'Premium brands deserve premium distribution partners'

'Premium brands deserve premium distribution partners'
Igor Doležal, majority owner and Marek Doležal, CEO Aspire Sports. - Photo Forbes

Have you ever fully considered the business potential that Central Europe has to offer in terms of the cycling industry? To be specific, let us talk of the Polish, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian markets. We interviewed Marek Dolezal, the CEO of Aspire Sports - a constantly evolving company and one of the most recognisable distributors of cycling and sports equipment for this region.

Can you please briefly describe the region, its size, business, challenges and the potential that lies there?

“Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are often very underestimated regions. Yet they have more than 65 million potential customers for whom the bicycle is perceived not only as a means of transport. Over the past decade, cycling has grown to be the most popular leisure activity here.

We estimate the business potential for the already established premium brands at 5 to 6% of their total global turnover. This figure will be much higher for smaller brands or brands operating only in the European market.

However, it is not easy to exploit the full potential of these regions. The strategies most brands have for each country tend to be fragmented and they often face different qualities of the distribution partners they have in various countries. Four countries mean four languages, four currencies, four VAT rates, different mentalities, different strength of sales channels, etc. These are the main issues that significantly limit exploiting the potential in this part of the world.

Tell us a little about Aspire Sports, your strategies and the brands you represent?

Aspire Sports is the only comprehensive, independent multi-brand distributor operating in the full territory. Since 2010 Aspire Sports has executed a strategy of building a unified Central European distribution and wholesale concept. In other words, building a solid partnership with some premium brands.

The company currently distributes more than 20 of them. Among others, it represents brands such as Cannondale, SRAM, RockShox, Zipp, GT Bicycles, Maxxis, Mavic, Michelin, Osprey, Uvex, Peaty's and others. Aspire Sports takes care of more than 3,000 retail partners in every conceivable segment as brick-and-mortar, online, outlets, wholesalers, sports chains.”

What is your short-term business target?

“By 2023 Aspire Sports is targeting a turnover of €100 million.”

How do you manage to operate in such a vast and diverse region with so many strong brands, many of them technically demanding?

“We have a strong team of 60 professionals who are linguistically equipped to service all four markets. We operate from a state-of-the-art warehouse, office and showroom space of more than 10,000 m2. The company also has sufficient financial backing to enable us to purchase goods on time and in sufficient quantity.

Since we work with credit insurance companies, we can provide financing to our business partners without substantial risks. We have service and technical facilities that can carry out thousands of warranty and post-warranty operations annually. We have an independent authorized service centre in Poland and we are about to open one in Hungary as well. We also provide special training programs for dealers - both technical and commercial. Our business leans on a multilingual online B2B platform and daily business-and-technical support provided by native speakers.”

Do you still see any space for growth?

“We are still not finished! We feel strong enough to complete our portfolio with brands filling the missing segments and thus reach more customers in our region. The only way is up!

Just within this year, despite the significant pandemic and other associated issues, we managed to acquire, implement into our portfolio and successfully develop the distribution of five new brands. Of course, covering all the four countries we operate in. Since all these brands made the first step to approach us it proved to us that there is a certain quality and valuable know-how we can offer.

I am proud to say that the multi-brand and multi-region concept works perfectly. It works for Aspire Sports suppliers and it works for our customers, for whom it simplifies and cheapens the purchase. It also works for the company and our employees.”

Has your strategy changed in any way over the years? Will we hear more about Aspire Sports in the future?

“In the past, we very much focused on building the stable position of our partners' brands. We have always been looking for ways to increase sales and to meet the needs of both our customers and suppliers. Our marketing strategy just reflected the needs of the brands we represent. We did not seriously consider taking other brands on board. Moreover, we did not invest in building the Aspire Sports brand itself as we wanted to stay in the background.

Later we realised that although we had experienced great success with our current brands, there was still plenty of room in our portfolio in terms of complexity. So, the time has come when we would like to provide additional offers to our customers and cover a much larger range of products.”

How do you deal with the current rather unclear market situation? Where is Aspire Sports heading in the future?

“The current health and supply chain crisis is a game-changer. We all have to adapt to the new conditions and standards, whatever it means. Current and future challenges will continue to form the market. Only the strong ones will remain, no matter whether you talk about brands, distributors, or retailers. We are sure we are one of the future winners.

In addition, another of our prospects also includes potential expansions to other markets. Presently we are developing a partnership with one of the key players in Romania.

We also changed our original company motto “Your Central European Partner” to more emblematic “Premium Brands Deserve Premium Distribution Partners”. We think it’s self-explanatory and we feel it provides a clear and sharp description of what Aspire Sports is like.”

This article is sponsored by Aspire Sports.