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Evolution is key for Intersport says new general manager Neil Venables

Intersport UK Ltd new general manager Neil Venables has been in place for two months now after taking over the reins from Tom Foley.

Neil comes with 21 years experience within the Adidas group working in the commercial sales team as a senior director on both Adidas and Reebok.

He is now set to drive the next stage of the strategic development for the Intersport UK and Ireland group having a greater central approach and control with product category ranges, marketing campaigns, activations and supply.

How are you finding the new job at Intersport?

It’s fairly full on – we just had the Interpsort show at the end of September and it was my first time attending in the role of a general manager. There’s an awful lot of people I know from the past but at the same time it was good to get my message across after coming into the role and about what I’m hoping to deliver.

What skills do you bring to the table?

Process. Accountability. Key performance indicators. Clarity of vision. That’s what my corporate background gave me but at the same time I will be very focussed on what suppliers’ services look like and be able to benchmark those and, at the same time, look at how that is improving.

What specific plans do you have to drive the business forward?

I am very much going to be driven by the IIC strategic plan for 2.0, in terms of a greater digital focus and an improved retail platform. Also to hopefully improve retail presence in key areas where we are not already and, at the same time, listening to my members and looking in terms of succession planning and how to keep evolving the membership itself.

In a changing marketplace how do stores stay relevant, and do you expect to see more specialisation?

I think it is a big thing, how stores remain relevant, how they merchandise. I think it is how they know their consumer. Within the Intersport family we like to think global but act local. And I think there is a massive opportunity to be entrepreneurial in your own area because you’ve got the outreach. A large part of the membership have got phenomenal schools’ business, they have got back-to-school business, college teams, local sports clubs and everything else. I think that is where the national office needs to take a step back and leave it to the member to then say that’s the assortment I need, that’s the categories I need to focus on, that’s where I need to go after the consumer in the best way.

I am coming into this role thinking what will retail be like in another five to ten years, not actually as it is. Then I’ve got to retrofit how that could be and what does the membership need to look like around that, because it is going to change that dramatically I think.

Are consumers looking for an experience now and do retailers have to change the way they present themselves?

We recently landed the new store concept in Henry Street, Dublin. That was a massive opportunity for me to present that back to the membership.

They can see it’s got lots of digital screens, the consumers that come in can then interact with some of the products but also how staffing will have to be heightened and their ability to connect with the consumers. By showing the intent in Dublin, and the fact that we have further concept stores planned for Kilkenny and Rushmere, it gives a little look at the future, not only to the wider membership but more importantly to the consumer as well.

That also comes with investment and it has to have a financial model behind it. That’s where I would hope that certain members start to think ‘could I do that’ and ‘what does that look like from being a bit more specialised’. So maybe some members become more fitness and running angled rather than being a multi-sport category. And then feeling confident that they have got the staffing, location, footfall and the product range and the terms to make the profit that’s required.

In five years where would you want to see the intersport business?

I would like to see us on a very realistic growth trajectory from a bricks-and-mortar as well as a digital point of view. I would like a greater presence and understanding to the consumer and relevance of Intersport, the brand, by starting to present the brand, the store concepts in the right way. I would be absolutely delighted with a fully integrated digital, click and collect opportunity as well. But I am so early on into the planning stages of building a business plan to cater for that because the expectations on digital are high, in terms of turnover and, at the same time, it’s got to be supported by an integrated bricksand- mortar compliance being able to facilitate it.

I think we need to look after the consumer and give them a good experience and if I am being honest there will be some stores that won’t be able to do that.

My membership is pretty diverse and I need to get the wind in the sails with those that are progressive and can see the vision and come with me. And there will be some, unfortunately, that won’t and can’t. I just have to accept that and work in a different way but at the same time looking after the interests of all our members.

How much does the uncertainty around Brexit and the fluctuations in sterling affect business?

It does because you are not clear what impact Brexit is having on consumer behaviour. You are living in a land of uncertainty from a consumer point of view. Fluctuations in sterling are also a challenge and it also has a potential impact on pricing. The exchange rate is not currently working in our favour so you are going to have to future hedge better to try and mitigate that loss or you’re going to have to just hope there’s going to be a change in it.

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