Unlimited Sports Group (USG), the leading Dutch sports retailer and wholesaler, is spreading throughout Europe at breakneck speed. The company recently revealed that it is branching out northward with the extension of its licensing deal with Le Coq Sportif, like the one it has with Pantofola d'Oro, and southward with the acquisition of Valsport in Italy and the opening of a south European office.
With a turnover estimated to have landed in the range of €300 million last year, the Dutch group's expansion is an unparalleled example of vertical, horizontal and geographic concentration in the European sports and footwear distribution and retail sector – and it's been happening fast, with an almost uninterrupted string of retail and wholesale investments in the last five years.
The USG group's international sales are to going be coordinated by Ortwin Dellevoet, former head of international sales at Crocs Europe. He joined at the end of last year.
USG already has licensing and distribution deals with a flurry of international brands, from Diadora to Pantofola d'Oro, Champion, Ellesse, Under Armour, Le Coq Sportif, Helly Hansen, Admiral, Cars footwear and more. Last year USG's shareholders acquired Tenson, a Swedish outdoor brand. The company also has several private labels for its large-scale retail business, consisting of 271 stores under the Perry Sport, Aktie Sport and Time Out banners in the Netherlands, and Primo in Belgium.
Kicking off the year in the same acquisitive mood, USG bought the global trademarks and intellectual property of Valsport from the Valle family in Italy, which will remain involved. The takeover, which became effective at the start of the year, is meant to complement USG's offering at the high to premium end of the market.
Valsport, which was established in Padua in 1920, well ahead of Diadora or Lotto, describes itself as the first Italian company ever to have specialized in the design and manufacturing of sports apparel, footwear and accessories. It once had significant international reach, but this has been pared down and will have to be rebuilt by USG. Most recently, the brand was licensed by the Valle family to another company, Ades, which is now closing down. It had been developing a range of sports-inspired vintage clothing and footwear, sourced in Taiwan and using Italian design and materials.
Valsport's takeover comes as USG continues to invest in infrastructure and teams for its expansion into southern and northern Europe. USG's intentions to spread rapidly around Europe transpired last year when it obtained a much-widened licensing deal for the Three Star range of Pantofola d'Oro, the Italian footwear brand, covering not only the Benelux countries and Germany but also Scandinavia, Finland, the U.K., Ireland, Switzerland, France and Turkey.
For Pantofola d'Oro, the licensing agreement with USG is a golden opportunity. In the last year, even before its extension to the Scandinavian region, it represented about half of the total sales of €20 million generated by this former Italian brand of football shoes, which is now, like Valsport, mostly leisure-oriented.
The group has long had offices in Germany, which enabled it to obtain licenses in the country with Helly Hansen and Le Coq, among others. A few weeks ago, USG opened a Swedish subsidiary in Varberg to cover the Nordic region. It is headed by Anders Carlsson, the former vice president in charge of international sales at Vagabond. And the USG group is now preparing to do just the same in southern Europe, with a regional manager to be hired and an office to be opened in Milan in the coming weeks.
This Italian office will cover Italy, Spain and Portugal, and USG will have separate units for France and Turkey. Furthermore, it is likely that the company will open an office for an Area Wes t, to cover the U.K. and Ireland, although it is open to hybrid agreements for these countries. The area managers will be reporting directly to Michel Escribano, managing director of USG Brands, the wholesale arm of the group.
The Nordic office will be busy since USG and Le Coq have announced a new license for Austria, Scandinavia and Finland. USG has outstandingly built up Le Coq in the Netherlands and Belgium in the last decade. It then obtained rights for Germany, which have now been extended farther north. The brand had not been distributed consistently in these countries for some time.
It remains to be seen if the group's expansion on the wholesale side will be accompanied by more acquisitions in foreign retailing. In the meantime, USG brands has recruited Martijn Cornelissen as manager of its internet division to support the company's ambitions in e-commerce. He previously ran his own internet business. The group is already active online, but the new manager's focus is to roll out USG's online presence, making use of its different brand names (more in Sporting Goods Intelligence Europe).