JD Sports has long established itself as the UK sneakerhead’s one-stop sports trainer shop. With the majority of JD styles only available in the UK, most of us have at one time or another, desperately called on our English mates to hook us up with a pair or two, especially those immortal Air Force Ones from a few years back. We felt the need to delve deeper into the magic and mystery that has made JD Sports one of the world’s longest running sneaker retail stores, so we hit up JD trainer expert Michael Armstrong to fill us in!
Hey Michael, can you spill some background history about JD Sports and how it has become the biggest retailer of trainers in the UK today?
JD was founded in 1981. After the success of the first store in the Manchester suburbs, new stores opened throughout the country, generally in places with a football team and more importantly, a firm. As a consequence, more opened as places with a sub-culture of lads who wanted to be seen in the latest sportswear kept us in business. The ethos of the company hasn’t really changed over the years and our core customers are still guys who only want to wear the latest and greatest. In a lot of instances the gear hasn’t changed either and this era has a massive impact on everything we do to this day.
What is your position at the store?
Head of Footwear Buying
What is your background in trainers?
I got my first job with JD when I was 16 and I have worked in/for stores that sell sports shoes for the best part of 20 years.
JD Sports is best known for its exclusive colourways of styles not released anywhere else in the world. How did the store build on the relationships within these giant footwear brands to gain such exclusivity?
JD's unique position in the market as being the biggest and best sports fashion retailer as opposed to a sporting goods store is the main reason. The majority of the models that we stock aren’t available anywhere else.
Who is in charge of designing and mocking up colourways that eventually hit the shelves at JD?
Pretty much myself as far as the men's footwear is concerned along with a lot of help from the SMU teams and account handlers at the brands. We’ve also got a womans' and a kids' footwear buyer who look after those parts of the business.
What changes have you noticed in the market in the last year or so?
There definitely seems to be a shift away from over-the-top colours. The colour thing doesn’t really affect us in JD because the UK market is generally pretty conservative with nothing really selling in any volume that isn’t white or black. The only real shift recently has been the growth in really clean vulcanised models and the re-emergence of adidas as a key brand for us.
What are your best sellers… what have you seen the heads go nuts for?
Over the years the best sellers don’t really deviate from the core models such as all the Air Max running models, the old adidas running models, Superstar, AF1, Workout, the adidas and Nike court models, seasonally Timberland and more recently the emergence of court product from brands such as Lacoste and K Swiss.
In this tough economic climate, how does the store remain operational with so many others winding down?
JD is sticking to its guns and not deviating from our niche in the market. There are lots of different reasons for that and it's not just about having the best gear. Things like retail disciplines, logistics, merchandising and property, acquisitions of other retail chains and brands, amongst other things, all play their part.
How is JD stepping into the next five years of business and what are the goals set for the employees of the stores to keep it on top of its game?
I can only comment on the buying side of things. Our challenges are the same as they always have been which is to deliver the best gear from the best brands which in turn helps the stores hit their sales targets, which helps us to meet our profit targets and keeps us all in a job!