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Chelsea Collective

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Dick's Sporting Goods Is Secretly Trying to Sell You Athleisure

With Chelsea Collective, the sporting goods mainstay is dipping its toe into lifestyle boutiques

I assumed I would know every store in Tysons Corner Center, the Northern Virginia mall I’ve shopped at since I was a teenager. This fall, however, I walked by something new. From the window, I could see it was fitness apparel store like Lululemon or Athleta. But inside, next to the racks of Nike and Under Armour leggings were brands I’d only ever seen on the internet, like Alala, Lorna Jane, and Onzie.

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The fitting room had couches and a treadmill for shoe shoppers. There was even a beauty bar with Ren and Mario Badescu and gym bag-sized products. Cheerful employees wearing tank tops asked if I needed help with anything. It was an athleisure shopping wonderland.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Chelsea Collective (named after the NYC neighborhood) is an offshoot of decidedly un-boutique big box store Dick’s Sporting Goods. Dick’s opened two Chelsea Collectives in 2015, one in Tysons and one at Ross Park Mall in Pittsburgh, PA.

Image: Chelsea Collective

I caught up with shopper Maureen Costello outside the store one winter afternoon, and asked her if she knew Chelsea Collective was owned by Dick’s. "Not really, that’s awesome," she said. She was a return shopper, and that day she’d purchased a pair of printed Calia leggings with a coupon. She loves Lululemon, especially the tops, but she told me she didn’t always feel like spending $90 on black leggings. She liked the mix at Chelsea Collective too. "They’re trying to make it more boutique-y, but the prices are more reasonable," Costello said.

"Although Chelsea Collective is lineage of Dick's Sporting Goods, I feel there would be little to no indication the two had common roots. In other words, it feels like a boutique shopping experience," a Yelper writes.

"They’re trying to make it more boutique-y, but the prices are more reasonable."

It isn’t obvious for a casual shopper to tell that that Dick’s is connected to Chelsea Collective. But it seems the company sees women’s fitness apparel as a growth market, courting female shoppers just like Nike and Under Armour. In-mall lifestyle boutiques are one of the avenues they’re exploring.

"There was an extensive amount of research that went into who was this customer and what is she looking for," Kate Boyce, VP of women’s athletic apparel at Chelsea Collective, explains. "We wanted to make sure that when we opened the store we were answering what she told us what she wanted. What she told us loud and clear was that she loved, and I hate the word ‘athleisure,’ but she loved the trend and she lived in her workout gear. But she didn't feel there was really anyone who was answering the head-to-toe, who was offering her different aesthetics and designs for her multiple workouts, who really was offering multiple fits and an elevated experience. She really pointed out to a hole in the market and we feel it that Chelsea answers it."

Image: Chelsea Collective

There’s a reason Boyce hates that the word athleisure, by the way. "I think that's why I hate the word ‘athleisure,’ because I think it goes way beyond that. If fitness is a part of the consumer's lifestyle now, it’s not a trend, it's a part of who she is. We only see that growing," she said.

"[Athleisure] is not a trend, it's a part of who she is."

The multi-brand experience includes bringing in big brands like Nike, Patagonia, Calia by Carrie Underwood, and cult fitness brands like Spiritual Gangster.

Boyce explained that much of this is based on customer feedback, and the customer is excited to experience these brand in real life. "A lot of the names that she has heard, on fashion blogs or magazines, but that she's never had the opportunity to touch and feel the product," Boyce said, "And it's really made a difference."

Are customers surprised to discover that this boutique mall store is connected with Dick’s? "I think that she may be surprised but I think that it's a positive for her that Dick's is really focusing on her as a consumer and elevating her experience," Boyce said.

Image: Chelsea Collective

Retail analyst Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail, thinks what Dick’s is bringing to the table for Chelsea Collective is better left unsaid.

"They're trying to build a women's lifestyle brand retailer. I think they felt at least at this point in time, would be better built outside the auspices of the Dick's brand which tends to have a much more masculine image and also a much more mass, more popular-priced, utilitarian image," she said.

"Plastering Dick's all over doesn't give them any advantage."

"In reality, what they're bringing to this experience is not the Dick's brand but the knowledge that they have about women and exercise and lifestyle around fitness and health. Plastering Dick's all over doesn't give them any advantage, the advantage is what they know about that shopper from their stores and how can they translate that and an elevated experience around that into the store."

Liebmann thinks that Chelsea Collective creates more of an experience than just clothes shopping.

"But I think when you think about what made Lululemon so successful in the beginning, this community of like-minded souls, not just selling apparel and athletic wear. What they've done here is taken that and tried to really build on that by differentiating through the variety of brands, the services that they have, they also have the classes, which Lulu certainly does. You can get a bra fitting, they help you select the right shoes for whatever sport you're doing. I think even the way they've laid out the store, with the area for women to sit, hang out. It feels very lifestyle, a place you want to hang out with friends."

Image: Chelsea Collective

"I think [Chelsea Collective has] tried to create that, even the surprises around, they have personal care products, beauty products, juices, it really is a total ‘what do women want in that athleisure lifestyle today,’" Liebman said. "I think it's really interesting, I give them credit for what they've done. It will be interesting to see how it evolves."

The Chelsea Collective stores have been open for about six months now, and the company is focusing on those two shops while looking for opportunities for future markets for Chelsea Collective.

One interesting thing about the Chelsea Collective strategy: online shopping isn’t currently available. The only way to truly experience Dick’s Sporting Goods boutique-y athleisure vision is to visit these stores, Instagram the living plant wall, and shop the gym bag beauty bar for yourself.

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