Matalan has just revealed that its first Sporting Pro store is to open in central London next month - the first of 14 new shops due to open before Christmas.

Matalan has just revealed that its first Sporting Pro store is to open in central London next month - the first of 14 new shops due to open before Christmas.

This first store, in Kensington High Street, will cover 6,000 sq ft across two floors and have a focus on women’s sportswear and football kits, as well as sporting footwear, clothing and equipment.

But this first round of store openings is just the beginning. Head of Sporting Pro and former JJB chief executive Tom Knight has said that the retailer is planning to open more than 100 stores within four to five years as it aims to fill the gap left by JJB Sports.

Since the high-profile demise of JJB, the market has been pretty much dominated by Sports Direct, which actually shares some interesting parallels with Matalan.

For a start, both retailers are absolutely brilliant at sourcing quality products for a low price - and then passing these savings on to the customer. It will be interesting, therefore, to see whether both end up meeting somewhere in the middle when it comes to the quality and price of their respective sportswear offering.

In the meantime, both companies continue to fine-tune their brand. While Matalan may have started as a fashion retailer, it has also collaborated with TV personalities, like Abbey Clancy, and local designers to create its own individual collections that combine quality goods with affordable prices.

At the same time, Sports Direct has grown its own range through acquisitions such as Dunlop and Slazenger, as well as its ability to promote these brands through its wholesale and licensing businesses.

However, even though there may be some parallels, Matalan will need to overcome some important hurdles before it can truly challenge a retail giant like Sports Direct.

After all, Matalan is a company that has built its business by creating a network of destination shops that are located away from the high street and even outside retail parks in some cases.

As a result, its Sporting Pro business - which will launch its first five stores in locations adjacent to existing Matalan stores - won’t be able to rely on much passing trade. Its retail proposition will therefore need to be much more compelling in order to persuade people to make a special trip.

At the same time, as its target customers get older, even these loyal fans may be unwilling to drive to these out-of-town locations, which will make it even more important to attract a new generation of younger customers into its out-of-town stores.

There are ways to do this, of course. For example, some larger Matalan branches could give out coupons and discounts for the company’s Sporting Pro stores, or the company could offer a click-and-collect type service in order to encourage some of its sporty online shoppers into its real world stores. Incentives like these could ultimately mark the difference between Sporting Pro’s success or failure.

After all, Matalan may have mastered the art of offering high-quality products at incredibly low prices, but Sports Direct is certainly a worthy opponent in that regard.

So even though both brands may have started from two different ends of the market, with a little planning and some clever marketing, they could soon meet in the middle with a bang.

  • Dan Coen, director, Zolfo Cooper