I like the way Decathlon has kind of ‘democratised’ sports’ goods in India. A recent news report backs it up. In a place like Pune, and not very long ago, things were somewhat different and not in a good sense. Allow me to be less euphemistic. Things were very different! Picture this: a handful of sporting goods outlets, with an irksome, proud and snobbish staff, blinded by the success that monopoly brought. This was in spite of having a limited variety, both in terms of the sports they cater for, and the goods they had for a given sport. I remember going to one of the immensely popular outlets — Champion sports — in the by-lanes of FC Road, and although I don’t remember what was I seeking, I do recall exiting the outlet in disgust and anger thanks to the bad taste in the mouth that the interaction had brought about.

Blurry flashback
I remember getting wowed while visiting Decathlon’s flagship store in Whitefield, Bangalore. It was an Alice in Wonderland-ish experience. Not only was I overwhelmed with the magnanimity of the store (we’re not used to Costco, you see), but also impressed by the range of sports that they seem to be supplying for. I remember having hoarded as much as I could — or let’s say as much as I could imagine being allowed in the budget flight that I had booked. Point being, everything seemed good enough for the given price! Plus, there was assistance only an ‘excuse me’ away — people who genuinely knew what they’re talking about — rather than trying to coerce you into buying something slyly!

Cut to 2019
Decathlon has dotted itself across India — from A-type to now B-type cities. At a store in Pune, I see people from almost all the strata of society happily letting their kids loose, while they pick things that they need or they think that they do. Luckily, at the given nominal price, they do not have to think a lot. Many are or are the kin of frequent and infrequent runners, cyclists or hikers — ‘active’ family members, if you please. Several amongst them are planning for their next big trek to the mountains. They seem calm while assessing the ‘technical clothing’, which would’ve otherwise costed around five to ten times more at Nike or Adidas or whatever outlets like Champion sports would’ve sold to them. Their kids play around in the whole store.

I happen to visit the store to return something I had bought about a month ago. Had it been another store, I would’ve had to plead not guilty — trying to prove that the product hasn’t been used, most probably in vain. The other party would have cited reasons like the ‘passing of the return window’, the ‘company policy’, ‘hygiene’, ‘alignment of the stars’, ‘because the final season of GoT sucked’, and what not! At this store, however, I do not have to justify anything, and I am happily handed over a return voucher, and given an option to get back my cash as well!

I wish that Decathlon India prospers also enters C-type towns as well as villages — where a plethora of talent has to still deal with cocky store owners, and make do with a dearth of variety and exposure.

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