Health & Fitness Business '07: SNEWS® Forum tackles how to meet women's needs

The Health & Fitness Business Show kicked off its first morning with two educational sessions, one being the 3rd annual SNEWS® Fitness Forum, where topics that are key to the industry are tackled in an open format with outspoken panelists and hard-hitting audience questions. This year was no different, with a rather eyebrow-raising title, "Scoring with the women: How to satisfy a woman and make her a customer for life."
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We are finally starting to wrap up several weeks of show coverage that began Aug. 2. So don't miss any of the reports, podcasts or the two SNEWS® live daily HotSheet newsletters -- all available in archives (if you have a paid, full-access subscription and not a free limited access one, although half-off upgrades are available. Click here for details.). We are covering, will cover, or have covered everything from general attendee information to conference education to equipment category trend reports. You can see them all in our Trade Show News area for HFB by clicking here. As always, SNEWS® gives you the best and most accurate and detailed show coverage anywhere. There are still a couple more short reports coming in the next couple of weeks.

The Health & Fitness Business Show kicked off its first morning with two educational sessions, one being the 3rd annual SNEWS® Fitness Forum, where topics that are key to the industry are tackled in an open format with outspoken panelists and hard-hitting audience questions. This year was no different, with a rather eyebrow-raising title, "Scoring with the women: How to satisfy a woman and make her a customer for life."

After an introduction by SNEWS® editor-in-chief Therese Iknoian, six panelists from inside and outside the industry shared a few quick thoughts about what was important in attracting and keeping women customers. They included, from inside the industry, Kim Moore, Exercise Equipment Northwest retailer; Dale Hansen, Hansen Fitness retailer; and Jeff LaBorde, Inspire Fitness supplier; and, from outside the industry, Kim Walker, Outdoor Divas retailer; and Kim Coupounas, GoLite gear supplier.

The panelists speak

Kim Coupounas kicked off the round, telling the audience, "If you don't take women seriously, your competition will," and pointed out that three of four purchases are made by women. "You really can't fake authenticity," she said, noting how in GoLite's apparel division, women are working and advising on sport bras. "Men can't understand what it's like to have your breasts bounce up and down when you run," she concluded. That, of course, started the morning off with a bang.

Jeff Laborde, with Inspire Fitness, which makes home gyms but also has a company division that makes patio furniture, noted an experience when the company was younger: It set up at home and garden shows and the company had a product that the men there thought was "phenomenal." "Men would love it," he said, "Women would say, it doesn't match the rest of our patio furniture." So his company went back to the drawing board. Why? Because if the women don't like something, from the design of a piece to how a salesman talked, it won't get bought.

Kim Moore said, listen, if nothing else because women can sense if a guy isn't listening to them on the sales floor. "She can feel that you are thinking about other things and she knows you don't care. If you don't listen, you can't fill that need and you'll never understand as a man." That also means listening to what she's NOT saying. Also, women tend to do more research so, "whether or not you believe she knows what she's talking about, she believes she knows what she's talking about."

For retailer Dale Hansen, it's all about creating emotion, not selling nuts and bolts. He named the three things a woman wants: Things that make her beautiful, things that look beautiful, and things that are cost-effective. So he created an environment at his store that was a welcoming, "spa-like" environment, all the way down to a cappuccino machine. Women want to feel comfortable and connected, he said. Hansen Fitness even creates what he calls a "Macy's window" that the staff changes during the year re-creating holiday themes to keep it fresh.

Outdoor industry women's-specific retailer Kim Walker, founder of Outdoor Divas, said her goal was to create an environment that women liked to come to because "women like to shop." She calls it PMS (no, no, not THAT): product, market, service. "We created an environment in the store where they're comfortable," she said. For one, she has a large, neat restroom so a customer won't leave the store when she has to "pee." (Yes, we didn't have a shy panel…. breasts bouncing, peeing….)

Discussion and questions

With the thought-provoking intros out of the way, the panelists and Iknoian discussed a few more issues, including how women need to be sold differently.

"We try to make women our friends," Walker said and added that telling them about features that will help them have fun is important.

Laborde added that guys may love the tech talk about motors and belts, but not women. "It's not catering to women," he said. "Men think more logically. Women more emotionally."

The group also took a look at whether a company should call it a "women's product," or just add the features that will attract a woman. Laborde noted that for his company it's not only the color but the programming features. Also, it's a product's structure, for example, how heavy is a starting weight, are there enough adjustments, and is it sized to fit into a home's décor. "Keep them involved," he said, "Bring women in. Every manufacturer needs to look at this. Just because we like it, that's not enough."

Soon, the floor was opened and questions began. The group discussed the different types of sales training a women employee may want and having women sales staff on the floor. Moore said that just having a woman on the floor "softens the store" immediately. "A woman will come in and talk to the woman," she said.

Audience member Bill Crawford of HealthStyles added, "A woman uses phrases like 'tummy' and things I can't get away with. She closes deals just by being friendly." Also from the audience, Tyler Simpson of Texas said he has a couple of women working for him and they are "the best salespeople," but sometimes "getting male customers to listen to them is a challenge."

Hansen suggested that although a woman can sell using emotions and friendliness, she better know hard features like horsepower, frame size, etc. He had that experience with a salesperson he hired from outside fitness and once she learned the nuts and bolts of fitness equipment, her sales increased dramatically.

For 90 minutes, the panel and audience tossed around questions and topics from selling and training, to special in-store events and women's-only social and educational seminars, to the importance of stressing the purchase was for a family lifestyle and better wellness, to getting involved with the community and a cause.

>> Want more? SNEWS® Live posted a short (seven-minute) podcast from the event so you can hear a summary in the words of those involved. Click here to see that.

>> If you want even more, SNEWS® has a recording of the entire forum, all 90 minutes of it, available as of Sept. 14. If you want to download that, click here.

>> If you have comments about the topic, about this year's forum, or have ideas for future forums (or anything else!), please email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.

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