From the source: Matt Adams, Ultra

The mecca for all soccer fanatics, Ultra is more than just a store in Sydney – it features a restaurant, barber, footy field and more all under one roof. Now a second concept store will be rolling out interstate in 2020. Here, general manager Matt Adams shares his expansion plans and discusses how retail needs to move.

Inside Retail Weekly: How did you come up with the concept for the business?

Matt Adams: It’s actually a funny story. It was started by two 60-70-year-old guys – they’re the furthest thing you can think of from athletes. We’ve got a wholesale distribution business for Nike and Adidas soccer kits and back then, they were bringing the product in and selling it to retailers. They were looking at Sydney and thinking that it just wasn’t turning like the other markets, like Melbourne and Brisbane. So they thought, ‘Why don’t we create a retail concept?’

At first, the idea was to have a store at Westfield and sell football boots. Then the concept just grew over time. Nike really wanted us to go out and see the global players in the world and they linked us up with a whole host of connections. They really helped us to get to this place.

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So Chris and Nick went around the world, had a look around, then sat down with Antony [Hoffman], the architect at ACRD, and this was created over time. It started off with wanting to do something large scale, then they added FIFA, a restaurant – and it started to get legs from there.

IRW: Walk me through the different areas of this space.

MA: The whole idea is that we focus on experience. There are so many different retail stores, especially online – and if you don’t provide an experience, why would customers come to you? Even we have that trouble. Why come into our store if we’ve got ultra.com?

There’s a football pitch, so if you’re part of an academy, you’re probably training down here. If you want to try boots on, you’re testing the boots out there. There have been one-on-one training sessions and birthday parties – it’s very popular.

We then have the FIFA lounge, where the FIFA Playstation is connected to the real game. It’s a social thing. FIFA’s massive but I think for most players, it’s pretty cool that they can come down here and play FIFA with their mates at the same time as picking up new boots.

There’s our restaurant. When you come here, you want to stay, you don’t want to leave after five minutes. You can sit down, try the beautiful food but at the same time, it’s obviously football-focused. When there are major games on at midnight in Europe, it’s crowded in there, people are watching games. It’s a really good atmosphere. We’ve got a barber here too.

Then we’ve got a customisation station. Whenever you’re buying a Real Madrid jersey or a jersey off-the-shelf, you want to put your own touch on it. That’s where the world is heading, everything’s got to be personal.

We’ve got an in-store studio. It’s called Ultra Football TV which is run by our staff on the floor. They’re football fanatics. We’ve got a really tight following of people through our social channels, so you don’t want to just upload product posts because eventually that gets boring and you become like every other retailer. Football’s one of the few sports in the world where you could talk for hours about it.

The boys, Tom and Steve, are prominent in the football circles. Twice a week, they’re on the couch just talking football. They’re reviewing products, talking to athletes, talking about the A-League. Brandon O’Neal from Sydney FC came in and sat with them last week.

The best part is the in-store atmosphere around it. On the weekend, a young kid will walk past and watch it right here, in the centre of the store.

IRW: What are your plans for the e-commerce side of the business?

MA: You walk in here and think it’s amazing and a lot of time and energy has gone into it, but we put just as much, if not more, time and effort into e-commerce. There are so many online businesses now, so how you stand out? You could buy a pair of the same football boots at 10 different retailers, so why would you buy from Ultra?

We put a lot of emphasis on the loyalty behind our customers. The other big focus for us is the teams that we kit out in Nike or Adidas where we build them a club online store. So if you’re Alexandria Football Club and buy your jersey shorts and socks for your players, we’ll create you an online store for your jackets, pants, bags, all with your club logo and initials. That way, members can go online and clubs don’t have to worry about it. They receive a 10 per cent rebate from it and for us, it means we get the consumer onto our platform and they have a reason to spend.

We also do express shipping. The biggest thing with online is your site speed has to be quick, which a lot of retailers aren’t thinking about these days. Customers just don’t have a lot of patience these days.

Tacked onto the site are our blogs and YouTube TV. We want to turn Ultra into an ecosystem where people live, so every day they wake up, swipe into Ultra and see what’s happening. Ultra is very much built for the football fanatic.

IRW: How would you describe your online customer experience?

MA: The customer experience has to be super-quick, very premium and accessible. If I’m a consumer and I’ve just watched the game at 6am and Paul Pogba has scored a goal, straight away on our social, we’ll post something saying, ‘Paul has scored!’ with photos of him. Then we link everything he’s wearing straight into a ‘swipe up’. In the photos, he might be wearing a Manchester United jersey, or you see him in the street wearing Adidas socks and boots and automatically, a customer can swipe up and there’s ‘Buy That Look’ from us. You can buy just one part of the look or the whole thing.

From a retail point of view, it’s about creating quick, accessible ways for customers to shop, because they don’t want to search through the site looking for a boot.

Once they purchase, it has to be an easy, seamless experience. It has to be super-quick with express post. That’s something we take a hit on, but we want to get it to the consumer quickly. The EDMs, messaging and communication are super-simple.

Then the experience has to connect with you, so when a boot launches, we’ll write up blogs on what the boot is and the inspiration behind it.

IRW: Tell me about your loyalty program.

MA: We have two things. We have a loyalty point system called Ultra Rewards – you get points back on each purchase, and we have some fun with it. We’ll have certain stages where we’ll throw double points out there. It’s not necessarily revenue-driving – it’s just about surprising consumers. We launched double rewards for 48 hours the other night. We brought it in three months ago and it’s working really well.

The other thing we do is if you’re a club zone member, where we kit out the team, those team members get VIP pricing.

Every retailer is different, some will say you can have 20 per cent off. We don’t really need to do that much – if you provide a good enough connection, they’ll buy it anyway.

IRW: What do retailers need to think about when catering to passionate sports fans?

MA: The biggest thing we find is to cater to them, you have to stop and think what they want and listen to them. It’s a hard thing. So often, we get caught up in the day-to-day. My week is flat-out busy. But quite often, you have to stop and look at your strategy – it’s surprising how many people don’t even have a strategy. Everyone here – like Tom, our casual employee – is aware of his role within our strategy. You have to stop and think about what the consumer wants, and it’s tough because you sometimes might have to go against what you think versus what they’re telling you.

Data plays a role in that, but at the same time, we just stay connected with our consumers. Our marketing guys are always talking to key consumers, listening to what they’re saying, what’s happening around the world, what they want. A lot of people have lost connection with that, they’ve almost adapted to this data world and forgotten to just talk to people. Data plays a role, but you need to actually talk to the consumer.

I think in the next five to 10 years, what we saw happen to bricks-and-mortar – where it stagnated and dropped off – you’ll see the same thing happen online. It’s such a crowded space. A lot of people are doing the generic thing, so I think you’ll see it flip around.

The way we look at it is our revenue comes from our team kits, but online is bigger no doubt. This space currently breaks even, but it’s the face of our brand. We’ll find that if someone buys their boots online and understands this space is here, we’ll start getting purchases we never thought we’d get from that person. And because they love us so much, they’ll stay with us online. So I think that’s the one thing retailers need to look at – what’s the identity and face of the brand.

For us, this space is very much around product activations. We have an Adidas limited drop coming up next week and we’ll bring 100 people in here. It’ll be a massive activation and only 40 or 50 of them with walk away with pairs, but they will all say, ‘How amazing was that? You entertained me and I got to create a jersey’. You have to entertain your consumer.

IRW: Tell me about the product side of the business.

MA: It’s all premium and new. Nike, Adidas and Puma have been amazing to work with. We’ve been so hard on them to get the best product from around the world here, which never used to come to Australia. The limited products are the cool products. If something is launching around the world tonight at midnight, we have such a big emphasis that we’re launching tonight as well. None of this ‘We’ll get it in two weeks and see how we go.’

We’re about everything football. From football boots to sneakers and team jerseys. It’s head-to-toe football. I like to say it’s football head-to-toe, stadium-to-the-street, so everything on the field and then everything off-the-field in a nutshell.

We really pride ourselves on the limited lanches. We’ll probably spend as much money that we make from them in the activation just to make the noise about them.

IRW: What was the traditional retail experience like for your customers before you launched?

MA: There’s always the idea that Rebel is our main competitor, but they’re your traditional, family-friendly store selling everything sports-related. But our consumer was going overseas to Pro Direct Soccer in the UK or Nike.com. They just couldn’t get the product because it wouldn’t come to Australia.  

A lot of consumers say they wish they had Ultra growing up because all they used to do was go online. Now they come here and they know we’re devoted to soccer. We don’t have a competitor here from a commercial sense, although Rebel does have serious dollars going through the tills.

IRW: What are your plans for the future of the business?

MA: The main thing we focus on is always updating the store, it has to always evolve, so if you walk in in six months’ time, you see something new. We brought in the custom lab a month ago because we were listening to the customer who wanted to personalise, so we built them something.

The idea is we’ll expand interstate by July 2020. We’re working to get that underway. Overall, the concept is that we will go down the personalisation route as heavily as we can. Eventually, I want customers to be able to walk in, customise their boots, customise their T-shirts – everything. That’s where I see it heading.

The next store will probably replicate what we have here, but it’ll be a little bit more planned out because obviously we’ve learned a lot from Sydney. It will be similar in terms of the premium focus and experience. We’ll focus on the street football side of things, too.

IRW: Where would you like to see the business go in the next few years?

MA: There are plans to take it international, so that’ll be good. If we do that, it has to be franchised out to the right partner. For me, I’d really like to see the store concept evolve into that true football ecosystem, so media publications, YouTube, digital marketing – more than just a retail business. Some ideas we’re working on for the clubs are that they’ll order their kits from us, but rather than us being a supplier, we want to be their solution provider – we’d budget for them, communicate for them, execute the kit for them.

You look at guys like Google and Amazon, they started off doing one thing and now they’re an ecosystem of things. It’s got to go that way, or they’ll be superseded by something else.

IRW: How would you describe the current sports retail landscape?

MA: It’s going through an interesting change at the moment. There’s a lot of boring. I’d say 90 per cent of people in the sports retail industry don’t understand how quick it’s moving, hence why it’s become boring. There are some really good players in there and there are some unique opportunities popping up, like Sneakerboy and The Iconic – they understand what the consumer wants and they’re going there.

There are some serious challenges ahead for a lot of people. Global players are coming in too, so there are a lot of things happening at once. A lot of people don’t understand what Amazon is and how it’ll affect them. It’ll get to a point where there  will be global players and smaller players that absolutely master the category and are specialists. I think the industry is going through some pretty drastic changes.

A lot of businesses are probably looking at their business and going, ‘This is my retail space, I’m getting revenue from all these categories, so which one do I cut off?’ So they don’t know where to start.

Then the second part is a lot of people say they’re consumer-focused, but they’re not actually dialled into them. If your consumer is a 40-year-old mum, there’s nothing wrong with it and if you do it well, you’ll clean up. A lot of people don’t understand who their consumer is and for me, there’s no good or bad consumer. If you build a business for a 70-year-old grandpa, if you’re dialled into it, you’ll do well.

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