Decathlon enters the North East with 4th of December Gateshead opening
Published 07/07/2016
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Competition in the North East sports retail market is about to hot up, with the long-awaited arrival of French giant Decathlon.

With its mission “to make the pleasure and benefits of sport accessible to all”, Decathlon’s inaugural North East store – and the first between Sheffield and Edinburgh – opens at Gateshead’s Team Valley Retail World on Friday 4 December.

It’s welcome news for anyone who’s kept an eye on Decathlon’s UK growth, and wondered when the retailer would enter our region. With 260 French stores, and the market there now relatively mature, much of Decathlon’s recent expansion has been overseas. It now operates 850 stores in 40 countries, including Spain, Germany and China, with a Singapore flagship opening in January.

The rate of growth in the UK has been fairly gentle, though, with Gateshead only the 19th Decathlon superstore in a network that first launched in Surrey Quays back in 1999.

Part of the reason for this has been a lack of sufficiently large premises on UK retail parks. Decathlon’s first British store covered a hefty 43,000 sq ft, and subsequent branches have typically had a similar footprint.

As with many multichannel retailers, however, the growing popularity of click and collect is allowing Decathlon to experiment with different formats. The Gateshead branch, in the former Outfit unit, is 15,000 sq ft over two floors, while a 1,290 sq ft trial concession recently opened in Asda in Watford, primarily as a collection point for the 40,000-strong online product offer.

So what can North East shoppers expect from Decathlon?

Described by one newspaper as the ‘Ikea of sporting gear’, it’s notable that the retailer’s focus is very much on “participation in sport”, and proper sports equipment, rather than the more fashion-led approach adopted by chains like Sports Direct or JD. This, arguably, gives Decathlon a distinctive positioning in the UK sports retail market, pitting it against independent specialists as well as big-box rivals.

Decathlon’s twenty ‘passion brands’, such as hiking brand Quechua – each one exclusive, and linked to a particular sport or activity – sold alongside big-name brands like Garmin and Suunto, also reinforce its positioning as an authority in its field.

In terms of UK store count, at least, it’s clear that Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, with 420 branches – including one at Team Valley – currently has the edge.

However, as Decathlon finally plants its flag on the Newcastle United owner’s home turf, North East sports retail looks set to get a whole lot more interesting.

Written by Graham Soult
[Picture from Decathlon Gateshead Facebook page]

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