Suka Sport opens its doors

What does it take to start up as a sports retail business in 2011? David Pittman asked Yolanda Hinchliffe, one of the owners of London’s newest arrival Suka Sport, to find out.

With many retailers continuing to feel the pinch of the recession and having to make cutbacks to streamline their business, it is with interest to hear of a new entrant to the market.

Suka Sport opened its doors on April 14 with a shop in London’s high-end shopping district Carnaby, which covers 12 streets and is renowned for being home to a variety of independent boutiques retailing clothes, shoes, accessories, lifestyle products and hair and beauty services. This includes Carnaby Street, which is known around the world as a shopping destination in London’s Soho area.

Suka Sport’s shop is situated just off Carnaby Street on Beak Street, where it offers male consumers ‘the most advanced’ running, cycling, swimming, triathlon and yoga equipment. It also offers a range of smoothies, juices and natural nutrition products.

Co-owner Yolanda Hinchliffe, who set up the business in partnership with Alex Neumuller, says it has chosen to focus on triathlon and the sports that make up the discipline as they are markets which are growing and are popular with the type of customers that will be attracted to its central London location.

“We feel there is a growing trend for these sports, they are sports which perform well and are popular within the City environment,” she says.

As for yoga, Hinchliffe says that is another market which is growing rapidly but has not yet been correctly offered to men through the retail environment, which Suka Sport is working to rectify.

Suka Sport stocks products from a range of brands and suppliers tailored to each sport category it wants to specialise in. For yoga, it stocks its own brand technical yoga wear and Manduka mats; cyclists can buy RH+, Colombo, Swrve, Sugoi, 4TN and One Gear products; runners can chose from Fusion, Salomon, Saucony, Odlo, Helly Hansen, Thoni Mara and Balega lines; and traithletes and swimmers can buy TYR, 2XU and Aether apparel. It sells Brooks, Newton, Zoot, Saucony and Salomon trainers in addition.

US firm Aether is a new brand brought to the UK by Suka Sport, while Germany’s Thoni Mara has just launched into the UK market (see SGB Sports April 2011, p4).

Hinchliffe says: “All the products have to perform to a high technical standard without compromising aesthetic. The brands that we are bringing in will do exactly that.

“They are using high-performance fabrics and technologies but are working hard to maintain the visuals of the garment. They are growing brands and we wanted to deliver them to an audience that we feel will benefit and enjoy them.”

The quality of the goods it offers fits in the middle of a wider strategy from Suka Sport to ensure it succeeds in a challenging climate, which Hinchliffe says the business is trying to turn to its advantage.

“We are delivering quality goods that are designed to last and we are offering a unique service within Central London.

“Suppliers are working hard to support and nurture independents and we are using this to our advantage. Costs are high and consumers are understandably being more careful with their money. We feel there is still room for independent shops offering great service and knowledge, interesting brands and quality products. “Independents have the ability to adapt quickly and on trend and this can be a huge advantage to them.”

Despite being an independent, Suka Sport has global aspirations and is offering deliveries worldwide from its online store, which also launched on April 14. First though it needs to ensure consumers know about its services, both in-store and online.

As well as its range of products, Suka Sport offers customers walking into its shop advice and guidance from staff trained, and actively participating, in running, cycling, swimming and yoga, gait analysis and nutrition advice. Drinks and natural nutrition products are available in store, as are free apples. For those making a purchase, Suka Sport offers hand delivery into the W1 postcode area for products ordered that day.

The shop will operate as a sporting education centre also, hosting training evenings, such as Newton Running’s natural running seminar, and yoga classes in the downstairs studio, as well as staging evening sporting entertainment events, such as Tour de France nights with a projector.

“Building brand awareness and a loyal customer base is a priority, as is building the online shop. The rise of online only shops is a challenge to the industry as a whole, but we will overcome this by offering consistent good service.

“We’re developing our own ranges that are made in Italy with fabrics sourced in Europe. Fabrics come at a higher price year-on-year but we are determined to offer quality goods without passing this on to the consumer, which will allow us to build a loyal customer base.”