Yoann Romano
Offer and Commercial Leader
Decathlon México
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Expert Contributor

From Sports Needs to Innovative Products. How Do We Do It?

By Yoann Romano | Tue, 09/22/2020 - 12:55

I’ve been part of Decathlon for 12 years and I’m still amazed by the uniqueness of our business model that has led us to the position of being one of the world’s biggest sports retailers, although we still have a lot of work to do to achieve our purpose. But what makes Decathlon so unique and differentiates us from many other companies?

Like many of my colleagues, I started working in the store, selling our products directly to our clients. Eventually, I climbed up, step by step, to reach the position of Commercial Director for Mexico. This has allowed me to gain a very wide perspective of how the chain of value works, starting from the observation of a need within a certain sport, the design of the product, the testing, the production, supply and finally it’s commercialization. Best of all is seeing the product being used by our sports users!

Decathlon was founded in 1976 in Lille France, inspired by the belief that the best sports products should be accessible to everyone. Since then, we have expanded to more than 50 countries with more than 90,000 team members in more than 1,500 stores worldwide. But what was the first step for achieving this? The first step and the base of our business model is Observation. It all starts when we listen, watch and ask our sports users about their experience practicing a certain sport.

Then, our product managers, designers, engineers and sales assistants think of practical solutions to then imagine the products of tomorrow. I believe sales assistants especially play a key role in the development of products because, on one hand, they are the ones who are closest to the users and the products themselves, and on the other hand, they are sports people who tryout and live the products first-hand. It all comes down to creating solutions that make it easier, more comfortable, enjoyable and safer for the user to practice sports.
In some of the main pillars of the business model there is one important factor that plays a vital role in the aspects of Observation, Design and Testing. The Decathlon Sports Lab is based in Lille, France. This is a sports research facility managed by a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers as well as high-performance athletes from diverse disciplines. In the stage of observation, the Sports Lab acquires knowledge about the human body in different sports environments and analyzes the human anatomy in motion as well as its interaction with different sports products and the observation of the needs of our customers. In addition to this, all of our team members throughout the world are always looking to identify opportunities to develop innovative products.
The next element of our business model is the Design of the product. After we identify a problem or area of opportunity to innovate, we then start to generate the models of the solutions in 2D/3D drawings and materialize its different features, such as the shape, components and functions. Then, several prototypes are made in our prototyping workshops to validate the product´s different facets, including appearance, colors, components and usage. We always aim to design our products to be simple yet smart, stylish yet practical and affordable with a special focus on quality.

After we've conceived a product, the next step before we can introduce it to the world is the Testing. Testing our products helps to validate their technical qualities, their durability and safe usage. I'm proud to say that our validation standards for launching new products are usually more stringent than the international and local standards. The Decathlon Sports Lab also plays a key role in this stage; for example, a new waterproof jacket will have to go through water spray tests, wind resistance and other tests before its launch. When it comes to the user, we give them the chance to try out some of the products before buying them, some you can even take them home for a period of time or you can test it directly in the store in our “Test Zones.” One example is the area where you can test the effectiveness of your hiking boots when crossing an area with different types of terrain and grips.

Once the testing is done and we are certain that we've developed a high-quality product, we proceed to the Production. We entrust the production of our sports goods to a panel of suppliers spread out over 45 countries. We see the suppliers as an extension of our company so we ensure through regular audits, wherever the manufacturing location is, that all the human working conditions comply with local and international regulations and with Decathlon’s own requirements, maintaining the highest standards in quality and compliance.
After assuring we have a high-quality functioning product, we then reach the next stage of our business model: the correct Supply of the product so we can make sports solutions accessible to as many people as we can. One of Decathlon’s unique characteristics is that we control our logistics supply chain across the entire world. Our more than 50 warehouses distributed on every continent are continuously migrating to automated processes, making our teammates' everyday job less complex and difficult. This also has a direct impact in lowering costs, in the price our sports users pay and subsequently in the times of the deliveries of our products.

Lastly, our products are Commercialized through two main channels: our physical stores and our e-commerce website. Our main objective in this stage is to make our customer experience beyond comparison, whether it starts on their mobile devices or walking through the doors of the stores. In the physical experience at a Decathlon story, we want you to pick things up, try them on and play around. We have tents pitched so you can go inside, a soccer goal so you can try the balls and dedicated bouldering walls where our collaborators are always on hand to help, whether that’s answering questions about size and fit, providing tips on the best Mexico hikes or tennis racket grips, or simply giving you the confidence that you’ve found the right product to discover and pursue your sport.

In Mexico we are in an early stage of expansion, with only 12 stores throughout the country. However, I think of this as an advantage because it allows me to be closer to the team members in stores who at the same time are closer to the users and, therefore, have very valuable insights into the products, user behaviors and trends. We have ambitious plans to produce more products locally and to expand exponentially in this country. The main objective of these actions is to reach more Mexicans and fulfill our goal of making the benefits and pleasures of sports accessible to as many Mexicans as possible in a sustainable way. 

Sport is an engine of change that can drastically transform our world for good. Decathlon’s business model is proof that we can generate a chain of value and well-being for everyone involved, such as our stakeholders, consumers, collaborators and the environment. I believe that with the everyday work of each Decathlonian, we are contributing to making the planet a better and healthier place for all.

Photo by:   Yoann Romano

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