Bringing sport to the people
Jens Stroemnes speaks to Step Up on their latest hire - August 2018

Interview by Mark Tindall

Sport is big business, with more people keen to live an active life - and willing to spend good money on getting the right equipment.

Founded in Switzerland in 1968, Intersport is currently one of the world’s biggest sports retailer, with around 5,500 outlets across 45 countries. Already dominant in the European market, the company now has its sights set on expansion in the Asia Pacific region.

Jens Stroemnes joined Intersport 12 years ago and heads up the company’s Sourcing and Development Centre in Shenzhen.

Step-Up met up for coffee with the affable Jens - himself a keen sportsman - to find out more about the fast-growing sports retail business, how Intersport is responding to the competitive challenge, and what kind of people are suited to a career in sports retail.

Intersport is not a familiar brand in Hong Kong - can you tell us more about the company?

Intersport is the world’s largest sports retail organisation with annual sales of 11.5 billion euros in our affiliated stores in 2016. The company originated as a buying group and has

evolved from there into a global retail organisation. We don’t actually own a single store. In many markets the stores are all fully franchised but in others they are still run by independent entrepreneurs who are owning and investing in their own stores. Although we are a global brand we still have a strong local relevance where store owners can build very close relationships within their communities. This is perhaps the biggest difference between Intersport and our competitors.

What kind of consumer do you target?

The core consumer for Intersport is what we call the regular athlete - people who are passionate about sports and are very active - and we position ourselves as a multi-

category specialist. If you are serious about running and come to Intersport, you should be able to find the products and services relevant to you - and it’s the same if you are an outdoor enthusiast or a fitness fanatic.

Of course we want to offer consumers a broad choice in terms of brands, and more than 80% of our business today is done with the big international sports brands - Adidas, Nike, North Face and the like - with whom we have strong relationships. We also have an

exclusive branded business which we started building in the 1980s. The most famous of our own brands is McKinley, which is distributed exclusively through our network.

Where is most of your business focused?

The biggest focus for us is still Europe, with old core markets such as Germany and France being the biggest. We are the biggest player in the Canada market and we have expanded successfully in countries across Eastern Europe.

Is the Asian market one of your targets?

Asia is a market that’s developing strongly for us. We are currently operating stores under the Intersport banner in China, recently opened our first store in Manila (under the Athlete’s Foot brand, which we own) and have a network of 60 retailers in Australia. China has the most potential for us in terms of retail expansion and we have a team in Shanghai that is primarily focused on supporting our three major franchisees in the country. We are still relatively new in this market but it’s become a big strategic focus - both for bricks and mortar and for e-commerce.

How will you build on the growing interest in sport and lifestyle across Asia?

Consumers in this region are getting more active and wealth is increasing - and as that happens people are beginning to focus more on health and wellbeing. As they become more enthusiastic they begin to see the benefit of the right equipment. Consumers in Asia have been used to buying branded products from branded retail outlets but we are now seeing multi-branded retail outlets becoming better established.

How important is the online side of your business?

We’re still a very small player in the Chinese market, but I believe e-commerce has tremendous potential for Intersport. Whereas a few years ago the retail brand was not so important in e -commerce, that is changing - consumers want to make sure they’re dealing with a retailer they can trust and that has competence behind it.

Will physical stores remain relevant?

We see that physical retail is still very important and will remain so, but the key to success will be to integrate what happens online with what happens offline, servicing the consumer in a holistic way. If we can service consumers both online and offline as well as we have serviced them offline in the past, then we will be able to thrive.

“Physical retail will remain important but the key to success will be to integrate what happens online with what happens offline”

How has Intersport been building the customer experience?

There are a few things we are doing that are centred around the consumer. First, we are building our e-commence capabilities internationally, and a lot of this is focused on the consumer experience. The second part is in physical retail where we are launching a new store format that is more about offering a premium experience to the customer with several activation points for different sports - a treadmill to do gait analysis when you buy running shoes, for examples. The feedback has been promising so far.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a sports retailer?

The industry is certainly becoming more competitive and there are two dynamics at the moment; one is that the bigger players are becoming more global and the second is the impact of e-commerce. What we need to do to thrive in a competitive environment is to ensure that we are centred around the consumer.

What are you looking for from candidates who who want to build a career with Intersport?

Given that we are a sporting goods company, a lot the company culture stems from sports indirectly in that we are are looking for people that take personal responsibility, who are ambitious, driven by results and want to improve themselves. The Intersport international group is quite a lean organisation, with little more than 300 employees worldwide, so there’s nowhere to hide. Everything you do is quite visible and it’s the people that take responsibility for their work who are successful.

How did Step Up contribute to the Intersport sourcing ?

As I am moving back to HQ in Switzerland, Step Up was engaged to search and select my successor to continue developing the sourcing and development office in Shenzhen. I was quickly impressed with Winnies understanding of the industry and the requirements for the position, but also the ability to understand our company culture to find candidates with not only the right qualifications, but also a good cultural and personal fit. We now feel that we have hired, in close cooperation with Step Up the right person to move our sourcing and development operation forward.

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