In a significant new strategic move, the Signa Retail group has found two strong retail partners in Asia to consolidate and further internationalize its specialized online sports retail operations, grouped under its Signa Sports United (SSU) subsidiary. The new partners are Aeon Co., the biggest retailer in Japan, and Central Group, the leading retailer in Thailand and Southeast Asia, which is also deeply involved in the sports sector.

Aeon and Central Group are acquiring 7.5 percent and 4 percent of the shares in SSU, respectively, through a capital increase. They have also signed a long-term strategic partnership with Signa to expand SSU in Asia. Signa says the objective is to turn SSU into “the global #1 e-commerce platform.”

Describing itself as the leading sports e-commerce platform in Continental Europe, SSU currently consists of around 80 web stores operating in 17 countries and focusing on specific sports categories: cycling, tennis, outdoor, team sports and athleisure. Addressing a customer base of about 2.5 million, they got nearly 170 million visits and more than 3.4 million orders in the 12 months ended on June 30.

Based in Germany, the operations include Internetstores, described as the leading European online retailer for outdoor and bike products; Tennis-Point, the leading online tennis retailer; and two other websites, Outfitter and Stylefile, which offer team sports and lifestyle/athleisure products.

SSU grew by more than 20 percent to around €450 million in sales in the 12 months through September, and Signa says that it has been operating profitably for the past few years. Under the joint management of SSU's chief executive, Stephan Zoll, its various websites share business intelligence, smart data analytics, IT, logistics and marketing. Zoll, a former manager of Ebay Germany, was appointed as managing director of the Signa Sports Group in July.

The deal with Aeon and Central Group comes a few weeks after Signa completed a joint venture with Hudson's Bay Co. of Canada for the operation of their respective department store operations, led by the Karstadt and Kaufhof chains (SGI Europe, Vol. 29 n°37+38 of Dec. 4, 2017). As reported at the time, Signa transferred its chain of Karstadt Sports stores in Germany to the joint venture from a former subsidiary, the Signa Sports Group, which was renamed as Signa Sports United.

The partners in SSU see a major opportunity for its development of specialized online sports retailing in certain parts of Asia, making use of their strong position in the market. The Japanese sports market has been relatively flat lately, but it is expected to get a boost from the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Besides its leadership in the overall retail sector in Japan, Aeon is also involved in other businesses and has a presence in 13 other countries through a total of 21,000 points of sale.

 

Central Group is an active player in the sporting goods sector through a dedicated holding company, CRC Sports Co., that describes itself as the largest sports retailer and distributor in Thailand and Vietnam. Besides its Supersports multi-category online store, it operates 74 Supersports stores across Thailand and more than 100 franchised and small-format multi-brand and single-brand sports stores. It is a wholesale distributor for 12 important sports brands in its region, servicing more than 1,200 points of sale.

Central Group is also involved in a variety of other food and nonfood retail operations. It is also the largest operator of shopping centers in Thailand, with an expanding footprint in Southeast Asia. It owns more than 60 hotels in many countries. In Europe, it controls four leading high-end department store operations: Rinascente in Italy, Illum in Denmark and KaDeWe, Oberpollinger and Alterhaus in Germany. 

As stated on SSU's home page, the search for appropriate partners in Asia and/or the U.S. is part of its medium- to long-term strategy. The company also wants to invest in complementary product categories and sub-categories, while adding more features and making bolt-on acquisitions to strengthen its “category champion” positions in existing or new markets across Europe.