Mike Cox: We have a fantastic and passionate Liverpool fan base in Malaysia

Mike Cox, Liverpool FC's Director of Merchandising, talks to FFT's Darren Goon about the recently opened official LFC store at Lot 10 Shopping Centre and the club's partnership with Warrior Sports...

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84,000 fans, mostly clad in red, filled the Bukit Jalil Stadium in July 2011 as a Malaysian XI celebrated Liverpool’s first ever visit to our shores with a nine-goal thriller.

Fast forward three years to September 26th, a wee fraction of that number queued for hours along the entirety of Lot 10 Shopping Centre’s third floor, recently renamed the “Lot 10 Sports Hub”, for the official launch of the Liverpool FC Store, the club’s seventh official store but crucially, its first standalone retail outlet outside of the United Kingdom.

Fowler didn't walk alone

A replica of the club’s famous Shankly Gates was erected in front of the store’s entrance, and the task of unlocking those gates fell to “God” himself, Robbie Fowler. The legendary Liverpool striker turned the key and officially opened the store, ushering the red tide in as “You’ll Never Walk Alone” blared from speakers above.

Local Liverpool-supporting celebrities and Malaysian footballers S. Subramaniam and Syed Adney Syed Hussein (a Liverpool-born Red) were in attendance, while Liverpool were notably represented by Fowler and their Director of Merchandising, Mike Cox, whom FourFourTwo managed to talk to about his role at the club, the new store, and well, merchandise.

“We have a fantastic and passionate fan base in Malaysia, and we were able to find this location with our partner, Stream Enterprise,” said Cox when quizzed on why Liverpool chose to open its first international store in Kuala Lumpur. The club’s KL store pipped its second international store by a week – Liverpool’s new Republic of Ireland retail outpost in Dublin’s Ilac Shopping Centre was opened on October 3rd.

"I like this. Give me 100."

Cox went on to explain that the store concept used by Liverpool at its new Lot 10 outlet is a replica of the new retail concept the club are implementing in the UK. As such, this store will look very much like the one in Dublin and the other stores that they updated recently, featuring similar design motifs and colours, so fans that step into an official Liverpool store anywhere in the world will have the same experience as stepping into the one right beside Anfield.

The content available at the KL store will also match the authentic products offered at other Liverpool retail outlets. “There will be a selection of lifestyle, fan wear, apparel, replica jerseys, souvenirs, accessories, back-to-school items, so it’s very similar to what we have in the UK,” said Cox.

Underlining Liverpool’s support of their new international store, Cox confirmed that the club will likely be localising products for the Malaysian market. “I’m not sure what we’ve got coming, but we’ll work with our local partner here to produce products that are more locally-relevant in terms of design, colour, style, product specifications, and price points, so that we’re meeting the needs of the local fan versus the expectations of a UK one,” he said. 

Liverpool’s partnership with Warrior Sports

In January 2012, Liverpool announced that they had sealed a sponsorship deal with Warrior Sports worth £150 million over six seasons. It was the highest sponsorship deal in the Premier League at the time and second-highest in the world, behind Barcelona’s deal with Nike.

The Guardian reported: “With Warrior, Liverpool will control all non-branded merchandising – products outside the usual kit range – and are free to open club stores wherever they choose. That is not the case under adidas, who control Liverpool's kit supply and the sale of non-branded merchandise.”

Cox expanded on that statement, saying: “From a merchandising perspective, the way we operate with Warrior and adidas is quite different; we have different legal rights that are allowing us to open stores around Asia. What you find in football nowadays, it’s dependent on the club and the way they negotiate different rights. We negotiated to bring certain rights back in-house to allow us to bring products direct from the club to fans.

“The club have gone through a lot of change over the last few years. We now have a very strong ownership that is investing in the club both at both player and business levels. We’ve put global strategies in place across the club. When merchandising comes to Malaysia, it’s not just merchandising; it’s how we interact with our sponsors, our partners, soccer schools, social media, so it’s a very cohesive approach, whereas two years ago, we were probably not in the same position.”

Cox also dismissed the notion that Warrior, a relatively new brand to football at the time, and Liverpool had to undergo a steep learning curve regarding their newfound control over merchandising. “Warrior are part of New Balance, and they have a lot of experience and expertise within their team. Likewise, Liverpool have a lot of experience with merchandising, so there was a meeting of minds, and the challenges were probably no different from what you’d expect from any other club or brand.”

He added: “The Warrior team have been working very closely with the LFC merchandising team and the commercial team, and sometimes you benefit from working with a smaller group of people. The key advantage is that you’re working with a group of like-minded people, and when you’re working with a smaller group, you tend to get decisions made faster.”

Liverpool are the first football club to be sponsored by Warrior Sports. The American brand have since gone on to produce their own football boots (three different models, in fact) and supply kits for teams such as Stoke City, Portuguese giants Porto, and last season’s Europa League champions, Sevilla, amongst others. Several big-name players like Vincent Kompany, Tim Cahill and Tom Ince are also currently part of Warrior’s portfolio of footballers.

The Future

Liverpool are currently expanding their retail operations, and will also open stores in Indonesia and Thailand during the 2014/2015 season. In fact, the Reds visited both Thailand and Indonesia as part of their 2013 Asia Tour. Back in July 2013, Liverpool teamed up with MAP Active, an Indonesian retail partner, to open 60 shop-in-shop concepts around the country. This step was taken at the time because “the challenge was finding the right location, so much had to do with timing,” according to Cox.

Mike Cox with Robbie Fowler and Chris Jennions

“Our current plan is to open a standalone store in Indonesia, supported by the shop-in-shops. We will be opening online stores in many of the Asian countries on a local basis, so that will happen in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and so on because for the fans, we would like to think that they want to get the benefit of not having to pay the import duties and shipping costs.”

As the interview drew to a close, FourFourTwo had to scratch an itch. What is the Liverpool official store’s best-selling item?

“We sell a lot of merchandise across a number of categories, spanning a wide variety of products. If it’s apparel, the Warrior replica kits are popular. Obviously, the scarves sell very well. Otherwise, we’ve been very successful with our back-to-school range, such as backpacks,” Cox revealed.

With the year-end school holidays just over a month away (and Christmas soon after), the Liverpool FC store is in line to receive plenty of visitors.

Get your Kop fix today on the third floor of Lot 10 Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur.