For several reasons, Decathlon’s entry into the Republic of Ireland, which added a 59th country to the French sports retailer’s worldwide roster, has been a huge success. The project’s 41-year-old leader, Bastien Grandgeorge, is expecting a profit on sales of around €30 million in the first year of operation of its first store in the country, serving more than 500,000 customers, in spite of a delayed opening and a recent retail lockdown due the coronavirus epidemic, thanks largely to strong action on the digital front.

These results, which are much better than previously expected, will eclipse the records previously reached by Decathlon on a global scale with the first store in Singapore, which opened in 2017 under the management of Grandgeorge. However, the 15-year company veteran is crediting the success mainly to enthusiasm displayed by his 142 “teammates” after three years of careful preparation.

The retailer’s first Irish store was set to go on stream on April 3, but the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic delayed its opening until June 13. The event was widely appreciated by the Irish public, resulting in an average traffic of 4,000 visitors per day in the first week of operation. The queues in front of the store persisted for 23 days, and the higher-than-expected activity led to some product shortages.

Customers were attracted to the new flagship store by word-of-mouth, newspaper articles and postings on social media. Many of the visitors had already been Decathlon customers as the company started selling its products on its local web store two and a half years ago, resulting in sales of €2.8 million in 2019. Aiming for 100 per cent digital communication prior to the store’s opening, Decathlon put together a big database, ending up with more than 60,000 followers on social media, including 40,000 on Facebook.

Spanning over 4,200 square meters, the Dublin flagship is now by far the biggest sporting goods store in Ireland, and 87 percent of what it sells consists of relatively affordable private label items that cannot be found elsewhere in the country. It offers a vast assortment of 160,000 products for 72 different sports including the addition in the next days of equipment for the national Gaelic sports, supplied by two Irish family-owned companies, Karakal and Mycro.

Powered by solar panels, it is ideally located close to an Ikea store. The premises are directly owned. They include an area of 1,500 sqm. outside the store which can be used to practice free of charge a variety of sports including football, basketball and cycling. A space inside the store accommodates various amenities including an indoor climbing wall.

The low-cost message of Decathlon has a familiar ring in Ireland, as it is the home of Ryanair. Many Irish people travel abroad and know about its concept. Many of the kids practice a variety of sports in the country, where Decathlon has positioned itself as a sports banner for the whole family. Catering to them, children’s items are placed close to the entrance of the store.

The second wave of the coronavirus epidemic further boosted Decathlon’s digital retailing operations in Ireland, raising the ratio of online sales to 75 percent from 15 percent during the summer and leading its Irish team to introduce new ways of serving its customers. Besides offering home delivery by electric vans and a standard click-and-collect option, it has developed a “personal shopper” experience through a special app for those who could come over from within a 5-kilometer radius during the second lockdown.

Nonetheless, the most recent lockdown reduced Decathlon’s normal online and offline revenue flow by one-third. Ireland was one of the first countries to order a retail lockdown in reaction to the second wave of the pandemic at the end of October. After a six-week ban, retailers of non-essential goods were allowed to reopen their stores on Dec. 1. There was a queue of about 200 people outside Decathlon’s store waiting to come in before it re-opened.

Given its accomplishments so far, including a customer satisfaction ratio of 9.02 percent, Decathlon is very optimistic about its future progress in Ireland. It has already started to look for suitable sites in the cities of Cork and Galway. Due to the persistent uncertainties about the U.K.’s future relationship with the European Union, Decathlon has decided to supply its Irish stores from a warehouse in France rather than in the U.K., where it has put together a fleet of 43 stores over the last 20 years. They generated sales of €250 million in 2019 – or an average less than €6 million each.