Decathlon, one of the world’s largest sporting goods retailers, opened an outlet at Potrero Center last fall. It’s the French merchants’ third Bay Area location, joining a large Emeryville store and a small space at 735 Market Street.
The 40-year-old company fancies itself as the Trader Joe’s of sporting goods, integrating in-house design, production and customer service, eliminating the middlemen and keeping prices low. Products feature minimal packaging, and are generally made of renewable, recycled or recyclable materials. Almost all items are designed in France, manufactured throughout the world.
The company first launched in 1976, with a goal of making bicycles affordable and accessible. It’s headquartered in the Flanders region, where the Paris Roubaix bike race is held. There are now 1,600 Decathlon stores, located in 52 countries, mostly in Europe.
“The Decathlon mission is to sustainably bring the power of sports to everyone, everywhere and believing in the benefits of sports as a healthy strategy to improve lives worldwide,” states the company’s website. “Whether a novice or expert, whatever the barrier to participation or experimenting with a new sport, everyone deserves the chance to take aim, hit the slopes, climb, swim, ride or run further then ever before.
Sports equipment is labeled for beginners, intermediate and expert, with different prices and features. A tennis racket can be purchased for $75, or a pair of rackets with a ball for $20. Insulated snow pants and jackets are on offer for $40 each for beginners, with $300 snow pants available for discerning experts. A backpack can be purchased for less than the cost of a latte, with more expensive models on the shelves. There’s a tent that can be erected in seconds, and a whole section of cold weather sailing gear.
Customers are encouraged to play in the store, with a designated area for kids to try out products. All items have computerized security integrated; alarms go off at the door if the product isn’t first cleared by the computer system.
Each sporting category has a display area with its own brands and plastic-only checkout stations. Cash transactions are available through a Gift Card kiosk at the front of the store, which functions opposite of an automated teller machine: cash goes in, plastic out. This approach appears to please store staff, who don’t have to handle currency. A robot roams the aisles tracking inventory. On-line pick-up or delivery is available.
About 40 percent of the Potrero store is geared for hiking and mountaineering, with equipment designed and tested at Mont Blanc in the Alps. The Emeryville store features a golf cage to test equipment and free soccer workshops, which’ll be offered later this year in Potrero.
Decathlon’s primary competitor is Sports Basement, located across Bryant Street, which carries name brand products at discount prices, and offers programs for locals and seniors.
Under the Eastern Neighborhood Plan, adopted in 2009, the Potrero Center can be developed as mixed retail and housing, with significantly tall buildings. Regency Shopping Centers, which owns the facility, hasn’t yet filed any renovation plans. Safeway and Decathlon have 25 years leases.
France’s largest private sector employer, with 90,000 workers, Decathlon has jobs available in its East Bay warehouse as well as in public relations and marketing.