Are Decathlon products worth their price
The French sporting goods manufacturer Decathlon is expanding its own snowboard brand and wants to finally establish itself in winter sports. This does not meet with much approval. Why actually?
Decathlon wants to take a permanent place in the snowboard industry and has created conditions with the R&D team, production facilities and test sites on Mont Blanc that some brands only dream of. In the snowboard scene, this advance is as popular as RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga or vegan food in motorway service stations. Some fear the death of the retail trade, others fear poor quality of the products. Skepticism didn't stop at the doors of the MBM office, which is why we traveled to the headquarters in the French Alps to find out more Decathlon snowboards to experience.
Zuckerberg on Mont Blanc
Instead of an oversized corrugated iron container in blue and white colors, Decathlon's company headquarters for winter sports is a magnificent wooden building that would demand respect even from Silicon Valley hipsters. Right next to a small stream is the brown UFO with its spacious offices, from where you can see Mont Blanc like a photo wallpaper. In the heart of the building is the Mountain Store and one floor below is a second sales area that is used for practicing. You are miles away from the motorway industrial area chic, as you know it from some stores.
Sport for everyone
"To enable as many people as possible to enjoy sports" has been the company's motto since Decathlon was founded in 1976, explains snowboard product manager Philippe Tiercin. In order to be able to adhere to this, the Decathlon stores have articles from all kinds of sports under one roof - from ping-pong bats and diving equipment to snowboards. With more than 1500 branches worldwide it is also ensured that not only western big cities have access to sporting goods, but also people from more rural regions. According to Decathlon, the company tries to keep the prices as low as possible so that the bank balance doesn't necessarily prevent people from doing different sports. Sounds classy - and in fact, there is hardly any other store where you can get sporting goods as cheap as the blue and white ones: snowboards for less than 200 euros, winter jackets for a Hunni or snow goggles for 44.99 euros.
However, these heavenly prizes are also Decathlon's avoidable weak point. Because “how is a product supposed to keep up with a branded article when it costs a third of it?”, Critics question. Or: "How can production be carried out in compliance with basic human values when sporting goods are offered at the absolute competitive price?" Your answers surprise us.
The fly in the ointment
Decathlon's product manager Philippe reacted calmly to the price criticism. “We manufacture in the same factories as some well-known snowboard brands, and we use the same materials,” he says. It is therefore wrong to measure the product only by its price. “At Decathlon we have a completely different business model, which allows us to offer the products much cheaper.” By this he means: Decathlon does without completely despite its size Sponsorship of athletes and also sees no reason much Money in advertising to get stuck. However, the company has the greatest financial advantage due to its size. While competitors have to pay a relatively large amount of money for materials, Decathlon can order quantities that save a lot of money.
“Function and price are the most important factors for us” - Product Manager Philippe
“We also do without features that are not absolutely necessary in our products,” says Philippe and explains: “Let's take a look at the jackets. We use the same recycled, environmentally friendly fabrics as other companies. But we process them differently: Instead of expensive zippers, we take cheap zippers and let a piece of fabric wrap over them to seal them. Or breast pockets: they can be tailored in such a way that they are mainly fashionable and take up a lot of time in production. We design the design in such a way that work steps in production can be saved and thus make the product cheaper. Function and price are the most important factors for us. "
In order to meet different requirements, Decathlon always offers its articles in three price categories: The 100 series for basic products and low budget that 500 series for the middle price segment and the 900 series for a lot of comfort that cost their price. However, even the 900 series is usually much cheaper than competing products and does not contain more features than Decathlon considers necessary.
Decathlon's target group
"We have a great responsibility towards the customer," says Pierre Coly, Brand Manager at Decathlon Snowboards, as he shows us through the company headquarters. After all, the motto “Sport for Everyone” not only requires inexpensive products all over the world, but also sporting goods that make activities as easy as possible. "Our goal is that you can only focus on fun when doing sports," he says, emphasizing that older people or beginners are also considered during development and not just professionals. Decathlon stands less for high-end products that are used in the largest contests in the world, but for snowboard items that are used by beginners, amateurs and all those who do not feel like tormenting themselves while shredding. Decathlon customers do not want to invest huge sums either, since for many these are disproportionate to the frequency of actual use.
In the snowboard segment, there is one product in particular that meets this requirement: the SNB 100 click binding. This type of step-in binding for the back foot is Decathlon's latest coup. Hobby snowboarders should be able to do without the eternal ratcheting before and after the lift ride and detach their leg from the board in no time at all. The binding is especially intended for beginners who do not master draw paths or the like with great swing.
Decathlon's products may not compete with the boards of the best riders in the world in professional tests - but they were never designed for that. An important step in understanding the Decathlon cosmos is to understand that the French do not want to penetrate the core scene as competition, but rather position themselves where the established brands hardly take place. Decathlon's price and product policy appeals to those shredders who rarely make it to the slope and those who don't exactly make their money with snowboarding. Those who want to penetrate the core scene one day will be supported on the way by Decathlon products through low prices and easy-to-drive products (which of course will reach their limits at some point).
Blue or green?
For many, environmental protection is the last thing they think of when they hear the word Decathlon. Does the sporting goods giant produce worse than the other brands? In an official Decathlon statement, it says:
“The proximity of the point of sale is an important point for us when choosing the place of production. There are of course economic reasons on the one hand, but also ecological ones on the other. The reduced transport of goods - by air freight, for example - reduces the burden on the environment. [...] While the own brands with their research, development and design teams are based entirely in France, the products are manufactured outside of Europe and partly abroad. At the moment 18 percent of our items are made in Europe and 79 percent in Asia. We also produce in North Africa and South America. In all of our industrial partnerships, regardless of the item, production location and material, it is important to us that these are exclusive and sustainable. We always strive to adhere to environmental and social standards and to work with the best suppliers. "
"We have ethical and social standards," says Pierre and emphasizes that environmental protection is just as important to Decathlon as to brands that communicate it strongly. Then why doesn't Decathlon communicate that? We want to know and get an answer that is explanatory but also disturbing. “Coming out as an 'environmentally friendly company' is very tricky these days,” admits Philippe. “After all, how environmentally friendly are these companies really? We also use recycled fabrics, always try to order in large numbers in order to avoid unnecessary freight and do not change our range every winter in order to promote longevity. But of course there are always steps in production that leave an ecological footprint. So approaching the public and pretending to be particularly environmentally friendly should therefore be carefully considered. "
To further boost sustainability, customers can return their items at any time. These are then either recycled or sold again. In Germany, the repair of boards is now offered, in France even clothing.
“We are not competitors to Burton or other global players,” concludes Philippe. “We produce under the same technical standards, with the same materials, but we also address people outside the 15 to 25 year range. We design for beginners, advanced and experts - but not for pros. "
If you take into account the last sentence, you will probably be able to put many doubts about Decathlon into perspective. Because Decathlon cannot and does not want to penetrate the core scene and displace other brands. Neither the company concept nor the snowboard range is based on this. Their products help beginners and hobby snowboarders in particular to get access to the sport at all. The concept as we know it from the core scene and what Decathlon offers in stores worldwide can coexist. It can even support each other.
There is hardly a beginner who wants to spend several hundred euros on a snowboard set without knowing whether he or she likes the sport at all. On the other hand, even the rocked rental boards do not satisfy all beginners. Decathlon fits exactly into this gap. The company concept helps to keep the sport growing by appealing to people for whom winter sports were previously out of the question. And that benefits all of us - including the shops that are currently still in turmoil.
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