French sporting brand Decathlon to open first of its kind hub in Bryanston

NOMPU SIZIBA: An international family-owned sporting-goods design company is set to launch its first-of-its-kind Sports Hub in Bryanston, Johannesburg, in July this year. That’s basically next month. The company, which was founded in France in 1976, has 2 080 stores in some 56 countries and makes 20 in-house brands. They already have a presence in South Africa with some four stores, and now they’re going big with the Sports Hub.

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Well, to tell us more about their purpose and plans in the South African market, I’m joined on the line by Xavier Paolozzi, the CEO of Decathlon South Africa. Thanks very much for joining us, Xavier. It sounds like you guys are serious heavy-hitters in the area of sports-goods design, having amassed many patents over the years. So what sort of stuff does Decathlon retail and what did the founders of the company want to achieve with it?

XAVIER PAOLOZZI: First, many thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak about this amazing company that was born in France 45 years ago. It’s a family-owned company. We’ve always had a strong dream of being useful for the planet and its people. Making sport accessible is our purpose, and we feel that in a country like South Africa our purpose makes a lot of sense. Sport is part of the DNA of South Africans – and we cannot ignore that inequality is everywhere.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Now the company’s growth has been quite exceptional. You’re based in over 50 countries. Are you on all the continents, and do you think the global reach is because of what you’re selling – that being the universal appeal of sport?

XAVIER PAOLOZZI: I think both. Firstly we see that the general population is becoming more and more conscientious and the trend has been accelerated due to Covid. Being fit and healthy I think is becoming more a priority for many people, perhaps. And most importantly, our success or I prefer to say popularity comes from our uniqueness. We offer a wide range of products at an affordable price, and we innovate every day to make the pleasure and the benefit of sport accessible for the many.

NOMPU SIZIBA: You already have a presence in South Africa and now you’re going to go big with this Sports Hub. So what’s that all about? What offering can people expect?

XAVIER PAOLOZZI: Exactly. So we started four years ago with a classic retail approach, and we do believe that now if we continue only with that classic approach, we have no future. That’s what the Sports Hub concept has the aim of chronic team sport lover, and breaking bias, because we believe that if we don’t create an innovative retail experience, we are in trouble due a very strong digital market that is growing very strong. That’s why the human is in the middle of the project.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Just to support what you’re saying, these days it’s said that it’s not just the selling of quality products that will count in your favour as a retailer, but the retail experience that you provide to your customers. So what sort of retail experience do you already give to your customers, and do you feel that that will be enhanced at the Sports Hub?

XAVIER PAOLOZZI: The project is all about experience. As part of the range of the products that we will offer, we want to offer the capacity to touch, to try to feel this product inside the store, or even outside with the playground – yoga and the pilates studio. The third floor will be a total complex for the CrossFit experience. And we will even have a meeting point for a coach that will lead some running experience every week. So that’s why more than buying, you know, you will share, and we say: Come in to spend with us.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Now, of course you did mention earlier that you’re quite conscious as a retailer about the kind of society that you’re working in. And you talked about the fact that there isn’t a level playing field and not everyone can afford stuff, and that you’re trying to make sportswear accessible. Obviously sport is a universal phenomenon. Everyone likes sport, no matter what their social standing. Are you able, are you in a position to make it accessible to people who can’t afford it?

XAVIER PAOLOZZI: Yes, we are. And it’s one of the main targets that we have had from the first day of Decathlon to our first soccer ball for R90, a backpack for R90, true running shoes for R290 – each of them prove you can have a full panoply to do running for less than R1 000. So this total affordability is one of the key priorities of the Decathlon team when they design the product.

NOMPU SIZIBA: The Covid-19 pandemic has really messed up many of the sporting codes and in markets like ours, where the vaccination rollout is taking time, it may be a while before things start picking up again. Are you confident about the timing of this launch and the investment?

XAVIER PAOLOZZI: We are very confident because we do believe that we will propose something that is suited to the current needs of humanity. As we said previously, the Sports Hub will be the place to come, to share, to visit, to experiment. That’s the moment when you can even learn a new sport and be a first-timer in one sport, because we offer more than 60 different sports under one roof.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Why just Johannesburg? I mean, there are great consumer markets in areas like Cape Town and Durban. Are there any plans to venture out further in the South African market?

XAVIER PAOLOZZI: We have only been in South Africa for four years, so we would like to learn a lot before expanding and not spreading our effort and resources, but now it’s true that with these 15 [6:05] stores that will open in in Gauteng, the next one will be outside and maybe sooner. I can talk with you for a good surprise.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Okay. Fair enough. That was Xavier Paolozzi, the CEO of Decathlon South Africa.

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