JD Sports is coming to shake up Australia's $2 billion athleisure market.
JD Sports is coming to shake up Australia's $2 billion athleisure market. Contributed

Athletic clothing giant on its way

WATCH out, Rebel Sport.

There's a new athletic clothing giant on the block and it's going to shake up the $2 billion sector.

UK chain JD Sports is about to launch in Australia, with an offering that promises to be like nothing we've seen before.

Known as "the King of Trainers", the aspirational sportswear retailer is known for its extensive range and limited edition exclusives by big-name brands.

"We will be offering the full product range, wider than the Australian consumer's ever seen in the sport and lifestyle category," Glue Store founder Hilton Seskin, who is bringing JD Sports to Australia, told news.com.au.

Along with the usual suspects like Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Asics and Puma, JD Sports stocks more obscure brands like Sergio Tacchini, Ellesse, Cruyff and Diadora, plus Emporio Armani EA7. Its womens wear selection includes Pink Soda and Ivy Park - the label launched by Beyonce last year.

Brands work closely with JD Sports to offer exclusive limited edition versions of their wares, adding colours and trims not available anywhere else.

And Australian shoppers will have access to every release, Mr Seskin said, promising that if an item was not stocked in store it could be ordered in from overseas.

Mr Seskin is bringing the chain Down Under through a partnership deal between JD Sports and his own private equity company, which owns Glue Store.

He plans to open six stores on the east coast by the end of this year, starting with one in the Melbourne Central shopping centre.

Digital kiosks will give shoppers the opportunity to browse the global catalogue and purchase on the spot in an interactive, multichannel shopping experience.

"We don't care how you shop, we just want you to shop," he said.

"Millenials are time poor, they want to get what they want and quickly ... We're going to give the consumer every opportunity to get what they want."


JD Sports is one of a handful of retailers to stock Beyonce's new label Ivy Park.
JD Sports is one of a handful of retailers to stock Beyonce's new label Ivy Park. Contributed

As global trendsetters have blurred the line between workout gear and fashion, making sneakers and stretchy pants stylish, JD Sport's business has boomed.

Last year, it unveiled a 45% jump in annual profits after a surge in demand for women's sport clothing.

The chain, which now operates in 12 countries, has wiped the floor with UK rival Sports Direct, a more price-focused business which it says serves "a different market".

In Australia, the biggest player in the athlesisure sector is the Super Retail Group, which owns Rebel Sport and Amart and lays claim to 30% of the market with more than 140 stores between them.

Household names Lorna Jane, Foot Locker and Lululemon are comparatively small players, with respective market shares of 12%, 7% and 5%.

This cosy duopoly has left the sector ripe for disruption, said retail analyst Geoff Dart of DGC Advisory.

"I think we need competition," he said.

"If you go back 20 years, we had a lot of sports stores, but we've lost a lot of that ... There's nothing really exciting consumers, in my view."

The sector was in for a shake-up with JD Sports' arrival, he said.

Rebel, which has 90 stores and more than 4500 employees, has upped its game in recent years, making a return to profitability thanks to a brand refresh and store refurbishments, according to Ibisworld's latest report on the sector.

But its performance pales in comparison to JD Sports, which has soared ahead thanks, Mr Seskin said, to its unique offering.

In Australia, he said, "there isn't a direct competitor that we are targeting, because there's nothing like it in the market."

The mix of performance and lifestyle products sold at JD Sports includes an extensive range of soccer boots, with the potential to expand into Australian football codes.

And with the big brands expanding their offerings as the athleisure trend continues, Mr Seskin said, there was plenty of room for new and old players in a growing market.

But he wasn't pinning his fortunes on the whims of the fashion set, emphasising: "JD Sports has been around a lot longer than athleisure trend and will continue way beyond the trend."

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