‘Shock to the system’: Asics halts supplies to UK independent sports shops | Retail industry

When Dipu Patel, the owner of Euro Sports in north London, received an email from Asics telling him it would no longer supply him with trainers, it was the latest hammer blow to hit the independent retailer.

Sales of the Japanese footwear brand, which makes tennis star Novak Djokovic’s trainers, comprise 40% of Patel’s footwear sales at his sports shop in Swiss Cottage. Patel received an email last month telling him supplies would be halted from January.

“It’s a shock to the system,” he said. “We will be losing [Asics] customers – they will buy it online. [Asics] have used us as a stepping stone to be where they are and then are going to sell direct.”

Independent sports retailers have said their businesses are under threat after Asics said it was cutting off supply to hundreds of small UK outlets, joining Nike and Adidas in ditching smaller retailers in favour of big chains and selling direct online.

Patel said Euro Sports bought more than £40,000 of footwear a year from Asics even when the brand introduced restrictions on orders because of restrictions in supply linked to factory shutdowns caused by the Covid pandemic.

“We had to let Nike go, but their range is mainly fashion shoes now. We built Asics up over the year as the specialist shoe, and to have that taken away is a bitter pill to swallow,” said Patel.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, Asics said it was halting supplies from next year after “reassessing the relationship with many of our customers”.

It is a hefty blow to hundreds of specialist retailers already suffering from rising costs and weakening demand since the pandemic surge in sales of sports kit. Some larger independent retailers have been cut off by Asics, which sent out emails last month, but other smaller ones have been left in place leaving stockists scratching their heads as to the criteria Asics has used to slim down its distribution. Several retailers said they had sought more information but not received a reply.

Asics has become an important brand for many independent retailers in recent years after Nike and Adidas stopped supplying many smaller outlets to focus on their own stores and websites or major chains such as Sports Direct and JD Sports in the UK.

One independent running shop owner said she had been kept on by Asics but Nike had recently told her it would stop selling her its running spikes, leaving few alternatives.

“They want to push everybody to their online store,” she said.

Nick Mavrides at Ace Sports in Kentish Town, north London, said at least 30% of his sales were reliant on Asics. “Our business is under threat. Everything in our running range is Asics from a child’s size 10 to a men’s 14. It is a massive part of our business. They are following in the footsteps of Adidas and Nike.”

He said the government should be taking a look at the issue with supplies for smaller stores saying the situation with big sports brands was like “going to your local corner shops and finding they don’t stock Kelloggs Cornflakes”.

Mavrides suggested Asics had only stuck with independent retailers in smarter areas. “It’s like saying that anyone in NW5 is not worthy of their goods as they are not posh enough,” he said.

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James Ellis of the Run Company, which has four stores in Brighton, Chichester, Southampton and Woking, said Asics gear made up about a fifth of his sales.

He said losing Asics came at a tricky time as the cost of living crisis and a shift away from the lockdown leap in exercising had dampened interest in buying sports gear.

“It has been very challenging. It’s all against the retailer.”

He said Asics would be replaced by smaller names and the brand was likely to try to return to independent retail when it realised it was hard to win over new fans and keep long-term customers without a trusted relationship with expert sellers who could fit specialist shoes.

“They will come back hoping to open those doors back up,” he said, “or someone will come in and fill their space.”

Asics did not respond to a request for comment.


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