Apollo Brands MD Gareth Kemp, centre, cutting the ribbon at Under Armour's Cape Town store.
Apollo Brands MD Gareth Kemp, centre, cutting the ribbon at Under Armour's Cape Town store.
Image: Supplied

As SA battles through the Covid-19 third wave, locked down in adjusted level 4 restrictions, gyms and fitness centres have shut down again while some facilities that train amateur and professional sports people can operate under strict conditions. Despite this, sports retailers are open for business, and some are redesigning what shopping for sports clothes and gear looks and feels like.

While the world will eventually recover from this pandemic as more nations roll out their vaccination programmes, it would take a brave pundit to predict exactly what any sector of the economy will look like after this great and sustained disruption, never mind the myriad industries that exist to support sports and fitness.

A cursory glance across industries reveals a heightened focus on relationships with consumers. Businesses as diverse as restaurants, health and beauty stores, and fashion clothing retailers are increasingly looking to “curate experiences” for their increasingly digitally savvy customers.

On July 1 2021, two unrelated launches, one in Johannesburg and the other in Cape Town, have perhaps given us a glimpse of what to expect from sports and fitness retail over the next few years. These launches came from unrelated brands, but they share a common theme, albeit expressed differently: experience.

If the Decathlon Sports Hub in Bryanston and the Under Armour Brand House concept store in Canal Walk are anything to go by, our sporting and fitness retail future is going to be led by brands that tailor and deliver a unique, memorable, and relevant experience for their customers.

The Sports Hub encompasses three storeys, with French-based Decathlon partnering nutritional and wellness brand Biogen, training centre Performance Purist, We Flow Yoga, organic fruit and vegetable vendor Mama Fifi, Lift Coffee Co, Off Beat Sneaker Services and Garmin to create what it calls “a unique sporting community under one roof”.

The Sports Hub is managed by Denzley Mthombeni, who says the concept was designed to connect people through sport. “As the country eases out of the current lockdown regulations, we will be able to fulfil all our promises, which includes access to experts from different disciplines, the ability to try out new equipment and a meeting point for enthusiasts, united by one thing — a love for sport and fitness,” Mthombeni says.

The Bryanston Decathlon Sports Hub interior.
The Bryanston Decathlon Sports Hub interior.
Image: Decathlon

He says the digital platform has been designed to augment the customer experience so they can browse and see what is in the store, and if they’d like to visit the hub instead of ordering a delivery, they can visit the Sports Hub and connect with experts or other like-minded enthusiasts of all sports and competency levels.

Under Armour’s new Brand House at Canal Walk is the 16th Under Armour store opened in SA by Apollo Brands, which is Under Armour’s SA distributor. Apollo Brands MD Gareth Kemp says the new store represents a shop for the modern consumer where its omnichannel approach is bolstered by a memorable in-store experience.

“Under Armour’s CEO, Patrick Frisk, has been resolute on the direction of the brand, that it is designed for the focused performer. Our new Brand Store is a space for the focused performer to augment what they get online by getting expert advice from highly trained staff in a welcoming environment. Ultimately, we want to create a positive experience to support whichever fitness or sporting activity someone is focused on.”

To add to the customer experience, the new Under Armour store has adopted a body-positive approach with plus-sized female mannequins and has augmented this with a women-only bra bar.

Both launches appeal to a truth that anyone who has embarked on a sports and fitness journey can relate to — the need to be advised, and be advised well, and to be part of a like-minded community. One could argue that Covid-19 has shone a light on the importance of our social and community networks. After all, taking up running, or golf, or cycling, or even boxing, is a lifestyle choice and often belonging to a community is what keeps one motivated and on track.

Brands have cottoned on to this, and by extending and encouraging this sense of community, they are betting on the future of sports and fitness retail.

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