Go Sport: Time to change after last year’s acquisition by HPB
On the evening of Thursday, September 22, with the inauguration of the new, 1,7000-square-metre ‘La Salle de Sport’ (the gym) retail concept at 12 Boulevard de la Madeleine in Paris, French sport retailer Go Sport introduced a new approach, a venue that combines gym space with a store, featuring a quality product selection across various sport disciplines.
More than a test or a showcase in the heart of the French capital, La Salle de Sport is setting the tone for Go Sport’s transformation project. The sports retailer, which was bought for the symbolic figure of €1 by the Hermione People & Brands group (HPB) last year, is in fact undergoing a fully-fledged overhaul, with sporting activity seemingly its main focus.
The infrastructure at La Salle de Sport is top-notch, and includes a spacious yoga studio, a boxing gym with a fight ring and plenty of punch bags, a huge CrossFit and fitness training area, and a cycling zone. High-level athletes hold classes targeted at both expert and occasional practitioners.
In the retail area, Go Sport is showcasing a range of brands for each sport, featuring of course Nike, Adidas and Puma, but also Le Coq Sportif, Under Armor, with its CrossFit range, Hoka, Asics and Brooks for running, and Scrappers for cycling. French brands YUJ and Circle are included respectively in the yoga and running/training sections.
La Salle de Sport, a concept devised by Sandrine Retailleau, a former director at Adidas and Reebok France, was created in 2017, and underwent a facelift this summer, with the arrival of the Go Sport group. The venue had been forced to file for receivership in the wake of the lockdowns in 2021. During the summer, Go Sport came to its aid, backing La Salle de Sport’s recovery plan with the Paris trade court, an operation whose value has not been disclosed by the group.
Focus on five categories
For Go Sport, it is both a challenge, at a time when gym attendance has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, and a major project. Wilhelm Hubner, general manager of HPB, who has also been very busy with the Camaïeu operation, attended La Salle de Sport’s inauguration.
“We believe in the potential of this kind of experiential venue,” Hubner said, talking to FashionNetwork.com and French magazine SportGuide in the middle of the CrossFit area.
“But it will take a year for the project to come to fruition. We think that people are only gradually resuming their pre-Covid habits and activities,” he added.
Hubner, a former head of Auchan Retail now at the helm of HPB, which operates stores by Gap and La Grande Récré, as well as 26 Galeries Lafayette branches outside Paris, believes La Salle de Sport’s concept can be duplicated.
This approach, centred around sporting practice, is consistent with the new strategy deployed by Go Sport under the aegis of Benoît Verdier, who took charge of the group at the start of the year.
“We believe the market [in France] can be plotted along two axes: the first extends from leisure to performance activity, the second from a mainstream to a premium positioning. Decathlon focuses on performance at a mainstream level, while Intersport is oriented towards leisure, as the leader in sport apparel, especially in medium-sized cities. Go Sport’s positioning along these axes is not clear,” admitted Verdier.
“We are present in shopping malls, both in central and suburban locations, with high-quality stores like [Go Sport’s] République branch in Paris, while some of our suburban branches make you think of Kiabi 40 years ago. Go Sport is currently very well-known as a brand, but its image is often awful. It’s common knowledge that the chain has been losing money every year for 17 years. We believe the only future for [Go Sport] lies in the performance/premium positioning slot, which is currently only occupied by a few specialists,” said Verdier.
Go Sport’s positioning is currently far removed from this, but its brand platform has now been entirely revised, with a new logo and new colour codes. The Go Sport website has recently adopted a fresh look, with a more upmarket feel. The retailer’s marketplace range has also been overhauled, and some 200 vendors who were not in synch with Go Sport’s new plans have been dropped, according to Verdier.
But the group’s brick-and-mortar stores are the main issue that needs to be dealt with in the coming months. Between Go Sport (some 130 stores, including 84 branches), Endurance Shop and Bike+, the group operates a disparate collection of approximately 200 shops.
“Go Sport is chiefly present in shopping malls and city-centre locations, but also in suburban areas,” said Verdier. “We currently have city-centre units with a mainstream product selection, and a promotional product presence and breadth of range that aren’t consistent with our plans. Our range is 65% lifestyle and 35% performance. From spring 2023, we’ll reverse direction. We will focus on performance products, and feature lifestyle ones at the back of the store. And we’ll push our store concept even beyond that of the République branch, currently the most advanced,” he added.
Creating discipline-specific stores
In practical terms, Go Sport will start by rearranging the existing retail fixtures, in order to put performance products to the fore, placing the emphasis on five disciplines: running, football, cycling, fitness training and outdoor activities. And is even planning to create stores specifically dedicated to each discipline.
But Verdier is keen to push this approach further.
“We will create Go Sport [stores] specialising in each of these disciplines. Working with the same kind of expertise offered at Endurance Shop, we’ll open Go Training [stores], and we’ll position ourselves as urban football specialists. My plan is to open 15 to 20 of these specialist stores per year, featuring a more advanced product selection. The most performance-oriented football boots we currently sell are priced around €90, in future we’ll offer models priced up to €200. With running shoes, our top price is around €130, and we’ll rise up to €180. To accompany this, we are changing our salary policy and hiring expert practitioners. Brands have responded very well to this plan.” As in the case of La Salle de Sport, the new concepts are expected to combine sporting activity and experiences with shopping, a system that seems appealing to brands.
To realise his plans, Verdier will have to persuade sport apparel and equipment players to trust his strategies in a territory that Go Sport had so far virtually neglected. The challenge will be for Go Sport to encourage the market’s top names to allow the group access to their most popular performance lines. An extension in the range offered by Go Sport stores that ought to also benefit their lifestyle selection, which Verdier is keen to make more upmarket. In this segment, Go Sport is currently focusing on brands with a sporting background, and will review its merchandising in order to draw closer to the codes of ready-to-wear brands. Verdier said that, with his recently reshuffled executive committee, he wants to focus on transforming the 30 Go Sport branches active in the Paris region ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
To make progress in this ambitious direction, the other partners the group will need to convince are banks. Because, as Verdier admitted, “it's a project requiring several tens of millions of euro.” Even though the group has cleared its debts following last year’s acquisition by HPB, and has reached agreements with the vast majority of its lessors, settling disputes that arose in the wake of the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns, support from the group’s credit partners will be crucial for transforming Go Sport's business model. “We will raise debt financing to make quick progress, otherwise it would take us six years to carry out this transformation,” said Verdier.
A model that is clearly designed to make Go Sport a future city-centre player, either with its existing stores or with the introduction of new retail concepts. Hubner himself said he wishes to position the group in the commercial innovation arena, notably by tapping the potential of HPB’s 26 Galeries Lafayette branches outside Paris.
“We have already added Gap [shop-in-shops] with first-rate initial results. We have a retail area of 45,000 square metres at our disposal with our Galeries Lafayette branches. This gives us the opportunity to test new concepts involving Go Sport,” said Hubner last Thursday.
Whether through single-discipline stores or experiential sporting venues, the realisation of these plans is eagerly awaited. It should roll out from 2023, with the opening of a first shop-in-shop at the Galeries Lafayette’s Belfort branch, ahead of a more extensive deployment.
This year, according to the management, the group is expected to generate the same revenue as in 2019, reaching €500 million across its various chains, of which €380 million produced by directly managed stores.
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