IT'S been dubbed the "Rebel killer", but only time will tell whether international sportswear chain JD Sports will live up to the reputation after opening the doors to its first Australian store yesterday.
JD Sports has wiped the floor with its UK competitors and has now launched its first store in Melbourne's CBD.
The streetwear department store was brought to Australia with the help of Hilton Seskin, the founder of Rebel Sport, and he thinks it will fill a gap in the sportswear market where Rebel is lacking.
Seskin, now the chairman of Next Athleisure, told news.com.au JD Sports would have a full product range, wider than the Australian consumer has ever seen in the sports and lifestyle category, and Aussie sports retailers may start to sweat.
WHAT IS JD SPORTS?
It is the main sports fashion retailer in the UK, with its sneakers being a major draw card for customers. Its clothing is popular among teens, especially boys, with track pants, trainers and drawstring bags practically their uniform.
It stocks brands from Nike and Adidas as well as more exclusive labels like Emporio Armani EA7 and Pink Soda and Ivy Park, launched by Beyonce.
Retail expert at Retail Oasis, Pippa Kulmar, told news.com.au JD Sports focused more on sportswear as fashion, like smaller Australian retailers Hype and Platypus.
"You're going to get more brands, and on top of that range, there will still be products like Nike and Adidas. But with those, there's often a limited assortment in Australia. With its international ties, JD Sports should be able to bring more exclusive products to Australia," she said.
"At the moment sport athleisure sneakers are top selling fashion items and are dominating the fashion category.
From an Australian consumer's perspective, they have missed out on certain releases of fashion or sneakers because there has not been an international presence, except for Foot Locker which is not that big here."
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM REBEL?
Ms Kulmar said there was not a major retailer that fully focused on sports fashion.
"If you look at the US, yoga pants are taking share away from denim. We do have hybrid sports fashion at play at the moment if you look at the activity in womenswear with Lululemon and Stylerunner, but there's not so much for men and that's where JD Sports will pick up a lot of share," she said.
Ms Kulmar believes JD Sports has been able to keep up with the latest trends, which will help the retail giant succeed in the Australia market.
"If you look at fashion over a period of time, there has been a slow casualisation," she said.
"It went from dressy to denim and now athleisure. I see this as a continuing trend and the retailers will have to know the trends and accept the trends."
WILL REBEL SURVIVE?
Ms Kulmar expects JD Sports to take some capital from Rebel.
"We know the sneaker market is growing and it's taking share off leather shoes and more classic wears," she said.
"It will be similar, whenever an international comes to Australia it dilutes the market share of other players in the market.
"You saw that happen in fashion when Uniqlo, H&M and Zara came to Australia, there was a fallout of Marcs, David Lawrence and Willow."
Ms Kulmar said in order to survive, Rebel will have to up its game like many other retailers faced with international competitors.
She said many Australian companies had become complacent because fierce international competitors were late to enter the market.
"Rebel will have to lift it's offering, whether that be stock or staffing and service."
Ms Kulmar said it was a smart move for JD Sports to enter the market, as athleisure was still a growing trend, and expected it to continue for some time.
She predicts JD Sports won't take over Aussie retailers straight away and said it would have to build its own brand awareness first.
"That will only happen over time, whether that's through advertising or the rollout of the first store in Melbourne. It won't upset the sports category straight away but retailers like Rebel need to start paying attention," she said.
Rebel, which has 90 stores in Australia and 4500 employees, stepped up in recent years and refreshed its brand and refurbished stores. Ibisworld's latest report on the sector found that made the retailer more profitable but JD Sports is still soaring ahead.
This doesn't mean the UK retailer does not face its own challenges in Australia.
Ms Kulmar predicts JD Sports could struggle when Amazon hits Australia, possibly later this year.
"US Amazon is the largest men's retailer and when you look at shoes, with Amazon's business model, it can stock every size because it doesn't have to worry about space and back-of-house like JD Sports will. JD securing their credibility in Australia will be really important to assure their customers they are the best option, opposed to Amazon," she said.
JD Sports has already opened in 12 countries and launched its Australian store at the Melbourne Central complex.
Rebel is part of the Super Retail Group and a spokesperson told Inside Retail the group could see potential for more growth in sports retailing in Australia.
"At a macro level, revenues are expected to continue to benefit from a greater focus on healthier, more active lifestyles, and the continued strong performance from our Rebel and Amart Sports business is reflective of that," the spokesperson said.
"The Australian market remains relatively fragmented, and, speaking to our own business, we still see significant potential to bring to bear our scale and maturity, and the advantages that offers in terms of our deep local knowledge, supply chain, capital resources and marketing, to continue to grow and strengthen our national network."
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