Academy Sports CEO Ken Hicks on expanding retailer’s in-store return – Footwear News

After a hiatus of more than two years, Academy Sports + Outdoors is once again accelerating store expansion.

Last weekend, the Katy, Texas-based sporting goods chain celebrated the grand opening of a new location in Conyers, Georgia, marking the launch of its first store since November 2019. The door of 58,000 square feet employs 60 people and features updated store design, incorporating more natural light and lower fixtures to help customers navigate the many sports and outdoor departments.

Speaking to FN at the opening, Academy Sports Chairman, President and CEO Ken Hicks said: “This format is very different and has more visuals, more calls from our companies and our brands, more displays. And we’ll be adding more to make it an exciting place to shop.

In terms of merchandise, the store offers footwear, apparel and hard goods from top brands such as Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Columbia and The North Face, as well as Academy private labels including Magellan Outdoors and Freely (a sportswear brand for women and girls). line launched this spring). Hicks also pointed out that each store is stocked with custom inventory to meet the needs of individual communities, from a fan shop for local teams to region-specific bait in the fishing department.


The Nike store at the new Academy Sports location in Conyers, Georgia.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Academy Sports

With this opening, Academy Sports now operates 11 stores in the Atlanta area and 19 throughout Georgia, and plans to open one more in Atlanta this year. In total, the company aims to launch eight doors in 2022, after which the team will ramp up, targeting 80-100 stores over the next five years.

Hicks said he was confident that goal was achievable. “We have 259 stores in 16 states, so we have the rest of the country to expand,” he explained. “We have a great model. We are not trying to invent a new idea. It works. We make over $25 million per store. We have the highest productivity in our industry — the best brands, the best team members. It’s exciting.”

The expansion effort comes after the company recorded the most profitable year in its history. For fiscal 2021, Academy reported net sales increased 19.1% from a year earlier to a record $6.77 billion, with net profit catapulting 117.4% to 671 $.4 million for the full year.

Here, Hicks shares some thoughts on his Academy game plan and tips for navigating today’s uncertain market.

We’ve seen many big-box retailers downsize or try new store concepts. Why do you still believe in this model?

KH: “They’re cutting production and trying new designs because they’re often too stocked and they can’t build anymore. And they are getting old. Ours is a new concept. And [the Conyers store] is a new look for us. But also, we’ve been in the Atlanta area for 10 years and we don’t have any stores in Atlanta. It was something we did in the past, we would go to a market, set up a few stores, go to another market, a few more stores. And we never had a presence in the market. This will allow us to have a presence in the market. There are three ways to look at new stores: First, there is a significant opportunity in our heritage markets. Two is a filling of the markets, as [in Atlanta]. And third, we’re in 16 states, so we have 34 more that we can go to. And we found out as we rolled out that people love [our concept]. It works outside of Texlahoma (our main markets of Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma). So then we’re opening stores in West Virginia and Virginia, and then we’ll go to the states beyond.

Why did it take Academy two and a half years to open a new store?

KH: “Some of our locations weren’t the best and we had to clean up those stores. And now all of our stores are profitable across the chain. We have them all on solid ground. They all grew last year – sharply, all stores. So we needed to take a break [to do that cleanup]. And then COVID came along and we couldn’t go out to find sites and then when we went out you can’t just open a store, you have to go find the sites and build them. So it took a little longer than we would like.


Sporting Goods Store Academy Conyers Georgia Fishing

The Academy Sports fishing department has a trained professional to advise you on local bait and reels.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Academy Sports

Storn by store is one way to grow – acquisitions are another. Is this something you are considering?

KH: “We watch it and study it. The challenge with acquisitions is that it’s a model that works, and finding someone who has a bunch of 60,000 square foot stores – there aren’t any. So it’s difficult. And then or to go with a new concept, we don’t need a new concept. We have a great concept.

How does your strategy at Academy Sports differ from where you run Foot Locker?

KH: “The way we developed Foot Locker was we went to Europe and the internet. The internet part is the same. And the way we develop the markets [is similar to] what we have done in Europe. In the United States, Foot Locker was pretty well saturated. We had five banners in the United States, so there were a lot of us there.

And how does the experience compare for you?

KH: “I’ve worked in many different retail businesses. This one is so different. People talk about labor issues, but we haven’t had a big problem because the team members agree it’s fun. And you don’t get that if you work at a Gap store selling someone their clothes for the office, or if you work at a McDonald’s. You work here and you think, I can handle soccer balls and basketballs and I can talk about sports and everyone thinks that’s cool. Some people target elite athletes, others extreme adventure. We aim for fun and everyone needs more fun. Everyone who walks out of our stores with a bag is going to do something fun.


Sporting goods store Academy Conyers Georgia campground

The new design of the Academy Sports store has more appeal for high-end brands like Yeti.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Academy Sports

EEveryone is talking about the evolution from Nike to DTC. What do you think of this market development? Is it as bad as people say?

KH: “No, it’s actually good for us, because one, they take a lot of players out who are promotional, who are fringe. The second thing is that they realize they need us. We bring in a client they’re struggling to get. They need sports to stay who they are, and we deliver the sport. We deliver families, we deliver young children, we deliver an array of clients they don’t can’t reach directly to the consumer. Adidas is the same way and Under Armor – they all do. But we appreciate what they do and they appreciate what we can do for them.

The Academy is considered a preferred retailer for these brands. Do you ever worry about losing this status? How do you maintain strong supplier relationships?

KH: “We do things like that [store opening]. We make our stores more beautiful, more exciting. We attract new customers. We go to the markets and we grow and give them a great view of what’s going on. So that’s it. They look and say, you know, as long as we stay relevant, we will be relevant.

Yesou have seen many different retail developments over the years. What are your tips for navigating this challenging environment we find ourselves in?

KH: “The first is knowing what the customer wants. This is where it all begins. Develop partnerships with your suppliers, your communities to ensure that you take care of customers. And you have to be in the stores because what people want may be different from what you think. Moreover, value is important in what we do. We are watching our prices very, very closely and with some things we have decided not to increase the prices. We’ll just have to eat it. With others, we can afford to [raise prices]. But we have to make sure that we offer the assortment and the value that the customer expects from us.

James T. Quintero