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Dick’s Sporting Goods Bets on Experiential Retail

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Dick’s Sporting Goods is running fast these days.

The nation’s largest sporting goods retailer has had a busy few months, adding soccer shops to namesake locations, remodeling Golf Galaxy stores and opening clearance stores. But its most talked-about initiative has been the debut of an experiential retail concept more than two years in the making: Dick’s House of Sport. 

The new banner made its debut in April, at Eastview Mall, in the Rochester suburb of Victor, New York. The 100,000-sq.-ft. store — the company’s largest to date — — offers customers a hands-on shopping experience. It’s filled with multi-sports activities that customers can participate in, inside and out.  

“House of Sport is based on four pillars — experience, service, community and product — that we have brought together under one roof,” Toni Roeller, senior VP of in-store environment & visual merchandising at Dick’s Sporting Goods, said in an interview with Chain Store Age. 

Roeller acknowledged the ease and convenience of online ordering, noting that Dick’s offers customers great opportunities to do research and buy online. But there are times, she added, “when you want to get that bat in your hand and see how it feels and how it will improve your swing.” 

A similar scenario plays out with golf clubs, cleats for soccer and other types of sports equipment.

“You want the opportunity to try out the product, to touch and feel it and make sure it’s the right one for you,” Roeller said. “You also want a trusted advisor who can explain the differences between products. This is where brick and mortar continues to be so important for us. All of this went into the thinking behind House of Sport.”

Although the new concept was in the planning stages before the pandemic, its opening couldn’t be timelier as shoppers return to stores.

“Experience has never been more important for brick-and-mortar,” Roeller said. “I think that will be one of the long-term impacts of the pandemic. We have to create an environment that is not just about convenience but also about engaging with a brand in way that makes us top of mind.”

The experiences at House Sport are designed to allow customers to have fun and connect with the brand and also to ensure they are buying the right product. The store’s features include a 30-foot-tall rock-climbing wall, a high-tech batting cage, virtual golf-driving bays, a putting green and the retailer’s first-ever "House of Cleats," which will seasonally rotate product, with up to 350 cleats across all sports.

One of the biggest — literally — attractions at House of Sport lies just outside the building — a 17,000-sq.-ft. outdoor turf field (with a regulation-size running track) where Dick’s hosts classes, clinics, sports camps, product trials and other events. The field (part of which will convert to an ice-skating rink in the winter) is open year-round for customers. 

“Nothing says sport like playing on a field,” Roeller said.   

The outdoor area gives customers the opportunity to try out equipment before they buy it — something Dick’s encourages. 

“You can go out on the field or track and try out running shoes or cleats, for example, and see what it feels like if you were actually engaged in the sport,” Roeller said.

Additional store features include a dedicated service area for things like breaking in gloves, stringing lacrosse sticks and repairing bikes. A health and wellness area sells healthy snacks, vitamins and other wellness products along with juice from a local vendor. Classes are offered on a wide range of wellness and nutrition topics. 

Other unique store elements include an elevated fitting room experience, complete with an adjacent seating area where friends and family can wait (and even charge their phones) and a space where store associates display their favorite new products, giving customers an easy way to see the “latest and greatest” products. A treadmill inside the fitting-room bank gives female customers a convenient way to try out sports bras.

“A sports bra is a crucial piece of equipment for women,” Roeller explained. “The customer can hop on the treadmill to get a good idea of which bra will work most effectively for her.”

“We are evaluating the opportunities across key markets in the U.S. to help us understand the opportunity we have to expand this concept further,” said Toni Roeller , senior VP of in-store environment & visual merchandising, Dick’s House of Sport.

Second Location 
In early June, a second House of Sport opened, at West Town Mall in Knoxville, Tenn. At 100,000 sq. ft., it’s similar to the New York store with a few exceptions. 

“The biggest difference between the two is the way customers navigate the space, ” explained Roeller. “The Knoxville store is a double-decker so it has a different traffic pattern than our first House of Sport. Also, the outdoor field in Knoxville is larger, at 24,000 sq. ft.”
As to which of the experiences at House of Sport are most popular, there is little doubt. 

“Our fields are getting amazing play and being leveraged day in and day out,” Roeller said. “They provide an amazing opportunity for us to connect with our communities and give them a place to play. We leave balls and nets out.”
The indoor climbing wall is also very popular, and is in use from the moment the store opens until it closes. There is constant activity around the wall, Roeller added, from classes, which get filled up immediately, to by-appointment individual climbs. 

Customers have also embraced the fitting bays in golf, where they have the opportunity to work with an expert on their swing, get tips and be fitted for new clubs. The batting cage is also popular, especially after school gets out. 

“We anticipate that the batting cage will be one of the hot spots in the store this summer,” Roeller said. 

Although House of Sport has only been open a couple of months, the immediate reaction has been encouraging. 

“We see that people are making more frequent trips to, and spending more time in, these stores,” Roeller said. “They are voting with their dollars.

Dick’s is using the two House of Sport locations for R&D to see which of the experiences and services can be scaled back and added into its existing store fleet.  But it also sees the format as a viable concept going forward. A third House of Sport will open next spring.

“We are evaluating the opportunities across key markets in the U.S. to help us understand the opportunity we have to expand this concept further,” Roeller said.

Dick’s has already started to leverage the elevated level of service it provides in House of Sport’s fitting rooms, testing it in some existing stores.

“We have dedicated individuals who work as personal stylists and consultants from a selling perspective,” Roeller said. “We’ve had a lot of early success with it.”

New Concept in the Wings
Later this year, Dick’s will unveil yet another new concept, Public Lands, with a store in Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio. Dick’s executive chairman Edward Stack described it as a "complete outdoor omnichannel retail concept” on the company’s most recent earnings call and said conservation will play a prominent role in Public Lands. The new banner is being headed up by Todd Spaletto, who previously spent three years at Wolverine Worldwide and 14 years at The North Face, including serving as global president from 2011 to 2017. 

“We’ve been working on Public Lands for several years,” Stack told analysts. "Based on our research, we think there is an opportunity in the marketplace and believe this new concept will be a great growth vehicle for us."

Roeller was mum on any details regarding Public Lands. But it’s clear that the concept fits into the retailer’s commitment to engaging with its customers in the physical space and its vision of retail.

“Giving customers a place to visit on a regular basis as part of the community….and creating a place where they want to stay is the future of retail,” she said. “And that’s where we are going.”

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