As society becomes increasingly health conscious, participation in sports and fitness activities is on the up. In theory, this offers huge opportunities for sports retailers, yet some are struggling to survive.
Matt Davey, previously UK and Ireland director of sales at Canterbury, is all too aware of the problem - but believes that if retailers adapt to the changing market they can thrive.
“There’s a huge split in the sports market,” he says. “Down at one end there’s bargain sports retail and even high street lifestyle retailers getting in on the action, while in the middle there’s the internet. Selling cheap product doesn’t make retailers any money and because the market in the middle is dominated by online sales, there’s no room in it for bricks and mortar retailers. However, if retailers think premium, this end of the market offers huge opportunities.”
As Davey sees it, this is because more and more people are taking up sports such as running, cycling, fitness and triathlon, and as they become more serious about their sport they want better products.
“Consumers know that if you buy cheap, you buy twice,” he says. “That’s okay if you’re buying for fast fashion purposes, but in sport, products have to deliver.”
Which is where compression brand CEP comes in. Compression wear to improve athletic performance has been around since the 1980s, evolving out of scientific advances for people with venous disorders. But once a niche product, it’s now more sought after.
However, while compression garments often undergo quality testing, not every brand has the ability to test its products to the highest possible standards. Which is where CEP, a company that’s been in business since 1951, has an edge over the rest of the market.
“CEP is the lifestyle arm of medi, which is one of the leading manufacturers in the health care market,” Davey says. “The medi headquarters are in Bayreuth, Germany and it has decades of expertise in compression technology. This has enabled us to create sports product of the highest standard.
“All our products are made in Germany in our own factory alongside medical products, which are hand-finished, checked and independently tested to the highest medical standards. Many brands manufacture in the Far East or in outsourced facilities in many countries, where quality can’t be fully controlled. We can become the authority in this sector - customers just need to be given the chance to try this product.”
So confident is CEP of its products’ effectiveness, the brand offers a 30-day performance guarantee.
“How does a consumer know something’s going to work unless they try it?” Davey asks. “Customers can buy it, try it and bring it back if they don’t like it. In Germany we have less than 0.1 per cent returns.”
Unlike other compression products, for CEP service is a key factor in selling its ranges.
“Our products are measured to fit,” Davey says. “Staff measure either the calf, ankle or foot circumference, depending on the product, then select one of the appropriate size. Correctly fitted compression will ensure maximum performance.”
This product quality, of course, doesn’t come cheap. CEP’s No Show socks have an RRP of £13.50, short socks are £16.50 and calf sleeves £32.99, while the brand’s Run 2.0 socks start at £39.99. After that, the only way is up for CEP’s run shorts, run tights and ultralight race options.
“Premium product and performance commands a premium price, which allows greater margin capacity,” Davey says. “On top of that, CEP is distributed through strategic retailers to maintain its premium offer. We only expect to work with around 250 retailers. This is a premium product that needs to sit in a premium space and be displayed appropriately. We don’t want overkill. Some product is constantly on sale, but no one can make money that way and brands become devalued.”
Investing in a niche brand that’s on the pricey side can put some retailers off, but Davey believes taking the risk is the only way forward: “Retailers need to strike out and work with brands who are willing to support and drive consumers, not follow the crowd. It’s up to them to identify brands and offer their customer new, innovative product. To be premium, retailers have to buy premium. Consumers are willing to invest, but need to be able to see it, understand it and even have the chance to try it.”
To help retailers, CEP not only has good product distribution, but also provides plenty of support.
Davey explains: “Our technical reps can train staff in our products and all staff are given a product to use and keep. Then they can really talk about it with authority. We also have great POS, such as display stands, deco legs and some great product imagery.”
In return, Davey expects retailers to buy into and invest in CEP by developing a premium consumer experience: “A retail purchase should represent a good experience for a consumer, achieving loyalty and return visits. Product should be key in presentation and display.
“Nine out of 10 people also want to buy from someone they trust - a sporting club is a great way to connect with your community. CEP are happy to support local running, triathlon and other sports clubs with trial nights during training evenings, which will in turn support local retailers of the CEP range.
“We have some great retail partners in the UK and Ireland, who have worked with us on various events and customer-led activities and have benefited from the CEP brand and the support we can offer.”
CEP will again be showcased at the London Marathon Expo, which takes place at ExCeL in London on April 22-25, providing customers with the chance to see the range, try it on and take advantage of the 30-day performance guarantee.
New CEP products for 2015 include the Ultralight range of the ‘Quadrilogy’ of socks and CEP Clone for custom-made recovery.