Running shoe brand Asics has opened a flagship store in Amsterdam that couples futuristic design with technology. John Ryan reports

Think sports, sports retailing and running and your thoughts might turn to Nike, at the better end, or maybe JJB Sports at the other end of the spectrum. It’s a fair bet that for most people the name Asics will not be top of the list, if it makes the cut at all. 

Yet as a brand, Asics has been around for a long time, since 1977, and is the brainchild of Japanese entrepreneur Kihachiro Onitsuka. Asics is in fact an acronym of the Latin phrase Anima sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body) and in spite of the fact that the brand is stocked by everyone from Amazon to Sports Direct, this is still a brand with a lower profile than many.

There is a flagship on central London’s Argyll Street, but this does put it in a secondary position when compared with the likes of nearby Niketown or even Lillywhites (aka Sports Direct) at Piccadilly Circus.

This is an international brand though and if you live in the Netherlands, the new Asics flagship in Amsterdam could be sufficiently radical in terms of its design to put the brand closer to the top of the sports retailing pyramid. Situated on the Stadhouderskade, next to the city’s running centre, the Vondelpark, this 6,459 sq ft store is all about running. As such, it is unusual as there are certainly running departments in most sports shops that want to be taken seriously, but almost none that are solely dedicated to the activity.

The main thing about the offer is, of course, the running shoes and these are displayed in a futuristic manner where just two colours, blue and white, are used to create the mood for the interior. As in other stores selling the commodity, panels set against a contrast colour are used to form displays around the

perimeter. This would be pretty standard stuff were it not for the fact that the display panels are bright white and the contrast wall behind them is a deep, translucent blue. There are also mid-shop fixtures that function as freestanding panels and the offer is divided, in customary fashion, by gender.  

Swirling white ceiling rafts are suspended overhead, providing a home for a series of spotlights. Beneath this, mannequins wear the shoes as well as some of the range of running clothing available in the store.

There’s a lot to be said for all of this, but it still might not be sufficient to sway the balance and drag the fleet of foot through the door.

The clincher is probably the store exterior. From the outside, this is a blue and white confection with asymmetrically shaped windows that provide views deep into the interior. The white Asics logo is set, much like the panels in the interior, against the blue shop front and the doors are recessed into the structure when the shop is open.

Inside the store, it’s a little like having strayed onto one of the service decks of the Star Shop Enterprise; you almost expect to see identically-clad crew members rushing to deal with the latest stellar crisis.

This impression is actually reinforced by the other point about this shop: the technology.

A two-storey structure in the centre of the shop, created from metal and glass is intended to give the store a technological “heart”, as it says in the blurb. Practically, what this means is that in the middle of the store there is “The Running Lab” and “The Foot ID”. The former is a series of widgets that use lasers and micro-cameras to “map” an individual’s foot and then compare the results with a database of all the available foot sizes and shapes to find the optimum running shoe. It is hard at this stage not to view this as a hi-tech version of Clarks’ measuring machines of old. It is, however, in keeping with the overall ethos of this store and even if running is generally about pounding the pavement (and a “gait analysis” is also part of the 20-30 minute process), this part of the shop does lend a suitably scientific veneer to the whole thing. The Running Lab is the first of its kind for Asics in Europe and features “running ability”. This means that foot shape, leg alignment and “body composition” are all measured using yet more devices. A word of warning though. This may all sound a massive leap forward for runners, but if you go through the whole process it will take between an hour and a half and two hours, will cost €200 (£178) and you still won’t have those shoes – that would be extra. It does sound like quite an expensive way of finding a pair of running shoes that will fit, but perhaps dedicated runners will be able to justify the expense. It is also worth remarking that the Foot ID service on its own costs just €20 (£17.80) and is free if you happen to purchase a pair of shoes.

There is actually quite a lot of science associated with running, as anybody who has spent time in Niketown in London will attest, and the notion of a hi-tech environment to sell merchandise of this kind is not revolutionary. All of which notwithstanding, the Asics store in Amsterdam raises the bar for many retailers operating in this sector.

There is also the small matter of cost. The Asics flagship concept has been worked on and developed by Brit design outfit Wests and Japanese design consultancy Formation. Wests has also created a pair of Reflex sports stores in Serbia, which are equally high gloss – it has form in this particular arena. This means that creating and building the Asics store has probably been an expensive exercise, all in all. Running should be fun, or at least those who indulge claim this to be the case, and this store is. It also answers the question that every shopper poses of every retailer everywhere – give me a reason to come into your shop. There appears to be lots.

Asics flagship

Amsterdam

‘Soft’ opening December 2010

Store completed March 2011

Design concept Wests and Formation

Size 6,459 sq ft

Standout feature The Running Lab