A French brand offers sports buffs a space to try out and buy all kinds of gear, from wristbands to trampolines

A little child skates past without a care in the world; another cycles in and out of the numerous bylanes; a third hops on an oxeloboard and shoots by, dodging one obstacle after another. While their parents shop, children check out the various goodies on offer at Decathlon, a French brand that has outlets across the world. It marks its entry into Tamil Nadu with a 22,000-sq ft store that celebrates sporting spirit in Neelambur (opp Le Meridien), in the city.

On weekends, the store, spread across four acres, resembles a carnival, with entire families descending here to catch a game of football or watch children take up skating lessons. Or, simply stand and stare at the mind-numbing variety of sports goods on display — from bicycles and tennis racquets to trekking equipment, riding gear and mountaineering aids…

People come in from as far away as Chennai to buy sporting gear. The store has something for everyone — from a pair of cotton socks or a water bottle to a trampoline. The face of the brand in the city is the store manager Antoine Algrain, a sportsperson himself.

An Indophile, he says he has the world’s best job — in a company he has grown up visiting, and in a country he loves. Every weekend, Antoine does something to inculcate the spirit of sport in a city known for its sporting heroes.

Last week, the store hosted about 20 autistic children. They played and had a whale of a time in the massive open space outside Decathlon. “That’s what sports is all about,” says Antoine. “I would like people to come and play and have fun. Shopping is incidental,” he adds.

Among the products that line the racks are light weight swimming towels in lovely hues, fitness wear, cycle spares, tiny dynamo-wound torches, sports shoes for games of every kind and level, golf sets, fishing equipment and archery sets. More than the big showpieces, the tiny ones impress. Like the cute smart phone arm band, or the pouch that can be attached to the arm or strapped over the shoes.

This way, a fitness enthusiast can carry some money or keys on his person without having to worry about it dropping it as he runs, says a salesperson.

Antoine says that in three months, the store has established a connect with the city, because people were already familiar with the brand. In the coming months, he has plans to make the store a happening sporting destination.

Touch and feel

People can handle the products before deciding to buy them. There are many changing rooms and the staff is helpful but unobtrusive. “That’s the French touch,” says Antoine. “It’s terrible to have to buy things you have not tried before. It’s nice to shop on your own; we have very helpful signage. But, you have access to help if you want.”