JD Sports looks to unlock “athleisure” niche with Aussie store launch tomorrow

JD Sports

UK-based sports fashion retailer JD Sports will open the doors of its first Australian retail location tomorrow after announcing earlier this year it would launch down under.

The plans for an Australian store first arose in late 2016, when parent company JD Sports Fashion PLC acquired an 80% stake in Australian retailer Next Athleisure. During 2017, the retailer plans to open five stores before assessing its next moves.

The first store, located in the Melbourne Central complex, will stock a vast range of sneakers and trainers, along with other assorted athletic gear and activewear products.

This specific mix of products is what Hilton Seskin, founder of Rebel Sport and chairman of Next Athleisure, hopes will fill a “massive gap” in the Australian retail market. As chairman of Next Athleisure, Seskin will be involved in the rollout of JD throughout the country.

Speaking to Fairfax, he said he was “blown away” by the retailing experience at JD Sports’ international stores, and is hoping to bring that experience to Australian consumers and “dominate” the market.

“We want to dominate the sport lifestyle market. We think it’s a massive market because it’s not confined to sports, it’s fashion and sports, it’s a lifestyle,” Seskin told Fairfax.

In a post on its Facebook page, JD Sports Australia outlined the “terms and conditions” of its launch tomorrow morning, anticipating significant crowds.

Working on a “first come first serve” basis, the store will open its doors for customers looking to buy launch-only products at 8.00am, where the rest of the public will be let in at 10.00am.

The in-store only launch releases consist of a range of exclusive sneakers and trainers, but customers won’t be able to line up all night, with JD Sports advising anyone lining up before 7.00am will be turned away by security.

Seskin acknowledges the athleisure niche is “probably peaking”, but believes it’s unlikely to crash anytime soon. Businesses wanting to enter the market without any prior experience will be “under pressure” Seskin told Fairfax, highlighting JD Sports’ strong position.

“If you’re a fashion brand and suddenly you want to be in athleisure or sell tights or aerobic wear you are going to be under pressure. For those who just dabble, they’ll be under pressure because the market is not broad enough,” Seskin said.

“We are lucky we are starting at a time like this because we don’t have sales we have to comp [compare]; if the market is softening, all we have to focus on is delivering the proposition to the market.”

In March, retail expert at Retail Oasis Pippa Kulmar told SmartCompany the athleisure sector was “all about brands”.

“There’s this massive casualisation of [sportswear] fashion — it’s become an acceptable weekend [style] for men, as well as women. I can only see that sportswear will continue to be all about brands,” she said.

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