Intersport International Corp. reported today a sales increase of only 0.7 percent on a currency-neutral basis in 2018. The relatively slow growth was partly attributed to a lower number of affiliated stores in operation at the end of the year. They were 5,562 around the world, down from 5,647 at the end of 2017. They were operating in 43 countries.

The weather was another important negative factor. After a positive first half, which saw Intersport's retail sales go up by 1.4 percent, the extremely warm autumn weather and the delayed start of the winter led to a sales decrease of 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter.

As a result, the winter sports sector was the only major category that recorded a decline in the past year, falling by a low one-digit rate. The highest growth rates were registered in France and Austria, nevertheless, along with southeastern European countries such as the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. Other countries that strongly depend on the winter sports business suffered a decline during the second half of the year.

Total retail sales around the world under the Intersport banner reached €11.6 billion after VAT. Adding retail sales of €363 million for The Athlete's Foot, which were up by 9.4 percent in constant currencies, the total turnover reached €11.9 billion, with a presence of the two banners in a total of 56 countries.

We have already reported on the strong recent progress of The Athlete's Foot (TAF). It ended the year with 537 stores in 31 markets, compared with 523 stores at the end of 2017. New ones were opened in France, Albania, Belgium, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Sweden. On a comparable store basis, the strongest growth was achieved in Mexico.

Like other sports retailers, Intersport is going through a difficult digital transformation, which is made more so by its non-integrated structure. Under its new chief executive, the 52-year-old Steve Evers, IIC is determined to implement its strategic Intersport 2.0 plan, which also calls for an enhancement of its private label business.

By the end of the first quarter of 2019, a total of 14 Intersport and TAF teams will be integrated into the new omni-channel retail platform created by Intersport, with its digital service center based in Amsterdam. Also, the new store concept that was successfully launched last year has already been applied to more than 100 stores.