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Eric Fisher | Mission-driven strategy yields new levels of success for Dick’s Sporting Goods

SportBusiness' US editor looks at the achievements the big-box retail chain has accomplished in the face of a pandemic and stiff competition

Eric Fisher

On the surface, the runaway success of prominent American retail chain Dick’s Sporting Goods over the past 18 months does not make any sense.

Long before the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, online retailers such as Amazon, as well as individual brands through their own direct-to-consumer channels, had disrupted, if not outright dismantled, many big-box chains. And for the 73-year-old Dick’s Sporting Goods, many of its retail peers both in and out of sports have long since been pushed into extinction, or if still surviving, now just remain as a mere shells of their former glory.

But a potent combination of mission-driven leadership, a clear focus on elevating their category, a willingness to lean into certain areas where others are retreating, and some good luck along the way have provided a series of new highs for the Pennsylvania-based company.

The top line news for the publicly traded Dick’s Sporting Goods since early 2020 has represented a steady, upward drumbeat. Multiple quarters of record-level financial results. Two increases in the full-year 2021 sales outlook. Successful entries beyond the core business into more experiential retail avenues such as the new Dick’s House of Sport and the outdoors-focused Public Lands. Partnerships with leading sports entities such as the Women’s National Basketball Association, Little League International, USA Softball, and others. Continued expansion for its GameChanger youth sports app holding. And a stock that has soared more than 135 per cent thus far this year, despite some broader turbulence in financial markets in the US.

“We’re in a great lane right now,” said Ed Stack, Dick’s Sporting Goods’ executive chairman, following the last quarterly earnings report. “We said 2021 was going to be the most transformational year in our company’s history, and so far, it certainly has been. The investments we’ve made in technology, infrastructure, space allocation, and our team over the past four-plus years are now paying off.”

Some of the company’s boosts owe to these internal improvements in addition to benefitting from multiple facets of consumer behaviour during the pandemic. During the initial stages of lockdown, Dick’s Sporting Goods was particularly active in home exercise and outdoor equipment and gear for more socially distanced sports such as golf and tennis. But as group activities have begun to return and vaccinations increased, the company has more recently seen a strong resurgence in team sports gear, and has sought to further capitalise on that influx to make their stores as tactile an experience as possible and fully encouraging of product testing.

But a deeper, more core element of the Dick’s Sporting Goods escalation has been one of committed drive and purpose. Led in part by president and chief executive Lauren Hobart, Dick’s Sporting Goods has zeroed in on the female sports market in a way perhaps unrivalled by any other retailer.

And mirroring the historic growth seen in women’s sports at the highest competitive levels, Dick’s Sporting Goods has sought to make not only its product mix, but its internal leadership, storytelling, partnerships, and charitable outreach all fully aligned to promote female sports participation at all levels. A similar approach is also in place for youth sports.

Much of the company’s marketing has continued in this vein, advocating for broader societal wellness and equality through sports as opposed to merely hawking pieces of discounted equipment.

“We are committed to celebrating, inspiring, and supporting women in sports,” said Hobart, who was elevated to her current role nearly a year ago, in an open letter to the chain’s customers. “There is still much work to be done to achieve equality in sport, and we are committed to being a part of this change.”

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