Wooing women is good for retail business

The Boston Consulting Group said women control $12 trillion of the overall $18.4 trillion in global consumer spending. Various outdoor and fitness retailers tell SNEWS their advice on how to woo the female customer to get some of that business.

It’s no secret women are the primary shoppers in most households. But over the past few years, retailers have increased their attempts to attract female customers, even in the most "manly" of stores. You can find Martha Stewart products among the plywood, plumbing supplies and power tools at Home Depot.

A smart move, considering the numbers from the Boston Consulting Group that show women control $12 trillion of the overall $18.4 trillion in global consumer spending.

Looking at the numbers there’s no denying the growing buying power of women. Retailers and manufacturers in outdoor, fitness and wintersports have taken notice.

The Leisure Trends Group’s Elisabeth Stahura wrote in a trade-show daily article that women’s specific products made up 33 percent of all dollar sales in the outdoor industry and accounted for 31 percent of dollar sales in the wintersports industry.

“I think part of what we’ve seen in both of those industries have focused more effort on a developing products and better marketing those products for women,” said Jennifer Boldry of the Leisure Trends Group.

Boldry presented a seminar titled “The Buying Power of Women” at the Interbike trade show in September 2011, addressing how the bicycling industry can better serve women based on consumer data collected in a syndicated study of women’s shopping patterns for bicycles, cycling apparel and cycling accessories.

Though a similar study hasn’t been done in the outdoor, wintersports or fitness industries, retailers and manufacturers tell SNEWS better serving women, and getting a slice of that $12 billion pie, would boost business.

She shops differently

Women don’t shop the same way as men, said Jay Knick, owner of Sonoma Outfitters (www.sonomaoutfitters.com) in Santa Rosa, Calif. Time Magazine agrees in an 2010 article that said a man will go with the best deal within his price point while a woman takes into consideration numerous factors and characteristics of the purchase.

Founder and owner of women’s active and travel apparel manufacturer Sense Clothing (www.senseclothing.com), based in Santa Fe, N.M., Robin Beachner, said women are patient shoppers who will take into account whether a product will fit in with her current wardrobe, where she’ll wear it, how she’ll use it and how much she has to spend.

Kim Walker, founder of the Colorado-based Outdoor Divas (www.outdoordivas.com, photo, right) a boutique store that sells outdoor, wintersports and fitness gear and apparel, said women also want to know how products will benefit them. Walker spoke at SNEWS forum titled “How to Meet Women’s Needs” at the 2007 Health & Fitness Business Show about this topic. Click here to read that story.

“Women want to hear about the benefits of the product rather than the features,” Walker told SNEWS for the story. “They don’t want to know how it does what it does, but instead what will it do for them. They also love to have recommendations or validations from family or friends that they trust.”

Knick said part of his success with female customers has been his decision to place an emphasis on clothing and footwear. “I’d say that probably 70 percent of our clothing business goes to women,” Knick said. “Clothing has become a very big emphasis for our store for the last 15 years.”

He’s even started selling lifestyle dresses from outdoor companies. “Years ago who would have thought a mountaineering-type shop would have dresses in the store,” Knick asked with a laugh. “Why not? Get all kinds of people in the store.”

Creating customers vs. making sales

According to several retailers, making a woman a loyal customer is all about the store’s environment, her shopping experience, and listening to what she wants.

Outdoor Divas’ Walker keeps her female customers coming back because, “We give them an experience they enjoy,” Walker recently told SNEWS. “Our stores are more boutique-like than a traditional outdoor store.”

Knick said his key to attracting and keeping female customers is offering clothing they want, which requires a buyer who knows what that is. He enlisted his wife, Debra Knick, for the job.

“Guys don’t really know what women are looking for,” Knick admitted. “That’s where it helps to have a female who really knows, when they sit down at Outdoor Retailer with someone, this is great for that female customer.”

Sense’s Beachner advises buyers to really know their female customers in order to bring in inventory that will attract them.

“Really know your customer, talk to them, ask for feedback and try to get them involved,” said Beachner, who also operates a Sense retail store. “One of the things that we do at Sense is we always have open houses and private parties we really get the feedback from our customer.”

Engaging in these practices all help retailers form that relationship with female customers, which creates loyalty, Walker said. Retailers, she advised, should be trained to form relationships and friendships with, and listen to, the female customers.

“Listen to your female customers,” Walker said, “and deliver what they are asking for.”

Bad economy, not bad idea

Though the FitChix fitness boutique store closed its doors in January 2010, former owner Michael Grant said it’s not because it was a bad idea, it’s because of the bad economy.

Grant and his business partner Dan Foust opened a fitness store that catered entirely to women (read the SNEWS story here). The store featured everything from treadmills and stationary bikes to sports bras and workout clothing.

“I still firmly believe in the idea, but it didn’t work at the time we did it,” Grant said. The store had all the key points Walker outlined for successfully attracting female customers – a nice environment, well-trained female staff that forged relationships with customers and a staff that knew products well.

The female staff is key for the fitness retailers, Grant advised. He noted his staff knew the ins and outs of the equipment and the technical wear, which is something Walker values as well. Her female staff tests the gear they are selling – everything from technical clothing to ski boots – so they know what they’re talking about with the customer. Plus, women feel more comfortable with other women, he said.

“Women aren’t as likely to open up to a dude on a sales floor wearing a muscle shirt than they are to a woman,” Grant said.

But, Grant said, female staff members are hard to come by in the male-dominated fitness industry so he advises fitness retailers to make their showrooms a little warmer and more inviting. “Clean your bathrooms, paint your wall,” he said.

“Women represent a huge opportunity for retailers in general, and certainly for specialty retailers in outdoor, ski, bike and run,” the Leisure Trends Group’s Stahura told SNEWS. “In many ways, they are the ideal customer for specialty retailers.”

–Ana Trujillo