In a preliminary statement, Intersport International Corporation (IIC) reports an increase of around 3 percent in the sales of its affiliated retailers in Europe and the rest of the world in the course of 2012, with widely diverging levels of performance from one country to the other. After the small decline that they suffered in 2011, their overall revenues after sales taxes went up again above the €10 billion barrier, reaching an estimated €10.2 billion excluding the recently purchased retail network of The Athlete's Foot.

Franz Julen, chief executive of IIC, pointed out that many Intersport retailers adopted “rather aggressive” sales policies in a highly competitive market, affecting their margins. In fact, in terms of volume, Intersport's retail sales probably went up by at least 5 percent last year, he said.

The strongest sales increases were recorded in Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the U.K., Sweden and most of the countries in the eastern part of Europe, including Greece, Russia and Turkey. However, the scores were negative in Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland ? for various reasons.

In terms of the products sold, Intersport stores showed reasonable growth with sports shoes in the course of 2012, whereas apparel sales were stable and hardware was down, except for snow equipment. Across the major categories, running, football and fitness performed well. Outdoor was stable, and winter sports were up.

 As usual, the weather and sports mega-events affected the retail picture along the year. The Euro Cup of football and the Olympic Games offset the poor economy during the spring/summer season. Cold weather in January and February boosted sales of winter products – where they were still available – but unseasonably warm weather in the autumn did not help their sell-out. The picture was very bad in November, and it was only  slightly above last year in December, even though the progress was limited to two very good first weeks.

Retailers bought conservatively for the current autumn/winter season, so their inventories are generally low at present. As winter products represent a large portion of Intersport's range of private-label items, their overall purchases from IIC were down last year, but Julen expects a recovery in 2013. Orders are up for the spring/summer season, and the budgeted volumes for the next autumn/winter season are up as well. In general, retailers are expected to raise their pre-orders for autumn/winter 2013-14 apparel and hardware by 5 to 10 percent, Julen told SGI. Considering the fact that there will be no major mega-event this year, Julen expects that the retail sales of the group will rise by between 1 and 3 percent in 2013.

IIC's management and its board of directors will spend much of the year updating its existing group strategic plan. At the same time, IIC will pursue its expansion, especially in Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. It will define a strategy for the development of The Athlete's Foot, selecting its chief executive within the next few months.

At Intersport, the idea going forward is to build up a more homogeneous, efficient and differentiated retail organization over the next few years, Julen told SGI. The verticalization process will be further improved and updated in the areas of procurement, supply chain management, retail presence, marketing and digital strategies. At the same time, the Intersport banner will endeavor to distinguish itself more markedly from its competitors, notably by carrying more exclusive products, accompanied by special global marketing stories, Julen said.

A few days ago, Julen made an interesting presentation in Annecy about Intersport's transformation from a buying group into a retail organization and its international expansion since he began to run IIC 13 years ago. He was addressing a group of graduate business students from all over the world who are specializing in sports management under a new dedicated master's degree program organized by the EMLyon business school in Lyon and the Outdoor Sports Valley. Eugenio Di Maria, publisher of SGI Europe, is one of the lecturers.