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Competition for area consumers' sports gear dollars continues to grow

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By Jerry Siebenmark

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) For almost a decade, the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 big-box retailers hawking athletic clothing, shoes and equipment have held steady in Wichita.

Dick's Sporting Goods and Sports Authority -- then known as Gart Sports -- both opened their first stores in Wichita in 2002. Sports Authority settled in the former Jumbo Sports building on 21st Street between Woodlawn and Rock Road, while Dick's opened in the former ShopKo building at the Tallgrass Center at 21st and Rock Road.

About a year later the companies added west-side stores: Sports Authority at NewMarket Square near 21st and Maize Road and Dick's at Towne West Square at 4600 W. Kellogg.

But in the past few years, two regional and national chains have moved into the area: Alabama-based Hibbett Sports and Texas-based Academy Sports & Outdoors.

Last week, Hibbett opened its third area store, at 19931 W. Kellogg in Goddard, which is in addition to its about 5-year-old store in Derby as well as one in El Dorado.

And plans for an east-side Academy store to open at K-96 and Greenwich next year are still on track, a company spokesman said. It would be in addition to the 2710 N. Maize Road store that Academy opened in November 2012.

These more traditional sporting goods stores have some overlap with outdoors stores, such as Cabela's, Gander Mountain and Backwoods. And there's also competition from a myriad of stores targeted to certain segments -- from running shoes to golf equipment.

And even as more retail seems to move online, sporting goods is growing its physical presence here and elsewhere.

The reasons for the continued expansion and addition of sporting goods chains into the Wichita market is not altogether clear. Officials from two of the four retailers -- Dick's and Hibbett -- didn't respond to calls and e-mails this week for comment.

Sports Authority officials did respond, but said they couldn't comment on Wednesday.

But the growth of the chains is not limited to Wichita, an industry official said.

"A lot of the big retailers are still in kind of expansion mode," said Marty Maciaszek, spokesman for the National Sporting Goods Association, an industry trade group.

And officials said they don't know when that expansion mode will end.

Dick's said in a March news release that its net sales between 2012 and 2013 increased 6.5 percent with the opening of new stores, and 1.9 percent on a same-store basis.

Hibbett, also a publicly traded company, said its net sales in the same period increased 11.8 percent with the opening of new stores, and 6.9 percent on a same-store basis.

A spokeswoman for the Birmingham, Ala.-based company that operates more than 950 stores did not return calls requesting comment for this story.

But in an interview last month with The Eagle, Hibbett Midwest real estate manager Brad Walton said his company prefers to operate stores in communities that have little or no competition.

Goddard qualified by that criteria.

"It's going to be a good store," Walton said in an Aug. 14 story. "Hopefully these people won't have to drive all the way into Wichita to get their sporting goods."

Sports Authority and Academy Sports are privately held companies and don't publicly report their financial results.

So far this year, Academy has announced openings or plans to open more than 15 new stores, including the northeast Wichita store.

Academy spokesman Allan Rojas did not directly answer what factors the company considered in announcing a second Wichita store, nor if the decision was based on sales performance at its NewMarket store in northwest Wichita.

Academy "is always looking to expand and is excited offer the Wichita community a convenient new shopping destination," Rojas said.

He said an exact opening date for the northeast store has not been set.

"We're still scheduled to open in 2015 but there is no firm date," Rojas said.

'Differentiating factors'

Maciaszek of the trade group said the number of sporting goods stores in the U.S. has been trending down over several decades. The closures, he added, were more likely to be small, independent retailers.

"But for the largest firms ... those numbers (of stores) have more than doubled," he said. "So basically the bigger box retailers are replacing the smaller retailers, for a variety of reasons."

Those reasons include a lack of buying power and an inability to get the newest products out to market as quickly as larger sporting goods retailers, Maciaszek said.

Dorothy Harpool, an instructor at Wichita State University's Barton School of Business who focuses on consumer behavior, said that the area's large sporting goods retailers clearly have the resources and research to test their ability to succeed before entering into a new market or expanding in an existing one.

"They must believe they are different enough to succeed when there's competition," she said.

That is underscored by the fact that since coming to Wichita in 2002, the east-side Sports Authority and Dick's stores have remained open and in their original locations even though they are less than a mile apart.

"They're just different," Harpool said. "They have a different atmosphere in those stores. They carry some different products. So I think those differentiating factors contribute to them both being successful."

And that goes to her other point, that between Dick's, Sports Authority and Academy Sports they "have a different target audience that they perceive to be unique to their store," she said. "So there's a certain group of people that each store believes comes to them rather than the other two."

Unlike the other sporting goods giants, Hibbett operates in suburban and rural communities in 5,000-square-foot stores, store sizes that are a fraction of the size of Dick's, Sports Authority or Academy.

Harpool said she doesn't know if there is a tipping point where the area is oversaturated with big-box sporting goods retailers.

"I think with that industry it's interesting how sporting goods stores have evolved with their product offerings," she said. "They're not just baseballs, basketballs ... those sorts of things. They're carrying a lifestyle type of product mix. I think they are evolving based on the fact that our society is more casual. Our society recognizes exercise is important.

"I don't know how long that will last, but it's going on right now."

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle

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