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Retail interview: John Wolsey of JW Sports in Bognor Regis, West Sussex

How did you get into the trade?
I’ve always been into sports. Cricket is my passion, but I also love tennis, squash and badminton, the latter I played at quite a high level. I worked at Mike Francis, an independent sports retailer in Bognor Regis, for 14 years and was made partner, but I wanted more.

So 14 years ago I set up JW Sports in 800 square feet just off the high street. After six years, we had to move – there just wasn’t enough space. We opened up on the high street into 3,000 square feet and a further 3,000 square feet in storage. We were already generating more than enough to pay for it, but turnover doubled after we moved.

Which brands and products work best for you?
Old faithfuls like Nike and adidas are good. I’m trying to buy into Under Armour, while ASICS does well and I’ve just started with Brooks. I don’t do anything with Puma because it’s in Sports Direct, which opened in town six months ago. There’s also a JD, which means I don’t do fashion.

What do you think the future holds for the trade?
The sports trade is twisting and turning all the time. It’s going through a huge change at the moment and it’ll be interesting to see where it is in five years time. But you have to hold onto your core values and stand firm. The future for me is to continue with the middle and top end of the market. Since Sports Direct opened, I’ve noticed a decrease in turnover of basic products, but I think we’ll be okay for now.

How do online sales compare to those in your shop?
We have an online presence, though our site is rubbish. I don’t see the point of selling online. The competition’s so fierce there’s virtually no margin in it and to make any money I’d need vast levels of stock. The big boys are good at it, but it’s not for us.

How do you promote your business?

People still come to us, despite the attraction of the internet. It’s hard to explain to consumers that we offer a similar price backed up with fantastic product and knowledge.

Consumers know they can’t get the same service online, but it’s hard getting them into the shop. I go out into the community because of the sports I play. I’ve got a lot of contacts, so I make sure I go to all the club dinners, matches and events. A change of chairman at a club could mean lost business if I don’t know about it. I also support clubs by offering them discounts.

How do you find out about new products?
I go to shows and cherry-pick products for my specialist sports. My customers trust me, so I do the work for them. I’m not a dedicated specialist shop, but I specialise in running and offer gait analysis, much as a running specific shop would. I also focus on football, teamwear, schoolwear and, more recently, workwear.

How do you keep up with what’s going on in the trade?
Going to shows is great because I get to meet other retailers – it makes me feel less isolated. I’m an Intersport member, which hosts quarterly meetings, which are good, but not quite enough. I think quarterly regional meet-ups are in the pipeline, which would mean eight meetings a year. That would work out about right. We talk about everything, from the best electricity providers to who provides the best card machine rates.

What are the best and worst parts of the job?
The best bit is dealing with customers. I love to chat and can get lost in conversation when I should be in the office doing admin. The worst bit is the paperwork. If invoices come in, they have to be paid and I have to make sure the money’s in the bank. It’s a pressure I hate, but I deal with it.

I fell into this job and I love it, but it’s more a way of life than a career. My only regret is that I should have set up in business sooner. Oddly, I still feel like I’m building the business, but working towards something is gratifying, even if I’m doing too many hours. But it beats a real job, that’s for sure.

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