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Barry Mellis
Q1 2018

New head of ASICS SA has a long term view

Having heard so much about the attractions of Cape Town from ASICS Europe head Alistair Cameron, Barry Mellis is very much looking forward to working in the country as general manager of ASICS SA. Words: Trudi du Toit.

New ASICS SA general manager Barry Mellis hit the Cape Town ground running — and he’s loving it. Just over a week after landing from the UK, he had already adapted to the bucket system that has become a way of life for water-conserving Capetonians; Brian Kerby has been introducing him to key accounts across the country; and he familiarised himself with the South African office and staff.

Despite this, he nevertheless agreed to make time for an interview with Sports Trader.

Mellis is impressed with the local team Kerby had assembled, which he describes as “passionate, knowledgeable and operating at a high level.” He is also pleased that the operating model and structures of the South African office are very similar to those he came to know in the UK and Europe.

Passionate is a word he often uses to describe the sports industry and the people who work in it, as in “I like to deal with passionate customers who live and breathe sports”. It is an exciting environment to work in and engage with people, he adds.

Mellis has more than three decades’ experience in the international branded footwear industry — which also includes a stint as general manager of the buying group Intersport.

Born in Scotland, but spending his working life in Yorkshire and the Midlands of England, Mellis started his career in sales at adidas UK in the early 1980’s.

During the following 19 years he worked his way up the adidas sales ladder from rep to the position of Head of Sales for the UK. “That was an exciting time to be involved in the sports industry,” he remembers. “There were no digital technology or mobile phones and people spent their money on buying apparel and trainers.”

Adidas’ strong soccer connections helped create a huge following for the brand in the UK and by the turn of the century the brand experienced a huge growth spurt.

After nearly twenty years with the brand, he joined New Balance in 2004 as UK Country Manager and later EMEA Sales Director. During this period he also worked with — and befriended — Alistair Cameron, who is now CEO of ASICS Europe.

Want to come to SA

Cameron’s fondness of South Africa is well-known, and although he was supposed to visit the local New Balance office as EMEA sales head, Mellis laughs that Cameron was always the one who somehow got to visit the Cape Town office.

In the intervening years Mellis had been able to see for himself why Cameron enjoyed these trips to South Africa so much, as he came here on holiday. His wife had also grown fond of the country during several independent visits. The couple therefore jumped at the opportunity to relocate to Cape Town when Barry was offered the position of general manager of ASICS SA.

“I always wanted to work abroad, but all the positions I occupied were in the UK,” he says. “Then this opportunity arose.”

He is taking a long-term view as he has been offered an indefinite contract and hopes to enjoy everything South Africa offers for years to come.

It was also a good time for them to move to another country, as their children are independent and they didn’t have to try and accommodate them in schools in a strange country.

Running a buying group

However, in between being responsible for sales in a country he never visited and actually moving to South Africa, Mellis had gained valuable work experience in the UK.

In 2009 he left New Balance EMEA to join the Intersport buying group as UK General Manager. It is the world’s biggest retail buying group, says Mellis, and it had 150 independent retail members in the UK and Ireland at the time. The members enjoyed the strong buying and marketing power the group offered, and also enjoyed the relief from admin headaches offered via centralised invoicing, etc.

This position gave him insight into the many problems experienced by independent retailers, for whom he expresses a fondness. “But, independent retailing can be very isolating,” he acknowledges.

Part of Mellis’ responsibilities was to grow the Intersport retail member footprint in the UK. “The Intersport brand has huge credibility,” he said at the time. “The potential for growth within Intersport UK is very exciting and I look forward to capitalise on this and to help current and new members increase their sales, profitability and competitiveness.”

But, a year later Cameron, who had since joined ASICS Europe as CEO and president, came knocking. He needed a replacement for the MD of ASICS in the UK and Ireland, who was leaving.

Joining ASICS

Mellis was at first reluctant to leave Intersport so soon after joining as he enjoyed the work very much. But, Cameron was persistent. And kept on being persistent. Plus, there was the lure of heading a leading sports brand like ASICS, and working with Cameron again. “I was being offered a dream job.”

When he agreed to take the position in the beginning of 2011, Cameron said “Barry brings a huge amount of sports retail and industry experience to the brand at a crucial stage in its development. ASICS UK is the fastest growing part of the ASICS European business and he will be responsible for maintaining brand growth and dynamism.”

Apart from running the UK office, one of his major achievements of the following six-year period was his part in the restructuring of ASICS in Europe and emerging markets and the introduction of the brand communication campaign I Move Me, says Mellis.

The object of the transformation plan was to modernise the brand, bring it closer to consumers and accelerate growth in the dynamic sport and lifestyle market.

After he had time to settle in, he will discuss the strategies in store for ASICS in South Africa, Mellis promises. We’ll report on that in the next issue of Sports Trader.

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