Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has long repeated his desire to transform his business into the ‘Selfridges of sport’.

Indeed, when the retailer unveiled its full-year profits back in July, Ashley proudly declared to analysts: “It’s clear we have smashed the ball out of the park with our ‘Selfridges of sport’ concept.”

If that bold claim is to be judged against one of its newest stores in Southampton, it would be hard to disagree with the self-made billionaire.

Sports Direct has only opened around a dozen of these newly refurbished stores as it ramps up efforts to rejuvenate its image among suppliers and improve trading performance.

This one in Southampton opened earlier this year after Sports Direct relocated out of Hammerson’s WestQuay shopping centre and into a larger high-street unit, previously occupied by collapsed department store chain BHS.

“There’s even a small area dedicated to the famous red and white striped shirts of the city’s football club”

And Sports Direct has sought to replicate the department store feel over its two floors.

The ground level houses mainly running shoes and training wear, with large imagery of Mo Farah and Anthony Joshua promoting Nike and Under Armour respectively – which will no doubt please those suppliers.

There’s even a small area dedicated to the famous red and white striped shirts of the city’s football club.

Towards the back of the store comes the USC department, representing almost a shop-in-shop, with different brands including Pretty Green, Relay, Jack & Jones and Sol Cal all given plenty of space and signage.

Beyond sport

Sports Direct is moving increasingly into the JD space, with a much deeper range of fashion-focused footwear, featuring the likes of Lyle & Scott, Vans and Penguin.

Its fragrances range is equally impressive, taking up much of the back wall in a bright, clean manner that would be more expected of a Superdrug or a Boots rather than Sports Direct.

Upstairs, the store boasts specialist departments, including its football ‘boot room’ and Field & Trek for adventure sports, hiking and walking equipment, as well as golf, tennis, cricket and equestrian sections.

Sports Direct also shows off its partnerships with the likes of Disney in a well-stocked childrenswear department.

While it does not pretend to scale back completely from the ‘stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap’ mentality, particularly when it comes to the merchandising of brands such as Lonsdale and Slazenger, the Southampton store represents a step in the right direction in Sports Direct’s journey to become the ‘Selfridges of sport’.

If Ashley can eventually roll out this format across the UK, perhaps he will indeed have “smashed it out of the park”.