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Women's products, as it turns out, are good for everyone. Obviously, both manufacturers and specialty retailers benefit from increased sales, but it's also a boon to the female outdoor enthusiast; now she has products available to her that function and fit.
"It's better product because the industry has really made some improvements," said Diane Davidson, market development associate at W.L. Gore and head of the Gore Women's Council. "They no longer just shrink it and pink it, taking men's sizes and making them smaller and coloring them pink. The bottom line is that we are not little men."
Over the last few years, the outdoor industry has seen tremendous growth in the availability of women's-specific gear and apparel, from backcountry skis and sleeping bags to base layers and boots. Now, the retail numbers are catching up to prove that a significant change is occurring.
From 2005 to 2008, according to Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), women's share of outdoor specialty retail sales grew from 12.82 percent to 16.43 percent, while men's sales dropped from 87.18 percent to 83.57 percent. Additionally, outdoor equipment sales to women nearly doubled in this time period, according to the OIA survey, from 1.68 percent to 2.99 percent.
"When we launched our Boulder store in 2002, we started with four women's alpine skis and now I have 28," said Kim Walker, owner of Outdoor Divas, a women's-specific specialty outdoor retailer, which recently opened a second location in Denver. "So there has been a huge response from both the outdoor industry and the ski industry to women's needs. They're not just pretty and smaller men's stuff; the manufacturers really are enhancing performance just for women."
At W.L. Gore, this shift is also being tracked. "At the end of 2007, women were 45 percent of the windproof/waterproof garment market," said Davidson. "In this area, we are getting very close to purchasing at the same weight that men do."
The growth in women's participation and product sales was exactly the reason W.L. Gore launched the Gore Women's Council three years ago.
"We were looking at women's participation and women's purchase behavior in the market," said Davidson. "When we matched that up against Gore's numbers, we didn't match up. We asked, 'Why aren't our brand customers purchasing more products from us?'" They also asked why the market wasn't producing better products for women. "This is why we started the Women's Council -- to bring women in the industry together to try to develop and sell more women's products. We all figured, 'Why not collaborate if none of us are really capturing it?'"
Industry veterans agreed that, from here, there is nowhere to go but up in women's product sales. "Manufacturers are never going to make things that don't work for women, so it's only going to get better from here," said Walker, who added that her own women's-focused business has grown by 40 percent since 2002. "And when we launched the second store, the business basically doubled," she said.
Still, there is room for improvement in the women's outdoor specialty market. "This consumer, I believe, is still being underserved," said Davidson. "There are more products for her but she doesn't always know how to find them, or the young guy on the retail floor doesn't know how to describe them to her, or they are wildly expensive."
Marketing, sales associate education and targeted pricing could potentially go a long way to increasing women's sales, as well as sales in every other category. According to Davidson, 80 percent of all household purchases today are made by women, who often end up buying products for their husbands, children and parents, as well as themselves. "Because women are such avid shoppers, that should jolt the men's and kids' markets, too," she said.
In addition, she points to Baby Boomer women as the most influential purchasers. "They have a lot more disposable income," Davidson said. "And adventure travel is really taking off for them; that helps the women's market because now they have to go out and buy all the gear for their trip."
Stay tuned for more and better women's product and increasing retail sales coming our way -- all positive points for the future of the outdoor industry.
This monthly column, a partnership between OIWC and SNEWS®, aims to address the issues that concern women in the industry most -- anything that is controversial, topical or newsworthy relating to women and the outdoors. The goal is to help, educate, inspire and grow. We welcome your ideas, gripes, thoughts and comments. Bring it on. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erinn Morgan is an award-winning magazine editor, whose work -- which focuses on outdoor sports, adventure travel, gear and sustainability -- has appeared in magazines from National Geographic Adventure and Outside to Bike and Skiing.