With Friday’s opening of its New York City flagship, Wilson Sporting Goods is trying to engage shoppers with a multisport assortment that offers room for a little impromptu practice.
The 6,400-square-foot flagship includes an atrium space that is designed to inspire play and is named Thomas E. Wilson Park in honor of the company’s founder. Shoppers will find a full range of athletic products including official National Basketball Association and WNBA basketballs; the National Football League’s official ball “The Duke,” and leading tennis racquets like the Pro Staff and Clash, among other items.
Along with the brand’s sporty-inspired lifestyle apparel, consumers can check out or enlist the services of a full-time racquet stringing specialist. Leather ball customization, a golf simulator and glove personalization are among the value-added services that will be offered in the new space.
In an interview Tuesday, Wilson Sportswear president Gordon Devin said creating such a playful retail environment felt intuitive, “given that we are who we are. We’re a brand that has always been about sports. To create a traditional retail store wouldn’t feel intuitive.”
Located in the heart of SoHo on lower Broadway, the store is in a commercialized stretch of the neighborhood that is decidedly livelier than it was last year at this time, when New York City retailers and businesses were still just yawning back to life after the pandemic shutdown. Recalling wrapping up the deal for the store then, “when New York was bleak,” Devin said, “No one was around. Restaurants were working out how to stay in business with makeshift shanties on sidewalks. There were so many vacancies everywhere that it felt post-apocalyptic.”
With the Thomas E. Wilson Park, the store has a transformable center that occupies about 25 percent of the total store. Consumers can shoot a few hoops, test out the tennis hitting wall or participate in other in-store activities. The idea is to try out a racquet, play a little pickle ball, shoot the new WNBA basketball ball or toss around a soccer ball.
Early on in the store’s buildout, the team considered whether consumers would ever want to return to fitting rooms or buy something that others had touched, Devin said. Staffing, merchandising, inventory management and packaging were considered with an emphasis on health and safety.
A year ago, the prospect of opening a store of this size was daunting, but after finding the outpost with its atrium, executives felt it was the right thing to do.
Outposts for Lululemon, Nike, Adidas, Kith, The North Face and Arc’teryx are nearby, and Wilson aims to absorb some of their spillover consumer traffic. Devin noted that Target is opening a store on Wilson’s block, which has a Prada store at the other end. He declined to pinpoint Wilson’s annual sales.
With 1,000 employees globally, Wilson isn’t taking a hard stance about their vaccination status. Acknowledging reports that Nike and Columbia Sportswear are taking steps towards potentially terminating some employees, who fail to get vaccinated, Devin said Wilson is “certainly not going as far to say we will fire people.”
With various facilities throughout the U.S., the company has to be “super respectful” to the individuals who are employed and the legislation under which they work, he said. “We are putting in place measures that help our staff do their jobs in a safe environment, and keep them, and everyone else including their families and loved ones safe,” Devin said.
Sports of all kinds have benefited from the pandemic shutdown, and tennis is among the list. “Being locked up in our communities or houses has made so many of us realize how much we enjoy, love and need those physical moments,” Devin said. “There are certain sports like tennis that are really riding that wave.”
Having opened its first hometown store in Chicago last year, Wilson is scouting additional locations in Manhattan, Chicago and Los Angeles. The assortment focuses on Wilson’s premium signature products. Expected women’s bestsellers in the store include skirts and tank tops with built-in bras. For men, shirts, technical shorts and travel pants are expected to be strong pieces, Devin said.
The company recruited New York City artist Greg Lamarche to create a graffiti mural, commemorating Wilson’s athletic heritage and love for the city. Devin said: “What really drives all of us at Wilson is that we believe that sport makes better people and really that sports make a better world. And athletes come in all different sizes, shapes and levels.”
Noting how their commonality is the drive to want to improve themselves and their communities, he said: “That athletic mindset doesn’t just exist in elite athletes. It exists, for example, in artists who are motivated by similar things. This whole idea of breaking down stereotypes and barriers is one of the most beautiful things about sport. It is what we strive to do and it also exists in areas like art.”