Turnaround and Performance Improvement Advisors

Thomas H. HicksReprint from SGB, March 1, 2000

Creating top of mind awareness of your store, and being viewed as an authority on your business, will be a key success factor in the new millennium. Being first in a category, a format, or in a real estate venue isn’t enough. New media and increased media coverage, new technology and new distribution channels make it increasingly easy to copy and even leapfrog a leader.

What we all seek now is “lasting enterprise value”, or a sustainable successful business. As in the past it takes execution, intense hard work, attention to detail, and attention to a changing customer, in short:

Spot trends quickly;
Apply trends to your business, often by thinking outside of the box;
Determine what trends are commercially viable to exploit;
Apply trends in a flexible store environment that permit inexpensive change in the future;

Now, about spotting trends…. It takes intensity applied in a manner that is formal, focused and fast.

Business Context

The trends this process identifies must then be brought to your business “context”… that means your business must know itself:

  • What business are you in?
  • How do you execute your business?
  • What differentiates your business?
  • Do you have the right infrastructure, controls and management to be successful?
  • Do you perform well?


This pre-supposes that your business has thoroughly studied the customer, staked out a territory or position in the market, created a point of view and established the cues and content that properly illustrate that point of view.

Trend spotting, if utilized and applied correctly, keeps your point of view refreshed, alive, exciting and ever changing within the defined context.

Ideas on How to Spot Trends

Four sectors tend to capture and cluster leading trend behavior, products, personalities and commercial business developments based on trends – music, fashion, sports and fitness. Here are some ideas that we’ve found useful in identifying trends early, and being early is important if you want to seize the margin premium that accompanies being a trend retailer:

1. Study and Shop direct and indirect competition continuously (US and global).Shop everyone – there are good concepts and ideas in faraway places:

  • Big, small and “tweener” markets “brick and mortar” stores
  • Locals
  • E-tailers


Spot and study new concepts quickly, even if they initially appear to be unsuccessful. Seek to gauge their performance and the reasons why results are what they are. Spend time on-premises talking to customers, employees and observing their behavior – be a customer.

Examples of relatively new concepts and formats are, just to name a few, Golf Galaxy, Lids, Bass Pro Sports/Outdoor World, Uzzi – The Amphibious Superstore, Harley Davidson (Retail Stores).

2. Study retailers and their vendors, namely the products, advertising content and placements, target advertised audience, changes including performance, who they use as a spokesperson, who are they appealing to and why, is the target right and is it lasting, how large is the segment and what is its’ demographic profile. Examples of companies that are particularly worthy of watching (in sporting goods and apparel – styles cross over) include Nike, Callaway Golf, Xtreme, Ecko, Tommy Bahama, Gap, and Abercrombie & Fitch.

3. Study Internet competition and analyze their assortments, emphasis areas and specialties – what do they stand for, what is their “tag line”, who is their target audience, do they fill a special need or niche in the marketplace (e.g., fogdog.com, Shopsports.com, Gear.com, Justballs.com, MVP.com)

4. Monitor magazines – both retail trade venues and current general publications. Look for announced new retail concepts and new magazine start-ups. Ask:

  • Who is the target audience;
  • Why are they being targeted?
  • What does that audience represent and what are their likes, dislikes?
  • What new products and services, lifestyles, apparel and music do these groups respond to and reflect?
  • How does it connect with sporting goods and with our company context?

Examples of publications that often reflect emerging trends include Visual Merchandiser and Store Designer, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Fitness, Details, Gear, The Source, George, FHM, Vibe, Spin, Blaze, Max, Stuff, Insite, Rolling Stone, Nylon, just to name a few.

5. Demographic Trends, Societal and other Global Changes:

Aging population and growth of this age group (by 2025 nearly 25% of the U.S. population will be over 65) and total population growth;

  • Latin and Black population growth in the US;
  • Global economy;
  • Warmer climatic conditions;
  • Population migration;
  • Sports played by youth (soccer, hockey), and the aging population (golf, tennis, walking)
  • Automotive trends (the SUV)

6. Sports Stars, Celebrities (including musicians and groups) and Sports Entertainment (the “visibility sports”).

Customers still emulate the stars, although not to extent of several years ago due to free-agency and personal problems experienced by a few high-profile athletes. Sports entertainment and music stars have begun to fill the endorsement void:

  • Tiger Woods;
  • Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa;
  • Kurt Warner, Doug Flutie;
  • Nascar and professional wrestling;
  • University sports – NCAA basketball and baseball;
  • Women’s Athletics – basketball, soccer;
  • NBA – new roundball personalities (Shaquille O’Neil, Jason Williams, Kobe Bryant, Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, etc.);
  • Korn – known for wearing a particular footwear brand What the personalities do, wear, look like and stand for influences behavior and purchasing patterns. In addition, watch the emerging interest in high school athletics, that may reflect more high school athletes turning pro and having a greater impact on NCAA sports as true freshman, and the increasing coverage of women’s athletics in the media and their link to causes and events (e.g., WNBA and breast cancer organizations)

7. Monitor financial performance and growth within the sporting goods industry.

  • Who are the winners?
  • Why?
  • Are they trend leaders, followers, or only survivors?
  • Do they capitalize on trends and does it influence their results –look for mix shifts, feature statements?
Same Store Sales Results
Company 4th Quarter 1999 Fiscal 1999
Venator Group 5.6% 2.1%
Hibbett Sporting Goods 4.3% 2.8%
Gart Sports Co. 1.6% -0.6%


8. Monitor trends that are evident in venture capital activities, primarily as it relates to start-up Internet businesses that get attention and get funded.

9. Monitor Music trends and sports crossover (alternative sports)


Trend spotting is a full-time activity if it is to be a driver of your business. This activity characterizes being a leader:

  • Get in early
  • Get in materially
  • Get out when everybody else enters

You decide –Spot Trends!

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