Think of the two new Sports Authority stores opening in the Baltimore area as Sports 'R' Us.
The typical sporting goods store ranges in size from 1,500 to 7,500 square feet. These each cover 40,000 square feet.
While grand openings are scheduled for next Thursday, the Glen Burnie store was opened quietly last Thursday, and a second store in White Marsh opens today. Each is next to an outlet of the Price Club, a membership warehouse shopping chain.
"Let's face it: A sports store really is a toy store for adults," said Jack Smith, founder and chief executive of the Sports Authority. The stores he has developed are supposed to overwhelm the customer with the availability of these toys. "You walk in, your eyes roam, you see nothing but merchandise."
Mr. Smith, who formerly ran the Herman's sporting goods chain, said that he began to pay attention to the mega-store idea when he saw the success of the Toys 'R' Us chain in the early 1980s.
He got investor backing for his idea in 1987 and opened his first store the same year. The key points the company stresses are: name brands only, huge assortment, everyday low price and customer service.
The large center of each store is open, filled with racks of sportswear. Around the perimeters are the hardware of sports -- tennis rackets, golf clubs, fishing poles, rifles, hunting bows, camping gear, bicycles and so on -- with each section marked by large banners overhead.
Like Toys 'R' Us and other mega-stores, Sports Authority pushes zTC a very large assortment of goods.
Each store, for example, carries 10,000 pairs of shoes in more than 500 styles, roughly 25,000 pieces of apparel, 164 types of baseball bats, more than 100 styles of tennis rackets and 30 different hunting bows.
Mr. Smith says his buyers are told to stay away from discontinued items, going only with each company's newest lines of merchandise. "We ask, 'What is your latest line?' And we buy everything he has."
As for service, there are 60 or more employees per store, and they are expected to spend much of their time helping customers find what they need and telling customers the technical points involved for each item.
Employees participate in year-round seminars to learn more about various sporting goods categories.
Mr. Smith offered this example of pricing: The average sports retailer, he said, might sell three name-brand tennis balls for a regular price of $2.79 and a sale price of $2.19 or $2.29.
"We're $1.96 every day of the week, all the time," Mr. Smith said. "You know you can come in today or next year, and they'll be that same price."
Mr. Smith and his investors sold the fast-growing chain in 1990 to K mart Corp., one of the largest retailers in the world. While known for its name-sake discounts stores, K mart has moved heavily into specialty retailing in recent years. It owns Walden Books, Pace Membership warehouses, Pay Less drug stores and Builders Square home-improvement stores.
The backing of K mart has allowed Sports Authority to expand at a feverish pace.
At the end of last year, the chain had 19 stores. By the end of this year, the total will be 36.
The company is opening nine stores this week: the two in Baltimore, one in Norfolk, Va., three in Phoenix and three in St. Louis.
"We're looking at the Baltimore market to be a five-store market for us," said Mr. Smith. He said that he is looking for store sites in Catonsville, Columbia and Owings Mills.
Before entering the Baltimore market, the company set up shop in Washington. It has stores at Potomac Mills, Greenbelt and Tyson's Corner and will open another in Rockville in November.