How Sports & Outdoor Retailers Can Use Education and Expertise to Win over Customers


The sporting goods space, while lucrative (worth $63 billion in the U.S. as of 2014), is also highly competitive. In addition to going up against industry giants such as Nike and Adidas, sports and outdoor retailers are also competing with big box stores that sell similar products. In 2013, the biggest “sporting goods” retailer in terms of revenue was Walmart, which earned $9.3 billion from sporting goods sales.

Clearly, as a sporting goods retailer, you have a lot of competitors. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to stop you from thriving. As you’ll learn below, one highly effective way that sports and outdoor retailers can stay competitive is to leverage their expertise to educate and wow their customers. In the following paragraphs, we’ll discuss how other sporting goods stores are accomplishing this and offer examples of what you can do in your business.


Educate your customers; don’t just sell to them

You store staff will play a critical role in educating and converting customers, so make it a point to hire people who know their stuff. Bringing in employees who can sell is great, but hiring associates who can not only sell your products but have actually used them is even better. This is the most effective way to differentiate yourself from online retailers or from big box stores, whose associates may only know about product basics.

Having someone who can “walk the talk” and educate customers on product usage and safety can be a huge driver of sales and engagement. Customers will trust you more, recommend you to their other sporty friends, and likely even buy from you.

This is why it pays to hire people who really know what they’re talking about or to invest in training employees extensively so they become experts.

Consider what Alpine Quest Sports, an outdoor equipment specialty retailer, is doing. In this insightful Denver Post article, owner Sean Glackin shares that having in-store experts has helped them compete with ecommerce sites.

“We are never going to be as cheap or have as many items as the big boxes or online retailers, but I truly believe our expertise is more valuable every day with more products coming to market and more people venturing in the backcountry,” Glackin told the Denver Post.

Another sports and outdoor retailer that’s putting more focus on expertise and education is Sports Chalet. Its store in downtown Los Angeles has a special “Expert Center” where customers can learn straight from people using the products.

“We have experts in-store. So anytime you come into our location you’re going to find the end-users of all of our products and equipment who can explain exactly their experiences with those items,” General Manager Jeff Hupp told the NRF.

Check out their store in the video below:

One other great example of a sports retailer focusing on shopper education is Nike.

Leggett & Platt’s Mark Quinn shared an interesting story on BusinessInsider about how a Nike store’s staff put education first before even selling him a pair. He wrote,

“The sales staff wouldn’t let me buy a pair of shoes unless I got on a treadmill. They taped my running style and then explained what type of shoe would be best for me, based on my running tendencies. They played the video back for me, explaining how my foot fell on the treadmill and how that one movement translated to a certain kind of support. I was hooked into buying shoes—and coming back—because they’d taken the time to educate me.”

Takeaway: See if you can implement the above strategies in your store. If you haven’t done so yet, start hiring real experts who can offer richer product descriptions and assistance to customers. And be sure to train them not just to sell but to actually educate people on the sport or product they’re interested in.


Hold events

Consider holding learning events in your stores. In addition to helping educate your customers, they can also build communities around your shops.

One example of a sports retailer using events to their advantage is Bent Gate Mountaineering. According to the Denver Post, “Bent Gate has a robust online presence, but in-store sales for the past few years have been growing at a faster clip, defying national trends.” Co-founder Greg Floyd attributes that success to his store’s expert staff as well as the clinics, presentations, and films they host in-store.

Indeed, if you head to Bent Gate events page, you’ll find a list of interesting events and activities. Best of all, most of these functions feature expert presenters that attendees can learn from.


For example, on June 10, Bent Gate hosted Long Ranging the 14ers, an event where mountain biker and trail runner Justin Simoni (who completed the Tour 14er Challenge in 34 days and 12 hours) shared his adventures.

Takeaway: Make time for in-store events. Organize a function that gives attendees a chance to mingle and learn. If you can, invite an expert (such as a pro or local athlete) who can share his or her knowledge and experiences with your guests.


Make classes and other services part of your offers

Explore ways in which your store can go beyond selling products. The great thing about sporting goods is that most of the merchandise are likely “hands-on” products that customers want to try out and see in action. Why not use that to your advantage by holding classes?

Take, for instance, Adventure Sports in Australia. In addition to selling various Kitesurfing, SUP, and Kayak merchandise, they offer several kitesurfing lessons for those who want to learn the craft or hone their skills.

Or why not offer in-store services? Shoes Feet Gear, for example, doubles as a retail store and podiatry clinic. Not only can customers purchase footwear and training gear from them but they can also take advantage of their podiatry services, which include consultations as well as treatments for foot pain, knee pain, shin splints, and more.

Takeaway: Consider offering in-store services or classes. Talk to your customers and ask about any skills they’d like to learn or services they wish they could get at your shop, and then make it happen.

Bottom line

Sports shop or not, having the ability to educate and inspire customers is very powerful. We hope the examples above gave you some ideas and inspiration on how you can accomplish that.

Do you have any other tips on how sports and outdoor retailers can win over customers? Share ‘em in the comments.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.