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Hoosiers finally score one of Foot Locker's House of Hoops

May 21, 2011

No more sitting at the end of the bench, Indiana.

Foot Locker finally has decided to put one of its massive House of Hoops concept stores in the Hoosier state, at Greenwood Park Mall. The stores are more than three times the size of a standard Foot Locker and carry nothing but Nike basketball shoes and apparel.

Hoops boxFoot Locker teamed with Nike to open 27 of the hoops meccas in the United States, along with outposts in London, Paris and Barcelona, before it drew up a play to bring a House of Hoops to Indiana.

Has our hoops-loving state become a basketball backwater? Is John Starks running point at the New York-based chain?

Perhaps what sealed the deal was the Indiana Pacers’ feisty challenge to the Chicago Bulls and home-court playoff victory, a stronger postseason showing than the chain’s hometown New York Knicks.

But enough trash talk.

The new House of Hoops shop at Greenwood Park Mall is set to take about 5,800 square feet in the Sears hallway and go head-to-head with one of the top-performing locations for homegrown athletic retailer The Finish Line Inc., itself no slouch on sales of basketball gear.

The showcase for the basketball category should be a slam dunk in Indiana, driving store traffic and giving Nike an even higher profile among local hoops fans, said Bob McGee, the Boston-based editor of Sporting Goods Intelligence, an industry publication.

Basketball shoes could use a boost; they have come in second to running shoes in sales for years.

Nike dominates the basketball category, with a market share of about 95 percent.

“If you’re looking for a commodity basketball shoe, you’re probably not going to go to House of Hoops,” McGee said. “But if basketball shoes are your life, and you’re consumed by the sport, then House of Hoops is for you.”

The shop is planned for a space across the hall from Finish Line in the current home of Princess, which sells purses, jewelry and accessories.

House of Hoops could hurt Finish Line sales in the short term, but it shouldn’t inflict any real damage since the homegrown competitor’s “core competency” is premium running, said Christopher Svezia, a footwear and athletic retail analyst for Susquehanna Financial and based in New York.

Nike and Finish Line last year started the clock on their own partnership, a store-within-a-store concept called Nike Track Club. Finish Line chose its Greenwood Park Mall location to test the concept, which sells Nike running shoes and apparel and offers a T-shirt customization station.

Finish Line has opened Nike Track Clubs of varying sizes in 400 of its stores. Walls in the section are made of gymnasium bleacher planks, and customers sit on locker-room benches.

“It’s well-known that Nike keeps Finish Line cutting-edge on the running side while Foot Locker skews toward the basketball business,” Svezia said. “Basketball has seen a resurgence of late, and that gave Foot Locker the confidence to develop the concept with the support of Nike.”

Foot Locker launched the first House of Hoops store in 2007, in Harlem, New York, across the street from the legendary Apollo Theater.

The chain expects to open about 100 of the stores worldwide, Foot Locker CEO Kenneth C. Hicks told analysts at a consumer conference in New York in March, according to a transcript.

“It raises the total business,” Hicks said of House of Hoops. “It actually helps the store’s basketball business because you get more of that customer in, but it also helps the other parts of the business by taking some of the pressure off of basketball. You can have a better display of running or the classics.”

It wasn’t clear whether Foot Locker plans more House of Hoops stores for central Indiana, and company officials did not return phone messages.

The company does about $5 billion in sales annually, well ahead of Finish Line’s roughly $1.2 billion. Foot Locker has more than 3,500 stores to Finish Line’s 667.

Finish Line Spokeswoman Anne Roman said the company does not discuss moves by its competitors.•

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