5 Minutes With Scott Wakefield, Director of Direct-to-Consumer, ASICS

Last week, iconic Japanese sportswear brand ASICS opened its biggest store in the world in London, on the world-famous Regent Street shopping precinct. To mark the occasion, the Retail Gazette had a chat with the brand's Director of Direct to Consumer, Scott Wakefield, for this week's '5 Minutes With...' profile.

ASICS Scott Wakefield

Congratulations on the opening of ASICS‘s new flagship store. How did it come about?

We‘re always looking for opportunities to increase our retail footprint in major cities. Regent Street became available and it was the perfect location to open a premium flagship store.

The size of the opportunity to be in one of the world‘s capital cities on one of the most iconic shopping streets couldn‘t be turned down.

How is this shop different to ASICS‘ other stores?

Regent Street is the first time globally we‘ve brought all four ASICS brands — ASICS, ASICS Tiger, Onitsuka Tiger and Haglöfs — together under one roof.

Each of the four brands represents a part of our history and our future, with a focus on leading an active lifestyle. Having each of the four brands together in one place also allows us to broaden our market.

ASICS was founded on the philosophy of a “Sound Mind, Sound Body” and we think that is more relevant for people now than ever. We believe we have created a store environment which can also support a healthy body and mind.

A unique element to the store is the robotic stock room. Store staff can order shoes from the shop floor and collect them in the retail environment, allowing them more time with the people in store.

Other features are the kinetic lighting which can be programmed to move and be coloured in a number of ways to create an ever changing retail space, robotic arms in the window that entice customers inside, a complementary juice bar, and every Saturday shoe customisation artists.

With the exception of Sports Direct (for various reasons), sportswear retailers have lately been experiencing a resurgence in sales and profit. Why is that?

The financial crisis had a big impact on the high street, but what we‘ve seen is that brands and retailers have answered the challenge by improving their offering to consumers by providing them real value in-store. Whether that is through technology and innovation during the buying process or through community engagement in store.

Stores present a massive opportunity to connect with consumers with engaging spaces, first class product knowledge, a full display of premium products and even community activities.

For example, in our Oxford Street store and in Amsterdam as well we have community spaces that start-up businesses can hold free fitness classes in our space. This brings more people into our store, but it also helps support our philosophy.

In addition, the athletic market is growing globally. Whether that is fitness apparel and footwear or lifestyle clothing, people want clothes they can move in, which presents a big opportunity for brands and retailers.

Describe your role and responsibilities as ASICS Director of Direct-to-Consumer.

I have responsibility for stores, ecommerce, franchise and concession locations for ASICS’s European, Middle Eastern and African (EMEA) markets.

My role is to manage all facets of the business including buying and merchandising, visual merchandising, operations, commercial finance and store acquisition, design and build out.

I also have to make sure all environments within in EMEA are of the highest level.


Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before ASICS.

I‘ve worked in retail for more than 20 years across a number of sectors from fashion to food.

In my last two positions, including at Ben Sherman, I operated in similar roles helping wholesale brands develop their direct-to-consumer (DTC) businesses both in Europe and across the globe.

What got you into the retail sector in the first place?

I graduated from Warwick University with a degree in biochemistry, but since my teens I had always worked in stores and enjoyed the pace and customer interaction.

After graduating I started to look at options outside the science field and took an opportunity to take a role as an assistant manager of a supermarket. From here I really caught the retail bug and never looked back.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

I‘ve worked in a number of retail sectors and had the benefit of learning the best practice processes from each, and being able to implement them in any of the business I‘ve worked in – whether that‘s stock management from food, visual merchandising from fashion or service from luxury goods.

Also, because I come from a store background and have worked up through the ranks in the industry from assistant manager to my current role, I understand first-hand the challenges a store team can face and what customer expectations are.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Developing a DTC business with a wholesale business is never easy.

Wholesale-focused companies simply think and work in a very different way. The benefit at ASICS is that we are ready to change and everyone in the business is open and supportive. We see it as an opportunity.

ASICS has a wide range of products and our DTC business allows us to put them in front of people.

And the most rewarding?

The opportunity to grow a business that is rich in heritage yet has huge amounts of potential.  It‘s rare in any career that you get the opportunity to leave a hand print on such a historical, credible brand.

READ MORE:  Biggest ASICS store in the world opens on Regent Street

How is ASICS addressing some of the challenges facing the UK high street as a whole?

Our strategy is to create a retail environment and experiences that serves our consumers.

We believe the new store concept we‘ve developed reflects our philosophy and shows the value the high street still has in connecting with consumers and raising brand awareness.

We also want to take this experience into our shop-in-shops with our retail partners so they feel value from the brand in supporting them on the high street.

Can you talk about any other projects that you‘re working on at the moment?

We have just opened another refitted store on Oxford Street, launched a store in Berlin and the our previously-mentioned flagship store on Regent Street.

The focus for us now switches to continuing to roll out our brand stores across Europe and then opening more stores across the region.

One of the flagship stores we are working on is in Milan which is an exciting step for us.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

I would let them know that this industry is one of the most amazing places you can work.

Through making big or small changes at store level (bricks-and-mortar or ecommerce) you can see an almost immediate impact from your customers.

However, retail is not easy. You have to be tenacious, driven and prepared to work hard.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

The high street is challenging, customers are more and more demanding – and so they should be – and retail is no longer about price and selling products. It‘s about engaging customers in new ways that allows them to experience your brand.

Retailers need to reinvent themselves to be able to achieve this and those that can’t will not survive.

Because of ecommerce, the customer that just wants to make a transaction no longer needs to go to a store. They can do it from a train on the way to work or from their sofa. So retailers need to develop ways of drawing their customers into their stores for other reasons.

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