Brand Strategy Retail Marketing

Retail Therapy: The sports & leisure brands delivering the best in-store experiences


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

May 30, 2024 | 6 min read

Continuing The Drum’s Retail Focus, we ask marketing experts to tell us which consumer and luxury goods brands are delivering the best retail experience in their brick-and-mortar stores and what they are doing right to attract modern consumers.


Gymshark stores remove customer pain points

Physical retailers have faced immense challenges in recent years as shoppers have taken their purchases online, Covid closed shop doors for months and the global cost of living crisis has forced a decline in footfall and, as a result, sales.

This means that traditional brick-and-mortar retailers now have to fight harder and think more creatively than ever before to deliver seamless customer experiences in their stores. So, which brands are doing it the best in the eyes of marketers?

In the fourth part of our Retail Therapy series, we focus on sports & leisure retailers.

Charlotte Black, executive director of strategy, Saffron Brand Consultants: “Gymshark has used its first brick-and-mortar presence to bring the brand closer to its current customers and attract new audiences. It has developed a space that encourages people to spend time immersed in the brand and illustrates that it understands the needs of its customers, using this knowledge to create a product and community they will value. This comes to life through the on-site fitness studio, the Sweat Room, and The Hub, a space purpose-designed for content creators, fitness professionals and podcasters to create and share digital content and host events. Gymshark has also applied its direct-to-consumer know-how to remove pain points for customers. For example, by not using sales desks and instead equipping all sales staff to advise on fit and style, customers can enjoy a more efficient and seamless experience.”

Annie Bedard, head of experience design, Unit9: “Nike creates intentional, physical moments of pure brand joy that speak to its audience. The brand empowers individuality and that’s reflected in a number of its in-store activations, from an immersive listening room that personality-matches shoppers with a track to a gamified treadmill that positions test runners as Player 1 in its own video game. Nike knows that the in-store retail experience is just one stop along a wider brand journey that helps to keep audiences engaged and coming back for more.”

Charlotte Willcocks, head of strategy, Impero: “My personal favorite is Rough Trade Records. It makes the retail experience really feel like a destination. In a world of streaming, it could have easily gone the way of Blockbuster, but has instead expertly rode the vinyl explosion with in-store music events, exclusive signings, exclusive products and limited editions and staff who are fully experts in their field to make a visit really feel like added value – it really understands the psyche of the modern music fan and has managed to create a one-stop shop that speaks to all areas of modern music fandom.”

Veja store

Stefan Kelly, senior behavioral analyst, Canvas8: “A great example is that of French footwear brand Veja stores incorporating shoe repair, clothing alterations and sneaker-cleaning supplies, all aiming to make purchases last longer. It aligns with a broader cultural shift towards sustainability and ethical consumption, with sophisticated consumers emphasizing holistic visions of sustainability that extend beyond products alone. Consumers are increasingly seeking brands that reflect their values, with increased importance given to sustainable practices and transparent brand behaviors. The approach reflects Veja’s commitment to ethical fashion, offering an innovative retail experience that emphasizes sustainability.”

Nathan Lomax, co-founder, Quickfire Digital: “House of Vans London is my go-to for an unforgettable retail experience. Why do I love it? Because it’s so much more than just a store. It’s a cultural hub where the skateboarding community thrives. The skatepark, cinema, art gallery and live music venue create a unique atmosphere. There’s always something happening, whether it’s a workshop, an art show or a killer band playing. This space fosters a real sense of community, where people with shared passions can connect and create. House of Vans proves that physical retail isn’t dead; it just needs to evolve. By offering a space where people can experience the brand’s values firsthand, it has created a loyal following that keeps coming back for more.”

Scott Sadeghian-Tehrani, media strategy director, 26PMX: “The new ‘Nike Rise’ stores are excellent. The latest one in Leeds seamlessly blends digital and physical with experiential brand activations. The store feels as much a community hub as it does a retail outlet. Driven by the Nike app, you can scan the barcodes of items to bring up wider information, including online and in-store stock. Rolling digital screens feature throughout the store and provide QR codes of highlighted pieces as well as live info from local runners using the Nike Run app. Geo-activated push notifications highlight offers to keep passersby up to date with offers and events.”

Katie Mitchell. managing director, Seen Studios: “Experience-led retail is at the forefront of bricks and mortar, often with the ‘experience’ trumping the purchase trigger that has historically been retail’s leading KPI. Generation Z is driving the ask for such experiences, with brands such as Nike responding with a revolving door of relevant, innovative and future-focused activations that see their stores transform into community-led dance battle floors and amusement fairs along with offering rich and educational workshop programs. The much sought-after Corner Shop within Selfridges is perfectly situated to offer experience-led retail for a larger demographic, with established luxury brands such as Gucci and Chanel often offering one-of-a-kind brand emersion.”

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