From Decathlon’s India catalogue of more than 5,000 products, let’s focus on just one. A t-shirt called Sportee. Sold in two colours—black and white, it’s one of Decathlon’s most popular products. Each year, the company sells at least a million of them. In comparison, popular products from more mainstream sportswear brands usually sell about a third of that, at best. Some 200,000-300,000 units a year, according to estimates from a sports retail executive.

One of the major reasons for Sportee’s success is its price. At just Rs 99 ($1.42), it’s one of the cheapest products, not just in Decathlon’s portfolio but in branded sportswear in general. With a contribution of at least Rs 10 crore ($1.4 million) —1 million x Rs 99— in revenue every year, Sportee encapsulates what makes French sports retailer Decathlon tick.

Decathlon has come a long way in India. From just four stores in 2012, it closed 2018 with about 65 stores. That number is already 69 today, with 14 in the southern Indian state of Karnataka alone. By 2040, it aims to have 1,000 stores across the country. With a global turnover of $12.8 billion in 2018 and 1,511 stores across 51 countries, Decathlon recently became the largest sports retailer in India. It has left the three usual suspects—Nike, Adidas, and Puma—in its wake.

In the year ending March 2018, Decathlon recorded a revenue of Rs 1,278 crore ($183 million), according to data sourced from Tofler. It was the first time the company turned a profit in India as well—Rs 32 lakh ($45,812). Decathlon’s success is staggering, but its journey to the top of the sports retail mountain is what is truly fascinating.

A few years after the advent of the global athletic wear boom in 2014, Indian retailers began fighting for a larger share of the Indian activewear pie. Data from consulting firm Technopak Advisors values India’s activewear market at Rs 5,000 crore ($715 million). With competition hotting up, sportswear brands increasingly turned to celebrities for endorsements. All of this for a lot of cash. Puma, for example, has tied Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli down as a global brand ambassador through a Rs 100 crore ($14.3 million) endorsement deal.

Indeed, the celebrity factor has evolved. Once just pawns in the athleisure game, celebrities have left no stone unturned to become a bigger part of this ecosystem. Virat Kohli, for instance, has two brands—a casual wear brand called Wrogn and a pure play sportswear brand One8, in partnership with Puma. Fellow cricketer MS Dhoni runs his own fitness and active lifestyle brand, Seven. Yuvraj Singh has sports brand YWC. Actors Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff launched HRX and Prowl, respectively.

Decathlon, however, forged its own path, cutting through the celebrity noise and high marketing spends with a simple proposition.

AUTHOR

Harveen Ahluwalia

In her last assignment, Harveen was at Mint, the business daily published by HT Media. At Mint, where she spent about two years, she wrote stories on retail, food and the media business. Harveen is a B.Com (H) graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi. She has a diploma in journalism from the Times School of Journalism. Like many folks at The Ken, Harveen talks and tweets a lot. When she isn’t writing or reading, she likes to sketch and doodle. She can be reached at harveen at the-ken dot com.

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