As a northerner, JJB Sports was close to my heart and the situation is very sad to see such a big High Street name disappear and especially so close to the big sales opportunity that is Christmas.
Founded in 1971 by former footballer Dave Whelan who, to my mind, is as sales legend, a role model for every young professional and someone to look up to for inspiration.
The sheer success of JJB Sports shows just what a great boss he was for the company – a brand that was valued at £500M as recently as 2010. But in 2007 Whelan sold his share in the business for a healthy £190M and, since then, the business just went downhill.
Essentially, that disaster is down to the company losing the vision and focus that Whelan had given it. It’s just not good enough to blame Sports Direct for this situation – it goes for the cheap and cheerful market, with budget soccer boots, and is a discount store which knows exactly what it’s doing and what the target market is.
Whereas, JJB Sports made its name and reputation on its approach to the higher, fashion end of the sports market. The sort of market spearheaded by pop celebrity customers including the likes of the boy bands and the Spice Girls who wore sports wear as a fashion statement.
I think the core of the problem lies in product knowledge and having a clear idea of what you should be doing. It’s key that if you don’t understand fully what you’re selling, how can you expect the customers to understand the message you’re trying to send out?
As far as I could tell, JJB Sports, after Whelan left, seemed to lose all vision about what was happening in its business and who made up the target market and what it was actually selling.
Personally, I feel JJB Sports needed another strong leader to replace Whelan and to do what he did, which was to lead by example. Also, as well as the essential sales training, people need to have regular product and vision seminars so that ever single member of the team finds themselves on the ‘same page’. So they all know what they have to do, what the company is about and which direction that they are taking.
Sales and revenue are crucial for any business and you will only achieve that with strong leadership providing motivation to maintain momentum and to keep growing that within the company.
I am 100% convinced there was room for JJB Sports in the market and they just needed to be clearer about what they were selling. Some of the problem was with their buying where I don’t believe they were getting the right stock to match their market profile.
Because it doesn’t matter how good its sales people are, if the product is not right, not the right stuff on the shelves basically, then the company cannot succeed.
Let’s be honest, in the last 12 months you wouldn’t have gone into a JJB store for anything other than a football shirt yet Sports Direct was providing just that only cheaper!
For the consumer, unsure about what they were selling and with the marking going to pot, the product was confusing and that was all down to not having a strong leader.
OK, sales training is important, but so is motivation training and vision training to identify the product and who it is aimed at.
In the end there was a clear lack of all that and they lost direction.
True, it’s a sad tale but a strong and topical lesson that, no matter how big you get, forget the basics of selling and you will see a runaway success quickly turn into a runaway train crash!