History of the Decathlon Brand

Today, Decathlon is a company that is no longer to be presented to the French. With a great experience in the distribution of sports and leisure equipment, it has become a real brand with its own identity. From its creation, through its various successes to its different commercial strategies, we will tell you the whole story of Decathlon in this article.

Decathlon: Where it all began

Decathlon is a company founded by Michel Leclercq in 1976. Previously a butcher and purchasing manager in an Auchan store in Roubaix, he decided to become an entrepreneur after a trip to the United States. Thus, on July 26, 1976, Michel Leclercq opened a store selling sporting goods in the commercial zone of Auchan in Englos, in the north of France.

The first months of the Decathlon store were difficult. Indeed, Michel Leclerq had difficulties convincing equipment manufacturers like Intersport-La Hutte or Sport 2000 to join his project. While the store is half-filled, the founder did not give up. Thus, his company finally takes off following a complaint about the refusal of sales which obliged the Adidas brand to supply Decathlon. It was afterward that other suppliers began to supply the company, starting with Leleu, the French supplier of the first Decathlon bicycles, which was located only three kilometers from the first Decathlon store. For your information, today the brand is the biggest bicycle seller in France.

The 80’s, a Period of Rapid Growth

In 1980, Decathlon broadcast an original advertisement with a strong slogan: “Decathlon, the store that puts all its customers outside! “. At that time, the objective was already to encourage the purchase of sports articles so that everyone could practice their passion in the best conditions. In 1986, “Décathlon Production” was born. This large-scale project consisted of designing Decathlon branded products. One of the first decathlon sporting goods of the brand was a bicycle frame. In the same year, the French company opened its first store outside France in Dortmund, Germany.

Also in 1986, a Decathlon employee named Gilles created the Trocathlon events. In fact, this project will allow the brand’s customers to sell and buy second-hand equipment among themselves and to facilitate contact. Finally, in 1987, Decathlon started to own shares. On this occasion, all the company’s employees became shareholders in the company.

Internationalization: Decathlon Moves Up a Gear

In 1988, Decathlon went international with the first production office in Asia, opened by Olivier Leclercq. In 1992, the first Decathlon store in Spain was open. The brand conquered the Iberian Peninsula and has been a great success to this day.

Later, in 1999, the company opened its first stores in the United States and in London. Then, in the 2000s, its international development became more and more important with the opening of its first store in Shanghai in 2003 and in Moscow in 2006. 

The Decathlon Store in the United States: Between Difficulties and Rebounds  

If the brand opened its first store in the United States, and more precisely in Boston in 1999, it should be known that this expansion across the Atlantic did not have the expected effects. Indeed, the sales results were not there from the very first years. However, Decathlon had strong ambitions in the United States by buying 18 stores of the MVP Sport chain which was established in the northeast of the country.

However, the results are far from what was expected by the employees of the French company. According to the retailer, there were several reasons for this: difficulty in putting together the products as Decathlon wanted, regulatory constraints in the country, and the land order that prevented the company from expanding the size of its stores. On January 15, 2007, Decathlon had to come to terms with the idea of closing all its stores in the United States.

Nevertheless, this firm decision is not an end in itself. In 2010, Decathlon decided to re-establish itself in the United States with the purchase of a 12,000 square meter shopping center in California and a 4.7 hectare plot of land in Ontario (city).

In 2017, the French company made its comeback on American soil with the opening of a physical store in San Francisco. At the same time, the Decathlon group says it wants to develop its online business. In 2019, the brand will open its first “superstore” in the United States, more precisely in Emeryville, California. The brand plans to open other stores in the San Francisco Bay Area in the coming years.

Decathlon and Its Establishment in India

Since 2009, Decathlon has been present in India and has been a huge success. Indeed, the number of physical stores opened has been increasing year after year. Indeed, the products and ideas of the brand are perfectly suited to the demand and needs of Indian consumers. The brand made a mistake at the beginning by not offering products for cricket, the national sport in India. It later rectified this by offering products for this sport. 

The success of Decathlon in India is mainly due to the right strategy of setting up the stores. Indeed, they are generally located near middle-class populations that are open to globalized practices.

As a result, it is not in the largest cities in India that have the most stores. In fact, the first three Decathlon stores opened in Bangalore, which is considered the Silicon Valley of India. Later on, the company’s headquarters were also established in Bangalore, exactly in Whitefield in 2011, and near the international airport in 2015.

If the good location of the stores is the reason for its success, it is important to know that Decathlon has been able to focus its business strategy on other points:

– Provision of sports equipment used all over the world

– Equipment adapted to all levels (beginners, intermediates, professionals…)

– Highlighting of equipment for less popular sports such as horseback riding

– Price proposals adapted to the purchasing power of the population

What are the Elements that Make the Success of the Decathlon Group?

If internationalization is one of the strong successes of the Decathlon group, the brand relies on other elements that make its reputation today. To help you better understand, we will propose several points which are at the origin of the success of the brand.

  • An excellent quality/price ratio

Decathlon has a strategy of verticalization for its products. Thus, the brand sells and produces almost only its own products today on its shelves. In this field, it has almost no competition, whether in France, Europe, or anywhere else in the world. 80% of the items sold are Decathlon brands in the Decathlon stores. Thus, the company controls the entire production chain, from manufacturing to sales. 

Today, Decathlon production lines are located all over the world: France, Poland, Bulgaria, Belgium, Morocco, Mauritius, Tunisia, Brazil, India, Japan, South Korea. In the manufacturing plants, a protocol is respected to ensure the quality of the product when it is offered in stores.

With the international expansion of production lines, manufacturing costs can vary from one country to another. This makes it easier for the Decathlon group to offer prices adapted to the local population while maintaining the quality of each product. It is important to know that 80% of the production is made in Asia, especially in China, India, and Bangladesh. 

  • Own and identified brands for each discipline

The creation of its own brands is the result of the difficulties for the brand to be delivered by the equipment manufacturers and their refusal to negotiate lower prices. In 1996, Decathlon created its first distribution brands with Tribord and Quechua. Small tip, to spot the French abroad, it is those who generally have bags Quechua. Today, it has more than 30 brands specially dedicated to targeted disciplines:

– Allsix: Indoor volleyball

– Aptonia: Triathlon, nutrition, and health

– Atorka: Handball

– Artengo: Racquet sports

– B’Twin: Cycling, subdivided into Triban (bicycle touring), Van Rysel (road), Rockrider (mountain biking), and B’Twin (children, textiles, and accessories)

– Caperlan: Fishing

– Copaya: Beach-volley

– Domyos: Martial arts, fitness, gymnastics, and dance

– Dreamscape: Snowboard

– Evadict: Trail-running

– FENC’IT: Fencing

– Forclaz: Trekking

– Fouganza: Horse riding

– Geologic: Precision sports

– Geonaute: Orienteering

– Inesis: Golf

– Inovik: Cross-country skiing

– Itiwit: Paddle sport

– FLX: Cricket

– Kalenji: Running

– Kiprun: Running

– Kipsta: Football

– Korok: Field Hockey

– Nabaiji: Swimming in the pool

– Newfeel: Walking

– Offload: Rugby

– Olaian: Surfing

– Orao: Kitesurfing

– Oroks: Ice field hockey

– Outshock: Combat sport

– Oxelo: Urban sliding sport

– Perfly: Badminton

– Pongori: Table tennis

– Quechua: Mountain hiking

– Rockrider: Mountain Biking

– Simond: Mountaineering and climbing

– Solognac: Hunting

– Subea: Diving

– Tamahoo: Windsurfing

– Tarmak: Basketball

– Triban: Cycling

– Tribord: Water sports in the sea and sailing

– Van Rysel: Road biking

– Wed’ze: Snowsports

This variety of brands has made the Decathlon group famous. Indeed, all sportsmen and women can find in the store’s articles specially dedicated to their discipline.

  • An Innovative Customer Experience

Decathlon stores are unique and authentic. Indeed, it is quite possible to spend several hours there and to discover the infinite number of items that are available. Decathlon’s success is also due to an innovative customer experience with the possibility to use and test the equipment directly in the stores, you can have the impression of being in a huge playground. You can probably see a person riding past you on a bike. In 2016, the group was named number one among the French people’s favorite companies in the retail sector.

  • Low-Cost Store Operations

To be able to charge low prices, Decathlon also relies on low-cost store operations. To take an example, the French company hires mainly young and athletic employees who work mainly part-time, the average age in the stores is 30 years. In addition, the employees are multifunctional by making sales, shelving, and maintenance. The interior of the store is rather basic with metal cages for example to store the balls.

As a result, the brand can finance an army of 800 researchers in its five SportsLabs spread throughout France. These centers are responsible for creating unique and authentic materials for Decathlon. Among the most outstanding innovations are the Quechua tent that opens in two seconds or the full-face diving mask. The brand registers an average of 40 patents per year! 

Decathlon: Official Partner of the NBA in Europe

For basketball fans, the NBA is not to be introduced anymore. The American national basketball league, which is a truly global brand, has signed a partnership with Decathlon, now a top 5 sports equipment manufacturer in the world. In January 2021, the agreement was signed between Decathlon store and the NBA. For the French company, this is the first agreement with a North American sports league.

With this partnership, the Tarmak retail brand of the Decathlon group will be strongly promoted. Indeed, a range of accessories, thermal underwear, and shoes will be marketed in the colors of several NBA franchises: Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls to name a few.

For Decathlon, this alliance is a real revolution. Thus, it will be able to offer all the products with the NBA colors on its online platform and in the physical stores spread all over the world: Africa, Asia, Latin America… The NBA is an American league known everywhere in the world. Therefore, this partnership will allow consumers to acquire accessories in the colors of their favorite franchise at the best price. The first collection was unveiled in March 2021. From now on, it is possible to buy products from this partnership online or in Decathlon stores.

The Decathlon Store Facing Some Controversies

Like any world-renowned company, Decathlon has had to deal with certain controversies throughout its history. In 2018, a petition was launched to demand the removal of hunting equipment available on the store shelves. Indeed, questions about the right to hunt and the animal cause are put back on the table through this petition. This last one would have been signed by nearly 65000 people. Nevertheless, the store continues today to distribute these hunting materials which are very successful.

For several years and until today, Decathlon has also had to endure various complaints about production. For many, the manufacturing chain would not be green with productions in China, the lack of recycling, and the option of replacing products at the expense of a repair if it is of poor quality. However, Decathlon defends itself by affirming that it undertakes actions in order to reduce its carbon impact as much as possible, whether it is on road transport or air transport.

Decathlon Today

Today, the Decathlon group or Oxylane (name taken over in 2014) is fully owned by the Mulliez (51%) and Leclercq (49%) families. The Mulliez group is one of the most powerful in France and owns large groups such as Auchan (supermarket), Boulanger (supermarket household appliances), or Leroy-Merlin (supermarket DIY).

Today the brand has become a low-cost sportswear empire with more than 96,000 employees, more than 2,200 stores in 57 countries like Russia, Colombia, Australia (not counting the various franchises). In 2019, the Oxylane group estimates its annual turnover at nearly 12.4 billion euros. Today, the group is mainly managed by the duo of Michel Aballea and Mathieu Leclercq, the latter being the main initiator of the creation of private labels for all sports. Now, I recommend you to read two other blog posts about sport in France with:

Work cited:

https://www.lesechos.fr/industrie-services/conso-distribution/decathlon-devient-partenaire-officiel-de-la-nba-1283206

Photo credit: @Decathlon