How to start a sports shop

Your complete guide to starting up a sports business

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Sport is a way of life for many people. The lucky few are naturally talented when they’re young and go on to compete as professionals, while the majority of people play at amateur level and for the love of the game they follow.

However, some choose to take this passion for sport and fitness and turn it into a viable business proposition.

A large section of society fall into these categories, so it’s no surprise to find out that there are thousands of sports shops in the country that sell everything there is to own for the budding sports person. This is where you could jump on the treadmill and start and run your own sports business from scratch, set your own targets and apply your own knowledge or idea on a market which has an endless array of opportunities and possibilities.

What is a sports shop?

According to Keynote research, around two-thirds of adults in the UK claim to take some form of exercise, indicating that the overall market for sports goods, equipment and fashion has risen over the last few years. We are also increasingly living more hectic lifestyles and due to this many of us are taking more time out for sport related activities and are striving for a healthier way of life.

In addition, there are more sports than ever before; more TV coverage on terrestrial, cable and satellite channels than in the past; new equipment is constantly being created and innovated (with safety and protection being a key theme) and with sports stars having become the modern equivalent of everyday heroes, this has narrowed the gap between fashion and sportswear. Sport has never looked so good.

However, if you think there isn’t room for another small, independently run outlet, think again. There are various routes to consider: you can combine a general selection of sporting goods, such as footballs, hockey sticks and footwear, with more fashionable sportswear (something many high street chains also supply), or you can specialise in a certain sport, area of equipment, footwear or clothing.

You might even like to consider trading solely on the internet, or as a value-added service alongside your retail outlet. This could be in an arena where you have a particularly high level of expertise.

There are also various channels in which to sell your goods. You can sell purely to the public, the trade industry, target schools, clubs and associations and open up nation-wide and even international networks of distributors who can deliver your products across the globe or combine several of these elements – when you start from scratch the choice is yours.

Who’s a sport business suited to?

So who should open a sports business? This very much depends on your experience, desire and passion to make it happen, explains Chris Sardi, manager of Total Racquet sports, a niche business based in Dunstable that caters for tennis, badminton, squash and strangely bowls, something Sardi added on when he discovered that there were 5000 bowlers in Bedfordshire.

“I did a few Business Link courses when I was younger and come from a sales and marketing background so that side of things was covered and then the Prince’s Trust gave me a grant which I’m repaying over three years. But you have to have the tenacity, mental staying power and the thought that ‘nothing is cast in iron’ to do it.”

In theory, anyone can start their own business in this sector, but careful planning and the drive to see the business through it’s early beginnings are the key. Sardi, for example, works seven days a week and only pays himself roughly £100 per week.

However, his ability to build up relationships within the local area as well as sending out mail shots and phoning the right people such as all the tennis, squash and badminton clubs and organisations in Bedfordshire, has allowed him to build up a database of over 6000 contacts. He says: “I had to sacrifice a lot of things such as selling my car, leaving a £35,000 a year job and put girlfriends on hold. So you’ve got to know in your heart of hearts that you want to leave lots behind to pursue a career such as this.”

Knowing how your sport or sport in general operates is also important. Sardi runs tennis training for young people at a local club as well as stringing racquets in his shop and for the stars when Wimbledon starts at the end of June each year. This is a useful skill to have, particularly in a specialist environment and can give you a distinct edge over the competition.

Getting your sports shop started

Experience and expertise are a natural bonus, particularly in a niche business, plus customers will almost always come back if the advice and service they are offered is of a high standard – this is often the unique selling point for many specialist shops. But in business you will need to know how to organise accounts, pay wages and how to price your goods, so if you need to, do some basic courses on areas such as these. Contact your local Business Link for more information on essential business skills.

Before anything carefully consider the following areas:

  • Decide what you are going to sell – are you going to go general or specialise in a particular area of sport
  • Then make sure you know where you want to locate and why you’re locating in that area – make this choice a priority. If you’re a smaller, niche outlet then a cheaper, out of town location may be more suitable but if you’re proposing to stock general sports goods, then a location nearer the city centre or main shopping precinct may be better
  • Decide whether you’re going to rent, lease or buy your premises outright
  • Who you are going to sell to? In order to do this carry out a market research campaign of your own by deciding whether there is going to be a demand for another sports shop in your chosen area

Do this by checking out the competition, counting the number of stores selling sports goods and the ranges they stock and make sure you include other non-sports related shops that may sell clothing or bicycles, for example

Then do a more detailed analysis of your competitors by checking the range of products and services they offer, the prices they charge on those goods, their opening hours, what image they are presenting and whether it will clash with your intentions, what type of customer they are attracting and appealing to, whether they offer expert advice as well as what selling techniques they use

Drawing up a record sheet can often help your cause and lay out all market research criteria on one sheet on paper. Draw five columns including the name and type of the outlet (a chain or an independent retailer), the goods and services they offer such as repairs and ticket sales, for example, their opening hours and other notes such as the appearance of the shop, customer service, type of customers and the general impression you have from the experience

A checklist is vital when carefully plotting every single detail of your future business. Once you have carried out this market research exercise, go over it thoroughly and make a decision on whether your original business idea can still stand up on two feet. If it can, put all your findings into action and start building the business up with a solid database of clients, contacts and a reliable list of suppliers, a shop that presents the correct image and the assurance that each item is priced correctly and focused on your target market.

Sardi explains that after a year of trading he has got to grips with many of the above criteria. “You learn a lot of things in your first year. How to control stock; that cash flow is king and sometimes you are concerned about how you are going to get paid; that advertising in the right (trade and consumer) magazines and on the internet is vital and that you have to keep turning over the right products at the right amount.”

When fitting the shop or creating a web presence it is important to try and cut corners wherever possible. Sardi was initially told he wouldn’t be able to set up a sports business for less than £20,000 but he managed to spend a mere £12,000. He explains why. “I have quite a few self-employed friends that helped me out. One is a web designer and helped me set up the website in order to trade online, one is a carpet fitter, one is a carpenter while another helped me design seats made to look like tennis balls.”

Rules and regulations when running a sports shop business

There are only a handful of legal matters that cover retailing with the majority of stock not covered by any specific pieces of legislation. However, it is crucial that you adhere by these simple rules. Stocking bicycles is an exception and comes under the Pedal Cycle Safety Regulations 1984 which sets out safety standards for new bicycles sold in the UK.

If you hold customers’ details on the premises you will have to register with the Data Protection Commissioner, (See below) while you must also comply with health and safety regulations. If you have more than five staff, for example, you will have to prepare a written health and safety policy statement. Contact your local environmental health department for more advice.

Finally, if you have staff, you will be obliged to comply with employment legislation including the minimum wage act, working time regulations and the employment rights act.

How much can I earn?

The amount of money you can make running your own sports shop very much depends on the amount of revenue streams you create and operate within your business.

If you simply sell to the public your profit could be minimal, but if you operate some form of mail order from a website or a brochure (for larger items such as tennis ball machines and home gyms, for example) or sell to clubs and organisations and trade shows or create add on services such as ticket sales, equipment hire or re-stringing for racquets, for instance, then you could be making more than you think. The other key element to making a profit is keeping your customer sales and service to high standards as well as seeing as many clients and potential customers as possible.

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