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Jul 10, 2018

Would a sports trade online hub work?

Paul Sherratt, of Solutions for Sport, wonders if a sports trade online hub could work

I wrote an article back in 2015 about a new business that had raised $2.6m (£1.7m) during its latest round of funding.

The business was Streethub (since renamed Trouva.com) and the concept was based around bringing together a network of independent fashion retailers into one website. The main targets were those boutiques that did not have a web presence but did have ranges of fashion lines that they wished to sell to a global audience.

The online venture aimed to provide world-wide shipping, with click and collect and one-hour Shutl delivery available in selected postcodes and the StreetHub co-founder Mandeep Singh was quoted as saying that the success of the company’s iPhone app (which launched in 2014) had shown the firm “the compelling opportunity to also serve people who are keen to discover shops which are a little further afield too, and offer worldwide shipping”.

I explored whether such a concept could work within the sports trade and concluded that, while it might prove difficult for an independent sports retailer to find a point of difference, perhaps sports brands could find some merit in the platform (or something similar).

Roll forward three years and Trouva does now, indeed, sell the likes of adidas and Nike by representation through some niche boutique sports retailers.

However, for me, the platform remains firmly in the sports fashion, not sports performance, world and is a platform for retailers not brands selling direct.

Not on the High Street

However, maybe now, even more so than ever, the market is ready to embrace an online concept that brings together new, niche and innovative sporting products.

A hub where “artisan” performance sports brands could showcase their wares. A place where sporting goods products with limited distribution (and therefore not found on the High Street or the big online retailers) but with unique propositions could be found. An Aladdins Cave of specialist sporting goods.

The concept is, arguably, closer to the “Notonthehighstreet” proposition than Trouva although both are similar in terms of offering a new route to market to those businesses that struggle to maintain any market penetration.

Notonthehighstreet.com cofounder, Holly Tucker, says her business was born out of her frustration that she couldn’t easily access products from small businesses whose work she loves.

If we look at specialist sports brands then the same can often be true.

Those unique suppliers who bring something new to the market, find it hard to deal with the larger retailers and independents alike but are ploughing a lone online furrow often with a significant band of followers.

Imagine a world we could find these suppliers grouped together by sport with hard and soft goods coming together. A world where those innovative ideas are offered a springboard to the market. A springboard that could ultimately drive those businesses into other channels and complement any other market strategy that they may have.

Growth

To date, both Trouva and Notonthehighstreet have raised multiple millions of seed funding and both continue to report exciting growth. This seed capital has allowed them to build the web traffic to make the proposition compelling for those niche brands looking for market exposure and one could imagine the same approach working in sporting goods.

A platform that would allow these brands to create new product listings and fulfil the orders in return for the hub simply taking a commission would not be difficult to build. An environment that was more user friendly and sport specific (as opposed to the generic amazon marketplace) could also allow the brand the opportunity to showcase - just as the Notonthehigstreet partners do.

Not short of brands

We are not short of new brands coming into our industry but we are short of retailers to stock all of these new ranges, forcing many new brands to sell direct, either from their own website or through third party channels such as amazon.

We are not short of innovation in our industry either - one only has to walk around ISPO or check out Kickstarter (other funding platforms are available!) for reassurance, so maybe, just maybe, a sportshub could create a new environment bringing them all together under one roof.

A simple way for the consumer to find the latest new and exciting thing in their sport. A specialist environment but where the brand is in control of elements such as pricing and the way that the product is presented rather than the retailer. An opportunity to ensure brands and product messages are not diluted.

A sportshub (sadly the domain name is already taken).

I’m off to raise my seed capital if anyone fancies joining me….!

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