If a survey of SportsOneSource magazine and newsletter subscribers is any indication, sports retailers of all stripes can be doing a lot more to lift their game when it comes to catering to women customers. The question – “How can sporting goods and athletic specialty retailers make their store environments and marketing programs more appealing to women?” – drew some of the highest  response rates and offered a variety of suggestions on how stores can improve in-store presentation, merchandising, staffing, promotions, displays and marketing.

Despite an increasingly active female participant and potential customer, many felt that merchandising and marketing at most stores is still far skewed towards men.

“Many sporting goods retailers are aimed at the male user,” asserted Kitty Bradley, brand director, Stonewear Designs. “They are not user friendly for women…The problem with most sporting goods stores is that they do not serve their customers except at the checkout and the shopping experience is not enjoyable.”

To a large degree, many suggestions came down to stores mimicking the places she likes to shop such as Kohl's, Macy's and Target.
“This is an easy one word answer “CLEAN”…many women will not shop or make purchases if stores are not clean and free of dust regardless of the marketing and price,” said Eric Elliott, store manager, The Sports Authority.

Many mentioned the importance of having ample dressing rooms, which should be sizeable and include mirrors. Staff should also be monitoring the dressing room to bring her more choices.

In merchandising, stores should avoid being cluttered to make it easy for her to see all the choices.  A few complained that many stores still don't offer sufficient selections or enough sizes, especially for larger-sized or curvy women. Stores should also have attractive displays and many respondents encouraged women's sections. More mirrors throughout the store was one request. Some were looking for more fashion influences and hook-ups on the selling floor.

“Women are more impulse buyers then men and the goal at retail is obtaining their attention as soon as they walk in the store and directing them to these specifically designed areas,” said Tom Schultz, vice president at Pronto Sports Inc.

In staffing, many believed more knowledgeable staffs are necessary because women tend to have more questions about performance and durability than men. This is particularly critical in explaining the benefits of women's-specific gear.

“Train your store personnel to treat woman consumers as a great opportunity,” said Dave Toole, national accounts manager for Shimano. “Don’t talk down to them. Listen closely to their questions, as each represents a great selling opportunity.”

But there was also a chorus of calls for more women sales associates on the selling floor.

“We try to have a 50/50 staff of men to women working,” said Dave Nerad store manager, Active Endeavors in Iowa City. “An outdoor store can already be intimidating to walk in to, without entering a room full of guys.”

Many also suggested women's only-events to drive loyalty with local active women.

Karen Sing, Wetsuit Product Manager for Profile Design, suggests offering some classes for women for activities they may want to learn, but have no venue, like skateboarding, roller hockey, snowboarding or mountain biking. “Not the extreme stuff, but at a fun/fitness level,” said Sing. In marketing, she wants to see more “real athletes as models. Not necessarily pro spokespeople, but not skinny 14 year olds. Women 35+ have money to spend, but don't want the same apparel and equipment as kids.”

Several mentioned that quality and durability are more important than ever, given the recession.

Kalinda Bogue, director of marketing at Rollerblade, said that in the recession, women “will filter purchases with a very tight focus on 'Will this improve the quality of my [my family’s] life?'. Sporting goods can make the cut, with attributes that contribute to a healthy mind and body, and activate family and community relationships. These things appeal naturally to a woman and are critical as people “hunker down” as life becomes more local than ever before, and feeding our spirits and relationships more vital.”

Moreover, many mentioned that while women were potentially bigger shoppers than men, they also tend to be more price-conscious and require more information.

“If the woman is purchasing for her family, most likely she has been informed of a brand to purchase. If not, then she will be looking for product that she may not be all that familiar with. Signage, perceived value and service must all come together to complete her purchase,” Gene Sullivan, president, Athletic Enterprises.

Suggestions came in for more off-price deals specifically for women, more aggressive customer-loyalty programs and more gift-with-purchase offers typical of department stores.

Brian Dani, owner, CBS Boardshop, said the “secret is pKurt Geller, product manager, men's and women's apparel, Eastern Mountain Sports, said, The female consumer will respond much more strongly to service and total value involved with a purchase than to any short-lived promotional strategy or in-store environment. Your staff is your best marketing program and in-store environment when it comes to appealing to women.”

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