Anta accelerated its expansion in 2018 with a sales increase of 44.4 percent to 24.1 billion yuan renminbi (€3.2bn-$3.6bn), which led to an unprecedented profit for the Chinese group. The company's gross margin firmed up by 3.2 percentage points to 52.6 percent, while the operating margin inched down by 0.2 percentage points to 23.7 percent, due to higher selling and distribution expenses. Anta ended up with profit attributable to shareholders of RMB 4.1 billion (€538.8m-$613.8m), an increase of 32.9 percent.

The management said the company is building on its multi-brand and omni-channel strategy, focusing on being “customer-centric.” It said this model has enabled Anta's brands to spread across the entire market spectrum from the mass end to the high-end, with products for professional sports and popular sports, high-end athleisure to urban strolls, as well as for outdoor and children's wear. By collecting and analyzing data online and in store, Anta said it is able to gain valuable insights into consumer behavior, which helps it to improve and upgrade the efficiency of the store management and the top management process, as well as to support the customer experience.

The Anta brand alone had 10,057 stores at the end of December, up from 9,467 a year earlier, including dedicated Anta Kids stores. Anta holds the rights for the Fila brand in China, Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore, and the number of stores under this brand in these markets increased from 1,086 at the end of 2017 to 1,652 a year later. The numbers include stand-alone stores for Fila Kids and Fila Fusion. The total network operated by the group at year-end included 117 Descente stores, 181 Kolon stores, 77 Kingkow stores and 104 Sprandi stores.

Indicating that it will have the ability to expand the presence of some of Amer Sports' brands in China, if its takeover goes through, Anta reported that its revenues from “Other Brands” jumped by more than 80 percent in the fourth quarter and by more than 85 percent for the full year. Sales under the Anta brand increased at a mid-teen rate.

Apparel outperformed footwear across the group last year. While sales of footwear went up by 22 percent to RMB 8.6 billion (€1.1bn-$1.3bn), sales of clothing jumped by 61 percent to RMB 14.7 billion (€1.9bn-$2.1bn) and accessories gained 44 percent to RMB 759 million (€99.8m-$113.2m).

While admitting that there was some pressure on the Chinese economy, Anta said that the sports business is in a “Golden Age,” with strong support from the Chinese government.

During the past year, the Anta brand gained exposure through the Winter Olympics in South Korea, where it provided the apparel for Chinese athletes through its partnership with the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC).

Another focus for Anta was its partnership with Klay Thompson from the Golden State Warriors, which led to the launch of several KT3 basketball shoes. It also signed an endorsement contract with Gordon Hayward, adding another star to its list of NBA endorsers.

The group is preparing to take advantage of the rising interest in winter sports through the upcoming Winter Olympics to be held in and around Beijing in 2022. This applies to the Anta brand, which will again be an apparel partner for the COC, as well as the Descente brand, with which Anta formed a joint venture in 2016 for distribution in China.

The group's investments around Descente in 2018 included a partnership with Daniel Wu, a Chinese movie star, director and producer, who has become Descente's first Chinese endorsee.

On the sports fashion side, the group has expanded its offering of Fila products with the Fila Fusion range, which was described as young, bright, trendy and sporty. It has signed an endorsement contract for Fila with a well-known Chinese singer and actor, Roy Wang.