Our sports “startup” turns 44 years old

From 7 associates to over 100,000 today, Decathlon continues to be on a mission to make sports more accessible to everyone.

Our sports “startup” turns 44 years old

Today, Decathlon turns 44 years old. It was on July 27, 1976, that Decathlon first opened in Northern France, the realization of a dream to make sports more accessible to everyone with a full-scale retail store with “all sports under one roof.”

The idea was born out of a deeply-entrenched passion for sports. Decathlon’s founder, Michel Leclercq, together with a small team of entrepreneurs, wanted to create a place for people to get everything they needed to play sports in one place, at the best possible prices. In France and in most places around the world, this was an entirely new concept.

From that point to today, Decathlon has grown from one store in Lille, France, to over 1,600 stores in 70 countries around the world. And our team of 7 is now over 100,000. But the spirit of innovation continues, as does our mission to “sustainably make the pleasure and benefits of sports accessible to the many.” At Decathlon, we believe in the power of sports and in acting responsibly to preserve our planet for future generations.

Fun Fact: Decathlon first opened in the afternoon

When the doors of the store first opened, it was in the afternoon, giving the team time to play sports first. “Every chance we got we did sports together,” recalls Didier Decramer, a member of the founding team. “At the beginning we would only open the store in the afternoon; in the morning we would meet to play sports.” To best meet the needs of the sports community, Decathlon expanded hours to include mornings and weekends, but the dedication to sports and the sports community continued and is a core aspect of who we are at Decathlon today.

Why the name “Decathlon”?

To come up with a name for what became a global network of stores, Michel Leclercq decided to consult his associates. “We had one brainstorming session after another,” recalls Stanislas Ernoult. “We would share opinions and throw names around... Michel had a specialist join our meetings to guide us through our thinking process.” Pentathlon, Triathlon, Decathlon, Marathon, Sportland, Sportmarché, and a plethora of other ideas were discussed. “I think there were several dozen names considered; we took our time. In the end, Decathlon seemed to describe the top ten sports we wanted to feature in the store.” And so it was. “But to prevent a potential competitor from adopting any of the other names we had discussed down the road, we claimed exclusive rights over the others too!,” added Stan. But today, Decathlon remains the store name that has become synonymous around the world with “All sports under one roof.”

Designing and creating Decathlon products

Decathlon’s first “in-house” product, a bicycle, became available in 1986. It was the first product created by Decathlon under the “Decathlon” brand.

“At the beginning, manufacturers did not want to sell us their products,” recalls one of the founding team members, Benoît Poizat. “We covered every base and eventually, one by one, accepted.”

Faced with the initial refusal of the major manufacturers which were disconcerted by Decathlon’s reduced margins, Stéphane Delesalle, head of the first store’s cycling department, created a partnership with Leleu, a bicycle manufacturer in Lomme, near Lille, to produce bikes under the Decathlon brand.

2020 and Beyond 

Since then, Decathlon has expanded to have over 50 different in-house brands with teams of designers, product engineers and manufacturers to design, create and produce Decathlon’s products for over 80 different sports. This vertical integration means that Decathlon can make products available at the best prices with no crazy markups - supporting our ongoing goal of making sports and the outdoors more accessible to everyone.

The innovative spirit that was behind Decathlon’s first store continues to today. The team remains driven by the goal to create new products, to challenge the limits and further reduce barriers to entry in sports and be a main partner for all sports lovers.

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