Sami Kiiski, a 44-year-old manager who left as chief executive of Halti at the end of July after turning the company around, has taken the leadership of Kesko’s Leisure Trade division, which includes Intersport Finland, the major player in the Finnish sporting goods market. One of his tasks will be to further develop its multi-channel retail activities.

Before taking the helm at Halti in 2015, Kiiski spent six years as vice president of Sultrade, a major Finnish distributor, where he took care of international sales and relations with important brands like Speedo and Craft. At Halti, he has been driving digital marketing and e-commerce strongly. His position at the Finnish outdoor company has been taken over by Aki Kuusilelehto, who formerly worked with Patrol, the Finnish distributor of Fischer, Brooks and other brands.

At Kesko, Kiiski has taken the place of a well-known sporting goods industry veteran, Jussi Mikkola, who effectively retired from the post on Aug. 27, just after celebrating his 65th birthday. Mikkola has remained as chairman of Intersport International Corp., at least until the organization’s general assembly scheduled for Sept. 4.

Mikkola has been with Kesko, the Finnish licensee of Intersport, for more than 37 years, and he has been running Kesko’s Leisure Trade division, which groups its sports and brown shoe retail operations, since the beginning of 2014. He started working for the big Finnish group’s sports business in 1989 as product manager and purchasing manager, but switched over to its home electronics and furniture divisions in 2007 before going back to its sports unit seven years later. Among various significant initiatives, he launched the low-priced Budget Sport concept, which was subsequently picked up by other Intersport organizations in Europe. He also set up a short-lived branch of Intersport in Russia, managed by Kesko.

Mikkola is a real sports enthusiast. In spite of his age, he is still running every day. His son Heikki is in charge of purchasing and marketing for Kesko’s growing chain of The Athlete’s Foot (TAF) stores in Finland.

As of June 30, Kesko’s sporting goods operations in Finland consisted of 53 Intersport stores, 10 Budget Sport units and nine TAF locations. Along with Kookenkä, a chain of sneaker shops, they are all part of the Leisure Trade division of Kesko, a huge public conglomerate involved also in food retailing, building and home improvement items, automotive distribution and other sectors.

Sales in Kesko’s the Leisure Trade division declined by 14.8 percent to €115.9 million in the first quarter of 2020 and only by 4.9 percent to €62.7 million in the second quarter, in spite of Covid-19. The big drop in the first quarter is attributable to very poor winter conditions in all the Nordic countries in January and February, as compared to the previous year.

As in Sweden, the coronavirus outbreak did not lead to a generalized lockdown of all retail operations for non-essential products. However, a dramatic drop in customer traffic in April, especially in the shopping centers, led Kesko to close down half of its TAF stores and a few Intersport stores. It reduced opening hours at most of the locations and shut down its Budget Sport stores on Sundays.

Surprisingly, sales decreased significantly in April because of the epidemic, even though most of the stores were open. They then increased a lot in May and June as customers started to invest in their wellbeing instead of traveling. Only product categories such as team sports were down. Running shoes, bikes, outdoor apparel and home exercise items performed best.

On the other hand, the Kesko group’s strong digital business helped to double or triple online orders of sporting goods, representing more than 10 percent of the turnover – one of the highest ratios at Kesko on a per capita basis.

As food retailing is Kesko’s main business area, the group has been able to withstand the corona crisis better than others. With an adjusted operating margin of 5.5 percent and a pre-tax profit of €135.2 million, it posted record results for the second quarter ended on June 30 on a 2.2 percent increase in comparable sales, up to a total of €2.81 billion. For whole first half of 2020, Kesko’ net profit went up by 6.5 percent to €131.9 million on 3.0 percent higher revenues of €5.35 billion.