The Oxylane group, (still) known as Décathlon, is one of the most innovative actors in sports, whether it is in designing, engineering and retailing great products that appeal to a large market. Led by designers such as Philippe Picaud, the French manufacturer and retailer not only innovates with very popular products, but they also succeeded in building private brands with a strong identity and high appeal. Today, “Oxylane’s global strategy is to open up the innovation process towards those who do sports and use all these products in their practice“, told me Sylvain Venant, Brand Innovation Manager for b’Twin (the cycling brand of Oxylane). A first step had been taken with the creation of a b’Twin Village in the north of France in November 2010: it’s a venue that could be described as a mixture between a shop, a design center and playing field, where customers meet and interact with product managers and designers (and, of course, salespeople!). Now, a second step is the opening of a dedicated co-creation space called b’Twin Lab.
With the launch of b’Twin Lab, Oxylane extends the co-creation logic to the virtual space. It’s actually a branch of the b’Twin Club, the company-initiated community of interest that gathers cyclist-enthusiast customers of Décathlon. With it’s social functionnalities, b’Twin Lab is meant to be a community website that allows users to contribute with ideas and to follow the company’s innovation activity via a page called Inno News. Sylvain Venant told me that “this website is a means to suggest improvements, to bring fresh ideas around cycling in general”, also saying that “for young design student, for example, it’s also a means do get noticed by the company“.
What it interesting on this website is that it’s challenge-based, which gives the site some kind of vitality and keeps it breathing (if challenges are interesting and up-to-date). The innovation manager highlights that diversity of challenges is key; currently online is one challenge that targets an audience of creatives (redesign of a RR8.1 mountainbike), the two others target more DIY-ers or savvy commuters (Riding under the rain and Carry with a bike). The currently submitted solutions are certainly not of that level, but it’s not the objective either. And it will take time to recruit and activate a living community, as always on this type of websites!
For now, participants mainly come from the already existing community-website b’Twin Club, the community of interest around cycling, which counts about 30,000 members according to Sylvain. But the new site is meant to attract a broader audience, thus being another virtual meeting space tp allow creative consumers or ingenious cyclists to get in touch with the company. “Oxylane already collaborates with people who come to us physically to share ideas; the platform is just another touchpoint that allows every user to exchange with us“, says Sylvain Venant. In a way, the company already uses Open Innovation; the website broadens this logic by offering a public engagement platform to co-create meaningful products – and services.
How does this fit into the group’s overall strategy (multiple brands, lots of stores, high design-emphasis etc.)? Sylvain Venant mentions that inter-brand initiatives had already been organized internally, inviting designers or engineers from other brands to think about b’Twin. He told me that this brought some very valuable insights and solutions, and I know that Oxylane is very proud of this innovative, in-house thinking. With this website, b’Twin is the very first brand of the group to open it’s design / innovation process to the outer world. According to Sylvain Venant, it’s only a first step towards a more ambitious co-creation strategy; not only could the b’Twin Lab be translated into other languages, but other brands could follow… So when will we see a Kalenji Lab (running), a Tribord Lab (sailing and water-sports) or a Quechua Lab (mountain-sports)?
PS: A big thank you to Sylvain Venant for his time and his insightful answers!