We also do the footwear training for the University of South Australia podiatry students. It’s not part of their curriculum, but twice a year, we do a two-hour session on the anatomy of shoes and break it down to all the key departments. We talk about how a shoe is made, the journey from the concept phase – it takes about 18 months to two years before it’s to market – then there are the testing phases, and then when it gets to the market, we discuss what brands are trying to achieve. IR: Do you see yourself rolling out physical stores across the country? RS: Yes, we are looking to expand our footprint, but we’re still debating our approach there. We are undergoing renovation at the Fullerton store, but the next step is figuring out whether we go deeper into Adelaide or if we take what we’ve done here onto the East Coast. IR: Tell me about the Sportitude Sessions and why you decided to launch them. RS: It’s an initiative we kicked off last year in partnership with Josh Lynott, who is a runner and mindfulness coach. The sessions were Josh’s brainchild and he ran a couple of retreats overseas before Covid came along and forced him to return home to Adelaide. We connected with Josh and were immediately mesmerised by his passion for running and living life to the fullest. At the time, we were exploring ideas for how Sportitude could engage with goal-oriented runners away from the retail environment and interact with them in other aspects of their running lifestyle where we felt Sportitude could make a positive impact. The sessions fit that bill perfectly. It takes their passion for running, adds a beautiful outdoor backdrop and combines mindset workshops, yoga and meditation sessions, nutrition and, of course, running. It was a no-brainer to partner with Josh and we held two very successful retreats in Kangaroo Island in 2021 during what was a very hazardous time for the travel industry. Participants were treated to an amazing and intimate experience, with each group including 8-12 people. From stunning accommodation with a private chef to being kitted out head-to-toe with performance running gear, to workshops on decision-making, habit building, and smashing negativity – amongst other topics – and daily runs through pre-scouted picturesque landscapes. The feedback we received from participants was that the experience was life-changing. This year, the sessions continue to grow, with four retreats planned around the country.