At Decathlon, innovation is created in a collaborative spirit. In April 2014, the French sports equipment giant created an online co-creation platform whereby web surfers, whether or not they’re customers of the retailer’s various brands (Quechua, Domyos, Kalenji, b’Twin, etc.), can submit ideas for products that may later be sold. A year and a half later, the Alive by Decathlon space opened its doors in Villeneuve d’Ascq in Northern France. At this dedicated 600m² experimentation space, customers, employees and partners can have exclusive sneak previews of products or take part in creative workshops.
We found out more about Decathlon’s innovation approach from Vincent Textoris, founder of the Decathlon Création platform and Vincent Ventenat, the group’s Innovation Director and head of the Alive project.
Vincent Textoris has worked for Decathlon since 2006. A biomechanical research engineer by training, he is passionate about designing innovative products.
Vincent Ventenat joined Decathlon 13 years ago. After spending time with the group’s research and production departments, he is now in charge of deploying innovation worldwide.
Decathlon Création: getting customers’ input
Over 11,000 members have joined the Decathlon Création platform. Whilst most of the users are French, many are from the 12 countries in which the project has been rolled out.
4 languages are spoken on the website and instantly translated by an automatic program. Textoris believes it’s essential that everyone be able to express themselves in their own language.
The community of users is invited to take an active part in the creation process. To submit an idea, it’s very simple: just set up an account – essential so that people can know who is behind each project – then enter a description, possibly with an illustration or video.
Example of an idea submitted via the platform
Once in the “suggestions box” the person’s idea – whether it’s a scooter that can do flips, a tabard-holder for running races or a connected device that can measure a child’s thermal comfort – will stay on the site for 30 days. Users can view it, comment on it, or challenger the person who posted the idea. Members can also vote for the ideas they like (or not, as the case may be!)
After 30 days, the projects that have garnered more than one hundred positive votes are shortlisted and their inventors get to meet Decathlon’s design team, either in person at their head office or via videoconference. The project initiator then has the opportunity to talk in more detail about the idea and how it came to him/her, describe any difficulties encountered and explain why he/she wants to work with Decathlon. The group or brand then decides whether or not to adopt the idea. If they do, the inventor and the whole community are involved throughout the project: specifications, design, technical solutions and prices, everything is done collaboratively, with assistance from Decathlon’s technical experts, until a functional prototype is made (which will not necessarily be subsequently sold).
Around ten projects are currently in progress, ranging from a child bike seat that converts into a pushchair to a route-planning app for joggers.
But a number of projects are also dreamed up by the group’s own brands, which launch challenges to the community. A number of products devised as a result of these calls for project proposals are already on the shelves, such as a spherical torch that can be plugged into various Decathlon items or limited-edition footballs.
In total, six people are working on the platform. Whilst Vincent Textoris comes from a design background, he’s surrounded by communication specialists and a “happy member manager” who runs the website and makes sure there are no user issues. And both online and during the face-to-face meetings, the atmosphere is informal, with everyone on first-name terms. This is not so much because of the age of the contributors – most of them are fairly young, but there are some older members – but with the aim of creating a positive dynamic.
“Submitting an idea to someone creates a bond”, explains Vincent Textoris. You need to trust the person you’re submitting to and being on first-name terms establishes familiarity and light-heartedness in the communication. You have to be strict and disciplined when running the projects, but that doesn’t mean you take yourself too seriously!”
greater flexibility and agility to innovate better
Decathlon decided to ask for users’ input because they wanted to deal with innovation in a more concrete, direct way, away from the research centres and their complex industrial divisions.
“When I was head of innovation at the Decathlon research centre, every time I talked about my job, people said they had an idea and just pitched it to me,” remembers Vincent Textoris. “And yet, internally, it was always the same people around the table.”
So, how do you give these creative users the chance to express themselves? “The project came about in 2008/09, just when Facebook was starting to take off. We realised that digital tools would enable us to communicate very fast, with all sorts of people all over the world.”
On 1st April 2014, the Open Oxylane (Decathlon’s former name) platform was launched, initially only in English, with a view to expanding it internationally. After a year’s experimentation and continual improvements, on 1st April 2015 it was rechristened Decathlon Creation and underwent a complete facelift to better address users’ needs.
Alive by Decathlon: supporting the innovation drivers
The user is also the main focus of the Alive (All Living Innovation Values Every day) project. In a dedicated area on its “campus” in Villeneuve d’Ascq, the whole approach is centred on people, with the aim of creating the ideal conditions for innovation to thrive and thus help spread the culture of innovation across the company.
The venue was created as part of a joint effort by all the key innovation players: IT, HR, the business lines and the support functions were all asked to give their feedback and any solutions they had to offer. “We asked them how they would like to use this space, what sort of activities should be organised there and the sort of atmosphere they would like,” Vincent Ventenat, Innovation Director and head of the Alive space, which is currently being rolled out in Italy, and soon in Spain and China.
Assisted by his team of six people, Ventenat set up the project, startup-style, in two and half months. The 600m² former store was remodelled in a spirit of openness – both in terms of the physical space and the mindset. The motto of the place?
“To innovate, you shouldn’t wait until everything is perfect.”
Alive is used as a venue for workshops designed to introduce new working methods to the group. “It’s all about exploration,” explains Vincent Ventenat. “The aim is to enable the company to stay one step ahead. We’re not really concerned with improving products: we explore areas that can give us ideas that can create value.” To do so, the Innovation Director applies a test & learn approach: “You make mistakes then recover and thus put the teams on the right track.”
introducing new methods within the organisation
“We deal with organisational and human issues,” explains Vincent Ventenat. To do so, he uses methods such as Lego Serious Play. But whilst the Alive space is used for experimenting, the new methods are deployed internally: “As soon as we’ve tested something and found a new method that works, the network takes over and rolls it out across the company. Our job is to offer employees new tools.”
The change management workshops can accommodate up to 80 people from different countries: “Every time the teams come, they’re delighted. That gives us the energy we need to keep helping them.”
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With Decathlon Creation, meanwhile, Vincent Textoris is also involved in internal processes and says that, whilst he has come across some resistance from certain people – after all, it’s not easy being challenged by “laymen” when you’re an expert on something – the project has now been positively received: “Employees see the advantage of having real-time feedback from customers and future users. Trust is created and more and more projects are implemented by the brands.”
Textoris continues: “With hindsight, we’ve realised that the most interesting thing we create is the relationship with the people who take part in the creation process, even though that wasn’t the initial objective. Customers become ambassadors for the brand and a bond is created, which makes the company seem more human.”
Alive is often the physical reflection of the test processes resulting from Decathlon Creation, because the space enables people to give feedback and suggestions. Users can attend workshops or experiment with concepts that haven’t yet been rolled out in the store. “We want to get a head-start and we take risks,” explains Vincent Ventenat. “With these tests, we can find out whether the risk is successful or not.”
At Villeneuve d’Ascq, customers can experiment with smart mirrors, which enable them to try on different colours of a clothing item without changing, or changing rooms that can take measurements. “We work with them to develop the in-store experience,” says Vincent Ventenat. “We create new layouts and scenarios which enable us to try out physical behavioural dynamics – something you can’t do on a digital platform. So the two projects complement each other.”
Alive is a system that’s open to teams, users, but external partners too. A lot of companies provide furniture, come and co-build the store space or use indoor tracking systems to improve the customer experience. “Our partners have access to various simulations, real, not theoretical, whereas we can actually change the space,” says the Innovation Director. If it works, they replicate the experience: for example, the touch screens that were tested at the Alive opening event have now been deployed in other departments of the company in order to test it more extensively.
And every three months, everything changes: “We want to push back the boundaries so the company can move forward fast, whilst remaining relevant.” Decathlon’s secret to successful innovation? “You have to trust your employees and give them the means to pursue their ideas and be daring”, concludes Vincent Ventenat.
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