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Sports Authority Seeks Validation

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With over 475 stores and 25 more opening by year’s end, including a recent store in Puerto Rico, Sports Authority has seen a flurry of activity. In the midst of an identity crisis, the chain is going on a hiring spree, recently announcing plans to take on 5,000 part-time and temporary workers throughout the U.S., a 20% increase over last year. Additionally, Sports Authority plans to retain hundreds of seasonal workers after the holidays and make them part-time and full-time store team members. Seasonal employees will receive the same benefits as part-time and full-time employees and will also be able to get discounts on store merchandise.

Sports Authority really had no place to go but up, since it was barely surviving from 2008 to 2011. But last year it rebounded with 8.7% sales growth. While Dick’s Sporting Goods has been the darling of Wall Street and retail industry analysts, Sports Authority is making its own waves—some, which are moving them forward and others, which may be keeping them from getting past the wading pool. Spurning outdoor activities like hunting and fishing in favor of carrying more fitness clothing and running shoes, for instance, caused the alienation of a very large core customer base.

The chain’s attempt at opening “S.A. Elite locations,” which focuses on selling upscale brands at higher price points, runs counter to their main objective and expertise of selling price first. The 10 S.A. Elite stores are also in very different parts of the country, which makes managing them a challenge. Now-retired Sports Authority CEO Darrell Webb initially planned the opening of 300 such stores in five years, but the concept may be on hold. The organization seems to be focused on remodeling most of its stores, which will give the retailer a brighter, airier look it sorely needs.

Sports Authority introduced a new loyalty program last year called The League. Customers receive one point for every dollar spent and double points when using their Sports Authority credit card during specified promotional periods like the upcoming Black Friday. Each quarter customers then receive 5% back to spend in the store when they reach 100 points. New reward program members get a $5 off coupon and members receive exclusive offers and monthly email updates.

Something that Sports Authority is skilled at is employing social media to drive its low price message home. With almost 1.2 million Facebook likes and over 20,000 Twitter followers, it’s becoming more creative and personal, offering coupons and timely promotions and discounts. They are also careful to address consumer questions and complaints, which are numerous.

Because Sports Authority still has ground to gain in its competition with other sporting goods retailers, it’s been looking to improve its own marketing and branding message. And what better way to do so than to focus on one of its most important customers: busy moms on the run. The premise that moms will shop for themselves once they fulfill their family’s needs first resulted in a new store format that makes the shopping experience more “intuitive.” This “intuitive” shopping involves better pathways and graphics, merchandising zones and a drive aisle to showcase new products. New dynamic graphics play on the emotional tug of parenting and healthy lifestyles, enabling a comfort level and ease of communicating with specified “sports authorities,” which until now have, ironically, been absent from the chain. Designers were also careful to ensure ease of shopping for men as well.

If Sports Authority can adapt this newfound sense of self and shopping accessibility throughout all its stores, while improving its customer service, it may gain more of a foothold in the highly competitive sporting goods retail sector.

TAGS: retail, retailers, retail trends,
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