Decathlon UK is committed to lowering its carbon emissions by 53% by 2026 in an effort to make sports sustainable and reduce its carbon footprint. Decathlon’s product manufacturing has already been making significant changes like using more sustainable materials, moving its factories to new ones with renewable energies, and so on.
However, the fastest way to achieve the carbon emissions goal within the next five years is to begin the transition to a circular business model. In addition to making changes in the production line, Decathlon is developing new initiatives to support their linear sales and reduce their product impact.
We had the pleasure to interview Sharon Poulter, Commercial Manager and Lead of Rentals in Decathlon UK Sustainability Team, and hear more about how they plan to reinforce their core mission: get people more active in a sustainable way and reduce their impact on the planet.
Making sports more accessible through renting
With the goal of being the leader in making sports accessible for everyone, Decathlon has always focused its efforts on production. By designing and manufacturing its own products, Decathlon is able to maintain a low price on the end-products, making it possible for everyone to afford the gear they need.
Because our brands operate and specialize in different sports based on their location, we’re able to work directly with the supplier and work on things like how to make most efficient use of different materials - in return the efficient use of fabric allows us to order less, which allows us to lower the price as well.
This has consequently attracted families and active individuals as their main customer base. Poulter believes that renting will help reach a different type of core customer; one that’s more sustainably aware, who might be a bit younger, maybe with more constraints when it comes to where they live, whether they have a car, and even their income—but still wants to be active.
The best part with rentals is, in addition to being able to open doors for everyone to try out new sports, you can do so without having to commit to one thing - one day you might want to go cycling, another day you might want to play racket sports, I really think we could be the change in how people get to be more active and how they’re able to access more activities and sports.
What makes a retail giant interested in renting?
The rental model makes a strong case when it comes to helping Decathlon fulfill its mission; moving from selling to renting will allow them to produce fewer products, which will help with the mission to reduce carbon emissions. All while making sports even more accessible than before and reaching that sporty and sustainably conscious generation.
Renting will allow us to help more people get active.
Another important aspect that renting enables for Decathlon is an increase in their visibility and their customers’ confidence in products. Poulter highlighted that, especially in the day and age of social media, organic communication is vital.
With renting, the products are constantly being used, and people are excited to post and share their latest adventures, which helps with the exposure of the brand. In return, it helps change the perception of the products and gain confidence that despite the affordable price-point, Decathlon produces high-quality products.
Our products are designed by in-house teams of experts across the world, undergoing many years of research and development before they reach the market. We’re confident that with customers experiencing our products through this new rental programme, more people will come to appreciate the quality and durability of our offer.
Providing security during uncertain times
When discussing the different business factors that were relevant this year and that helped prove the benefits of renting, Poulter pointed out the availability of products. The UK experienced quite the doozy when it came to dealing with the challenges faced during BREXIT and Covid, which consequently had a negative effect on manufacturing and the supply chain management of products.
If we had had rentals, it would have provided a business revenue during a time when things weren’t available to sell - which is why, amongst other things as well, I think renting will sit very well with the existing retail model.
Poulter highlighted that she doesn’t see renting having a negative impact on sales, quite the opposite. Instead of cannibalizing sales, the Decathlon team believes it’s possible to set up renting commercially so that the two models can sit side-by-side and benefit from each other.
Despite the concern we hear from our store managers across the country, we don’t believe renting will have a negative impact on retail sales. However, in the long term, that’s exactly what we want to do - we want to replace a proportion of our sales with rentals, Second Life and repair, creating a more sustainable business model.
Decathlon UK dipping its toes into renting together with Rentle
Within the Decathlon branch, each country uses its own set of tools and platforms. Poulter did some research and tested out other platforms used by other locations to see what would be a good fit for Decathlon UK operations. Here’s what she had to say when asked about what made them ultimately choose Rentle over other similar service providers.
I think that usually you can just buy a software product and integrate it to your operations and be done with it when in this case I feel like Rentle is more of a partnership. I feel like I have a business partner and like I can have an impact on the development of the product.
Poulter highlights the level of communication that is constantly happening between the two companies. Whether it’s the support team or someone from higher-up, she feels that the transparency of Rentle’s development roadmap and the openness to feedback helps ensure that Rentle is the right partner for Decathlon now and further down the line.
Compared to the other platforms, Rentle was adaptable and dynamic in the way they operate. The development team really listens to what we need in order to succeed and makes sure it happens. And on top of that, we also share the same core values.
Launching rental operations during peak season
Decathlon UK soft-launched its first rental location with Rentle in August 2021. Because of the coastal location and customer demand, Sharon and the team decided to test out the waters and start their first operations in Poole, UK.
Because of things like Covid, staycations, and people wanting to get out and do outdoor sports, we saw huge demand this year and decided to focus on the water sports - but we do expect to widen our catalog and expand our operations to different sports and new locations next year.
Due to the launch being in the middle of a busy season, Poulter had to personally train her staff and make sure everything was running as intended. Despite the initial stress and worries, the implementation and setup itself proved to be very easy, the team was especially impressed by the support chat and its responsiveness.
Even though it was one of the busiest weekends of the season, because of the support chat and the Rentle teams’ responsiveness, I knew my team would have everything they needed and felt comfortable leaving the staff to manage the rentals on their own.
Decathlon UK's future plans with renting
Poulter recognizes that for store managers, incorporating a new business model into their already existing operations might not be at the top of their priority list. However, this trial's success, combined with centralized rental hubs, will make it easier to bring more stakeholders on board to introduce this new service to the public.
While it might take some time to get people used to the idea of Decathlon doing rentals, there are endless opportunities to introduce different rental products and models, especially with the right tools at hand that help make the complex processes easier.
I've been very impressed with Rentle and the overall level of patience and professionalism. The tech team has worked wonders and like I said, despite us launching during peak season, the chat support and overall interaction with Rentle's team have been incredible, and have made implementing this new model super easy for us.
The future is looking promising, and Poulter and the Sustainability Team are moving forward with their plans to make sports more accessible and sustainable. We at Rentle are extremely excited to be a part of this journey and look forward to working together with the Decathlon UK branch.