With its variety of earthy landscapes, tropical flora and fauna, Malaysia is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. In fact, a growing interest in activities like camping, hiking, trekking and trail-running has spurred the growth of businesses for adventure products and merchandise. Meeting the demand for more footwear, clothing and equipment choices, Sports Direct Malaysia now offers a range of quality outdoor gear at appropriate prices. At a launch event at its flagship store in Petaling Jaya, the company announced its collaboration with outdoor brand specialist Hi Tec.

It’s a valuable partnership, says Sports Direct Malaysia managing director Paul Gibbons. “The Hi Tec performance brand complements our extensive range of rucksacks, walking boots, backpacks, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, tents, outdoor clothing, camping equipment, trail running shoes and everything else customers could possibly need for an outdoor adventure.”

Hi Tec, founded in England in 1974 with its HQ in the Netherlands, has been operating in the United States since 1978. Hi Tec Asia Pacific sales and marketing director Steven Rogers says that the company understands the needs of its customers.

“The average person spends 90% of life and their time indoors, and yet there’s a beautiful world outside. So, one of our goals is to get more people outdoors,” he tells us. “The big thrust in our marketing is to have an annual outdoor day in every country, to get new people into the great outdoors. Not everyone stays but many do. The outdoor family is growing.”

Sports DirectHe adds that, “People have been educated by big brands that they need specialist footwear for every sport. But some shoes can be multi-functional. Besides wearing them outdoors or at the gym, you can wear them to a bar, shopping malls, or other urban environments.

“We have a whole category of products called Outdoor Crossover. It uses materials and colours from the outdoors and it is excellent for trails. But it is equally suitable in an urban environment.”

While showing off mid-sole samples (the layer of material between the inner and outer soles of a shoe), Rogers explains, “Hi Tec uses a unique new foam that is 80% lighter, gives 54% more rebound and 26% more shock absorption than traditional athletic and outdoor mid-soles.”

As a business, Rogers points out that Hi Tec sells in over 110 countries and that the company is worth US$750mil (RM3bil). It’s No.2 in the outdoor footwear global market, but the gap is closing. “In the US, every other outdoor shoe under US$100 (RM400) purchased is a Hi Tec,” he declares.

Gibbons is equally proud of Sports Direct’s operations, particularly their latest flagship outlet which opened in July 2018. “This is our 29th store in Malaysia, and we’ve been in Malaysia for almost nine years.” he says.

“In the last three to four years, we really scaled the business to where we got larger stores and more brands. This is in collaboration with our sister company, MST Golf, to bring the largest retail sports environment in Malaysia, almost 3,902sq m under one warehouse roof.”

Talking about size, Gibbons adds that, “As a group, we’ve got MST Golf, Sports Direct and a number of affiliated companies, which gives us close to 70 stores and about 1,000 employees.” Also, the flagship store carries about 72 brands that cover a wide array of sports.

He’s so confident that he doesn’t view other major sports outlets in Malaysia as rivals. “We’re very transparent in our business and don’t see them as competition. Some are good as an entry level into sports, like when people buy their first pair of unbranded shoes,” he says.

“But we have discovered that when people really get into sports, they want brand association. Whether it’s running or soccer, there are brands that specialise in particular sports, and those are the ones we partner with.”

Sports Direct

The latest Hi Tec waterproof hiking shoes. .

How did Sports Direct get into the outdoor business? “The outdoor category in Malaysia and across Asia is booming. People want to get fit, they want to go outside, they want their kids to stop gaming indoors and get some fresh air,” Gibbons explains.

“We have such a unique topography in Malaysia and South-East Asia in terms of height and length, the trail running, the jungle tracks that people can experience. And part of that, we hope, starts with us when they come to get the right gear.”

Their partnership with Hi Tec should secure that hope. “From the equipment you see, whether it’s sleeping bags, tents, hiking, camping or trail running, we’re expanding in the outdoor business. What we needed was a brand that’s an expert in the outdoors,” Gibbons says.

“That’s when we went to Hi Tec and said, ‘We have some good brands but we need a bona fide outdoors company. We’d really like to retail and handle the Hi Tec business (which has been around 44 years) for Malaysia and Singapore.’”

Gibbons also revealed that future plans include five more stores in Malaysia – two in Selangor, one in KL and one in Johor.

“There are negotiations for more Sports Direct stores,” he says. “Eventually, you’ll see about 40 stores around the country.” He added that apart from the retail outlets, those who prefer shopping online can get their kits and gear at sportsdirect.com.