Scoring high profits

Aleš Laušman

The Sportisimo sign appeared on the Czech market for the first time just three years ago – but the retail sportswear chain is already one of the three local leaders.


LIKE MANY athletes, Aleš Laušman faced the question of what to do with his career after he quits sports. A former professional footballer who played in the Premiere League for Dukla Praha from 1982 till 1987, Laušman opted for business. “After the Velvet revolution I decided that instead of becoming a coach I would rather use my contacts and go into a sports-related business,” he recalls.
In 1989, with his friend Martin Šťastný (now the director of Reebok in the Czech Republic), Laušman became a sales representative of foreign sports brands like Speedo, Reusch, etc. “It was a wholesale activity, but I was always fascinated with building my own retail shops,” says the businessman. Three years later, Laušman opened a small shop in Dejvice that offered selected brands’ products for both retail and wholesale purchase. Before 2001 the name Sportisimo could be seen on several shops, although the shops were not that large, only 250-300 square meters. That year the company opened eight large outlets all over the Czech Republic, including Olomouc, Teplice, Mladá Boleslav, Brno, Prostějov, Jihlava, Karlovy Vary and Prague. “We put our stakes in large shopping malls,” says Laušman.
By that time, however, the Czech market had already seen the entry of retail chains such as Giga Sport, an Austrian company with over 20 years’ experience and recognition behind it. “We were a step behind our competition,” acknowledges Laušman. These days, Sportisimo cooperates with about 80-90 suppliers, including such international brands as Nike, Adidas, Puma, and Reebok, as well as Czech producers that are trying to compete with foreign firms, like Hannah and Klimatec. Since the establishment of Sportisimo’s first small shops, annual sales have increased from the low millions to around CZK 500 million in 2002.

Variety is the spice of business
From the very beginning Laušman decided not to focus on one brand, becoming a retail outlet for Adidas or Nike. “We wanted to create a shop where the customer will be able to find any sports-related products with a range of prices,” he says. Sportisimo sells high-profile international brand goods, alongside no-name products of good quality aimed at budget-minded consumers. Laušman explains that after the Revolution, when people saw the Adidas stripes on a product, they bought it. He feels that nowadays shops need to specialize – they should focus on some particular field, like tourism or fishing, and offer any and all goods related to this sport. “If a customer plays football, your shop must be able to offer him not only running shoes or guards, but a complete range of equipment, starting with a gate and ending with a net. You should also be able to provide contacts for services that go along with a product,” says the retailer, adding that this gives his Sportisimo outlets “direction”.

– one of the few Czech specialized retail chains
– steady expansion
– focus on creating shops with complete product/service “direction”
– emphasis on well-trained staff
– savvy investment to fund expansion

Laušman wants his chain to become a market leader in such sports as football, hockey, skiing, cycling, and tourism. He says that his task is to make customers understand why it is better to shop at Sportisimo instead of Tesco, Carrefour, or other department stores. To a great extent this depends on his professional staff. “A customer should see a difference between coming to Tesco to buy skis and buying them at a specialty shop, where the assistant is an experienced skier himself,” says Laušman. He believes that a shop assistant must be able to offer a customer accessories, or to recommend what kind of skis will best suit the skier’s level of skill. The retail chain currently employs up to 200 people, and every Sportisimo shop has a ski expert, football expert, and the like – but finding qualified people is not easy. Some candidates had good knowledge about sports but no sales skills, others avoided communicating with customers about things outside their area of expertise. To help bridge this gap in know-how, Sportisimo organizes training programs for staff in conjunction with suppliers.

Information as a selling tool
Unlike some of its competitors, Sportisimo does not invest heavily into real estate or retail property. Shops are located in rented spaces in shopping malls, which helps the company avoid a massive initial investment. The firm combines several methods of financing, including leasing, capital, and supplier credits. It actively cooperates with factoring companies in order to improve cash-flow. Based on the firm’s own research, the product range of each shop differs depending on the emphasis a certain city or region gives to a particular sport. “We know what kind of goods, what brand, what price category, and what size move the best in each particular shop through our computer network. This information about the market is used to forecast our future contracts with suppliers,” Laušman says.
Rather than build a huge chain as quickly as possible, Laušman is driven by the motto “slowly but surely”, and works to ensure that every outlet generates profit. He didn’t hesitate to close down shops that were proving unprofitable, then carefully analyzing the reasons behind each failure. The athlete-turned-entrepreneur is aware that competition will increase as other sportswear retailers expand into the market, but he has no immediate intention of expanding abroad. “At first a team should learn how to defend on their home field – only after that can they go and win abroad.”

Wise locationSportisimo’s founder Aleš Laušman got the chance to realize his dream of creating a retail chain when large shopping centers like Zličín started their rapid expansion in the Czech Republic. Shopping malls such as those that house Sportisimo shops take care of all marketing themselves and always try to attract customers. The main challenge for a retail chain is to be present in these malls, which serve up to 40,000 customers per week. “It is important that we are there and not our competition,” says Laušman. Every new shopping mall that emerges must be more attractive than the ones already in place, which makes them very choosy in regards to which shops will best contribute to their popularity.


Specialty advertisingFor Sportisimo, advertising comes only after creating the perfect offer for customers. “It wouldn’t work the other way round,” says owner Aleš Laušman with conviction. The company carries out its advertising campaigns in conjunction with the brands it sells. For example, it is currently preparing a football campaign in cooperation with Nike for this year’s European Cup. Nike billboards with a small Sportisimo logo in the corner are designed to inform customers that if they want to buy a Nike product at Sportisimo they will find a wide selection. “We also have some ‘dominant’ brands at our shops, so that customers connect these brands with Sportisimo,” notes Laušman.
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