It may have a healthy online business, but stores are at the heart of JD Sports’ rise and rise and rise.

If you’ve leading a ‘retail safari’ in London’s West End, one of the more interesting things that you can show your tourists is the hole in the floor in the JD Sports branch in the middle of Oxford Street.

This is a cage-like affair with an open top through which sports shoes arrive by a lift and conveyor belt system when they have been requested from the stockroom.

“Whether its Seoul, Singapore or Sydney, the format, which puts a physical store at the heart of things, seems to have healthy running legs”

It’s one of the best examples there is currently of making a virtue out of necessity. When you wander into the store, there is usually somebody taking pictures of the thing in action to post on Instagram or Twitter.

When the appeal wanes, just head upstairs and there is an area with what looks like cricket nets where you can test your skills at kicking a football, should the fancy take you.

There is, in fact, quite a lot more to look at in this store and when taken as a whole, it boils down to a place that is fun to be in as much as a shop to be in to ensure that you have the latest sports footwear. This is a retailer that understands its customers and gives them what they want.

Which is rather more than can be said for some of JD Sports’ rivals, which vary between those who want almost everything to be solely digital – Pro Direct – to a still somewhat Spartan and utilitarian feel – Sports Direct (other than the stores in Lakeside and Bluewater, which are also focused on offering more than just sports clothing and equipment).

Keeping faith

Also worth noting are the 23 JD Sports gyms. This is an outfit that was early to the game as far as linking sports retailing and taking exercise is concerned.

The retailer also has appeal beyond these shores. Whether its Seoul, Singapore or Sydney, the format, which puts a physical store at the heart of things, seems to have healthy running legs.

All of which is somewhat counterintuitive when the mood of the moment seems to be that if it ain’t digital, it ain’t worth a run round the block.

JD Sports does, of course, have a very healthy online business as well, but for most shoppers (and they tend to be young), this is first and foremost a physical entity with a digital element forming part of it, which is what makes it a shop worth visiting. 

“JD Sports succeeds because this is a retailer that has kept faith with those who want something more than a shop with stuff in it”

All of which is in sharp contrast to rival Footasylum, which does rather flatter, from the outside (the fascia is arresting), to deceive, on the inside (which is mundane).

Footasylum is for the most part a purveyor of sports-related shoes, nothing more, and once a visit is complete there is no sense of looking back at the journey that has been made and considering when to pay a return visit.

JD Sports succeeds principally because this is a retailer that has kept faith with those who want something more than a shop with stuff in it, which is of course what a good retailer should do as a matter of course.