Sports shop sector trends

Woman holding roller blade and purple helmet in sports shop

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the sports goods retailing sector

The products sold in the sports goods retailing sector can be broadly split into those that are used during participation in a particular sporting activity, and those that are not.

Unsurprisingly, consumer spending on equipment and clothing for use while taking part in a sporting activity is strongly influenced by participation levels. According to Sport England research, overall sports participation is currently higher than it was in the mid-2000s, although there have been winners and losers with some sports having suffered from falling levels of participation while others have grown in popularity.

Overall sports participation has been boosted in recent years by:

  • government policy to try to reduce the level of obesity and improve the general health and fitness of the population
  • greatly improved results by UK sportspeople at high profile events like the Olympics, which has encouraged others to have a go as well
  • widespread media coverage, including more unusual sporting activities

Spending on sports leisurewear is affected by different factors, in particular:

  • the state of the economy. When the economy slumps people tend to trade down to cheaper alternatives or buy only when items are discounted. This was noted following the financial crisis in 2008, and again following the Brexit vote in 2016. The economy only started to recover in 2013 after the financial crisis and, in 2018, it has still not recovered following the Brexit vote. Low growth is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future
  • the performance of a national sports team. For example, poor performances at a World Cup or European Championships by the England football team always have an impact on sales of replica kit
  • the desirability of the product. JD Sports, for example, sells a large amount of in-demand products that are exclusive to them, which means that they rarely need to discount even when conditions on the High Street are difficult

Independent sports shops face strong competition from the multiple chains and from online retailers. It's not uncommon for would-be customers to visit a shop to test or try on a particular piece of equipment or clothing and then buy it from the online retailer that offers the best prices. Smaller businesses have also been hit by some of the big sportswear manufacturers refusing to supply them unless they sell over a certain value of their goods each year. Added to this, the High Street has suffered generally in recent years, with many big name closures. Rent and rates are high, parking is difficult and footfall has been falling. Despite this, it seems that sports shops have been less badly affected than others and there is still room in the market for the smaller business. You can improve the prospects for your sports shop by:

  • focussing on stocking products that have been identified as what the local market wants
  • becoming closely involved with local sports clubs, local sporting events and so on
  • providing a personal and accommodating service to customers
  • moving into online sales, either through their own website or through a third party like eBay or Amazon. This can give even a relatively small business a national - or even international - reach
  • offering repair or hire services

Keeping up to date with the sports goods retailing sector

The Sporting Goods Industry Association (SGIA) advertises itself as the voice of the UK Sporting Goods Industry. It represents a significant share of the UK sporting goods industry and lobbies government and sports bodies on issues affecting the industry and its members. As well as setting standards and developing industry specifications, it promotes the positive aspects of sport through combined marketing and commissions national and international research on the sporting goods market. There's also a number of specialist associations that cover individual retailing sub-sectors like golf, cycling, angling, fitness and so on and one of these may be appropriate depending on the exact nature of your business. Joining a trade association can be an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry, and membership usually brings other benefits as well.

Reading a trade journal is another good way of staying up to date with developments in your industry. Sports Insight is a trade journal for the whole of the sports industry in the UK and covers all of the sports, outdoor, cycling, nutrition, fitness, leisure, and tech news. It can be downloaded free from its website.

It is also worth reading general newspaper reports which relate to sports shops. For example in the mid 2010s a strong trend for buying sporting clothes as leisure wear ('athleisure') was reported in the press because it led to Sainsbury's launching their own athleisure range and saw profits at JD Sports rise by 66%. Despite reports that the trend for athleisure wear was fading, it remains strong in 2018 and is forecast to remain so in 2019.

Trade shows

You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show or exhibition for the sports goods retailing sector. Information about forthcoming trade shows can be found on the Exhibitions UK website.

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