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Chinese Sports Retailer ‘Li Ning’ Expands into Canada with 1st Storefronts

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China’s premier sports brand Li-Ning has launched its first retail showrooms in Canada featuring world-class specialty racket and paddle sport equipment, shoes, and apparel in Ottawa and the Greater Toronto Area. 

“We’ve been working with the Li-Ning headquarters in Beijing, China for about eight years and it has been an extremely positive experience,” said Len Carter, president of LN Distribution Inc.,which has brought the brand to Canada. “Li-Ning is a leader as a company and brand because the people are progressive and easy to work with and in the wake of global political divergences, we are merging cultures and countries through the cooperation of sport.”

Before the launch of the retail showroom expansion, Li-Ning products were available online and through a carefully selected network of specialty dealers throughout Canada via a distribution and licensing agreement with official partner and distributor, LN Distribution Inc. 

PHOTO: LI-NING

The showrooms are located in Burlington, Ontario and inside Ottawa’s RA Centre.

Li-Ning is the Chinese leader in athletic apparel and footwear, rooted in the vision of its founder and namesake, the champion gymnast, Li Ning.

On its website, the company says it was founded in 1990 with the simple goal of providing Chinese athletes a national brand to wear on the world stage of the Olympics.

“This modest intention has, almost 30 years later, led to the rise of a global sports pioneer that resides at the forefront of 21st–century design and technology while remaining grounded in its own heritage. Li-Ning explores the tensions between past and future, man and nature, flexibility, and strength. Yet it is ultimately driven by the boundless potential of the human body,” it says.

“As a world-class gymnast with 106 gold medals, Mr. Li is testament to the possibility of the human body. His most singular achievements include winning six out of seven gold medals at the Sixth World Cup Gymnastic Competition in 1982, which earned him the nickname ‘The Prince of Gymnastics’. In 1984, Mr. Li won three gold medals, two silver, and one bronze to become the most honoured athlete at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, held in Los Angeles. In 1999, the World Sports Correspondent Association named him among the ‘World’s Most Excellent Athletes’ of the 20th century. More recently, Mr. Li lit the torch at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, held in Beijing.”

IMAGE: LI-NING

Carter said, “in our world he would be the Wayne Gretzky of China.”

“They do a couple of billion dollars in sales in China and badminton which is a primary sport in Asia is about 10 per cent of their business. In North America, I was at the right place at the right time because I’m a former national champion when they were trying to expand in North America and they actually set up a subsidiary that didn’t work out. It landed on my lap and what we did is develop the badminton category in the United States and Canada, heavily skewed to online and then threw in some specialty pro shops and dealers and whatnot. Because Li-Ning also does table tennis and table tennis is China’s national sport, we got into that. And because pickleball is played on a badminton size court with every bit of badminton equipment except the racket – it’s a paddle and a ball – we expanded into pickleball,” he said.

“Because we were able to get those three sports going, it began to make sense for us to open various strategic small specialty paddle and racket sport retail stores the first two being in Ottawa and Burlington.”

PHOTO: LI-NING (ASIAN STORE)

The Ottawa store is now open with the Burlington store set to open on November 23 about 300 metres from the company’s distribution centre.

“Now we’re raising the bar and we’re putting in some brick and mortar where everybody else is pulling back from it,” said Carter.

Burlington is being set up as the franchise development centre – the prototype showroom where it will sell all of the other locations from. It will provide the operations, sales and marketing training.

PHOTO: LI-NING (BEIJING, CHINA)

“Once we have that cemented then we are going to reach back around to the universe and we’re going to solicit the sale. I believe we have 13 additional markets identified to open in Canada and once we finish that we’ll turn our attention to the United States,” said Carter.

LN Distribution Inc is an official distributor of Li-Ning sporting good products for the United States and Canada. It is located in Burlington with a state-of-the-art distribution facility Carter said is perfectly positioned to service Canada’s heavily populated Windsor to Quebec City corridor and is directly on the Buffalo, N.Y. and Detroit, Michigan shipping routes.

The company began distributing Li-Ning sporting goods in the fall of 2012. 

According to the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, cites LN Distribution, approximately 50 per cent of Canada’s world immigration has come from Asia since the turn of the millennium – with the majority coming from China, where Li-Ning is the official brand of many Olympic teams and athletes making the Li-Ning brand a household name for many new Canadians.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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