City Sports Raises Focus on Kids

City Sports is making a bigger play for the children’s business.

The Boston-based specialty sporting goods retailer has expanded its CS Kids offering, first introduced in 2011, to six more of its locations, including Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass.; Georgetown in Washington, D.C.; and 50 Broadway in New York. With the wider rollout, children’s merchandise is now featured in 14 of the chain’s 23 doors.

“Expanding our youth selection was a natural progression. We’re already serving the athletic moms and dads, and are working with vendors that have a strong kids’ business, so it makes a lot of sense for us to be in the category,” said Karin Piscitelli, director of marketing, noting the retailer’s children’s business has experienced double-digit growth since its launch. “We’ve seen the value in catering to the athletic family, rather than just the adult athlete, [with] one-stop shopping.”

Piscitelli said frequent requests from customers first prompted City Sports to begin testing youth product two years ago in key suburban doors in Wayne, Pa.; Silver Springs, Md.; and Wellesley, Mass. “We launched during the holiday season in 2011, and the returns [on investment] were pretty immediate,” she said. “It was very apparent we had a real opportunity.”

Although Piscitelli acknowledged there is significant competition in the kids’ athletic arena, she said City Sports fills a niche. “On one side, you have the big-box sporting goods retailers, and they certainly cater to families and do it well with their vast selection. But they can’t rival our customer service. Then you have the specialty running shops, but it’s very rare to find a kids’ footwear offering from them. So we have a great little niche we can address. That’s why we believe the kids’ business is such a lucrative one for us to get into,” she explained.

City Sports’ footwear mix for children features core athletic brands including Nike, Asics and Saucony; outdoor styles from Keen and Sorel; soccer and baseball cleats; and a small selection of lifestyle-driven looks from Toms Shoes, Ugg Australia, Chooka, Crocs and Converse.

“Our kids’ assortment follows our adult assortment,” said Brian Trask, footwear category manager. “We look first at the technical side and those key running takedowns. Then we look at other sports and lifestyle brands we already do a pretty big business with and bring them down into youth [sizes].”

The youth apparel selection includes performance wear from Under Armour, Nike, Patagonia, Asics and The North Face. Rounding out the offering is a wide range of sports equipment, including shin guards, soccer balls, baseball gloves and swim goggles. “With our footwear, apparel and hard goods, it’s a three-divisional approach, so we can cover kids head to toe for sports,” Trask noted.

In select locations, licensed local school gear is available, which helps draw families into the stores and boosts sales.

Adam Peake, SVP of U.S. sales for Under Armour, said City Sports’ strong emphasis on merchandising should provide an edge in the category. “[The retailer] provides a high level of service and merchandising in-store, allowing [us] to tell our stories around new products and innovations. We have so many features and benefits that we put into our kids’ products that the stories must be told in-depth. City Sports helps us do that,” Peake said.

The chain also brings an expertise in sit-and-fit service to its kids’ departments. “Our sales associates are highly trained across all categories,” Piscitelli said. “We do gait analysis, although with kids, it’s a bit different because they haven’t grown into their gait yet. But if a mom comes in and says, ‘My child may be having shin split issues,’ we can point her to the right footwear that might alleviate that. So it’s just adapting our ‘Find Your Fit’ service to kid-specific needs.”

To market its youth offerings, City Sports is making a major social media push, targeting mom- and family-focused blogs. Another big advertising initiative is planned for the spring, when children will be gearing up for a new sports season. The chain also is exploring hosting grassroots events for kids, including races and clinics on topics such as injury prevention and sportsmanship.

With the continued growth of the category, Trask said City Sports will look to broaden its youth assortment with additional brands and sizes. He added there is strong potential to roll out CS Kids departments chainwide in the future. “Kids’ is definitely a significant growth opportunity for us,” he said. “We will continue to analyze the metrics and see where we can take the business.”