OIA Insider: What's the real story with women?

According to Outdoor Industry Association's recent Topline Retail Sales Report, women are buying outdoor apparel and footwear at an unprecedented rate. In outdoor chain stores, women's sportswear tops have shot up 155 percent over the last two years from $22 million in 2003 to $56.7 million in 2005. Recent studies also indicate that women are one of the most important consumer groups, influencing 80 percent of every dollar spent in the United States. Sounds like great news for the industry, right?
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According to Outdoor Industry Association's recent Topline Retail Sales Report, women are buying outdoor apparel and footwear at an unprecedented rate. In outdoor chain stores, women's sportswear tops have shot up 155 percent over the last two years from $22 million in 2003 to $56.7 million in 2005. Recent studies also indicate that women are one of the most important consumer groups, influencing 80 percent of every dollar spent in the United States. Sounds like great news for the industry, right?

Well, not so fast. The huge jump in sales of women's apparel and footwear are good signs, but when taken in context with recent participation data, the picture isn't quite as rosy as it could be.

There are two important trends to take into consideration when looking at what is happening with women in the outdoor industry. First, according to OIA's Participation Study, while overall participation by women in the 22 human-powered outdoor activities is up over 1998, the numbers have been on a steady decline since 2001. Second, at the same time outdoor recreation numbers fell, women's participation in fitness rose 21 percent, walking 36 percent, and yoga soared off the charts.

So what do these trends mean? First, the increase in sales of apparel and footwear among women, coupled with the decrease in participation in outdoor recreation, indicates that women are attracted to the outdoor lifestyle, but they are not currently lifelong participants. Second, it means that women may be shopping in outdoor industry stores for fitness merchandise, and manufacturers are doing a good job of making products to suit them.

This situation presents a great opportunity to convert female customers into lifelong outdoor recreation enthusiasts. In order to do that, you have to understand what is driving your female customer, and what is likely to have the greatest impact.

According to recent studies by OIA and the Leisure Trends Group, women actually have more leisure time today than they did 10 years ago, though they still have less leisure time than men. The time they do have is in short blocks, so they are looking for activities that are efficient and convenient, like yoga. Women say they are motivated to participate by personal growth, relaxation, the ability to escape the stresses of daily life and the social aspects of active recreation. Studies also show that women prefer learning new activities from and with women, and they talk a lot.

So now the trick is to convert all of this information into tangible action: The women's-only event. Women are attracted to the social aspect of recreation and they want to learn with other women, so give them a chance to do that. Host women's-specific beginner clinics and classes at your store. Organize women's-only outings and trips. Bring in experts on female-specific products. Collaborate with a local gym and offer yoga hikes, or establish a women's trail running group.

While you are attracting women to your store with events and clinics, make it easy for them. Provide onsite childcare during clinics and events, or host mom and kid hikes. Set up your events to fit in a woman's day, and do not make them last too long or make them to difficult to get to.

Once you start attracting women to your store, they will become your biggest marketing tool. Make them happy, fulfill a need in their life, and they will tell their friends about it. By simply understanding one of your most important customers and giving her what she wants, you'll not only see an increase in your women's sales, you'll also be helping to ensure the growth and success of the outdoor industry.

To learn more about the women's market, check out Outdoor Industry Foundation's Toolkit for the Trade: Getting > Women > Active at www.outdoorindustry.org/webnewsimages/gwa.htm.

SNEWS® and Outdoor Industry Association have teamed up to provide our readers with information updates from OIA. These updates will be published in SNEWS® every two weeks and will provide our readers with insights into the association's programs, benefits, initiatives and more that serve to provide a solid foundation for industry growth. If you are not already an OIA member, we encourage you to become one. For more information, go towww.outdoorindustry.org.

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