Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--Undaunted by the tepid retail market, seven activewear makers have been diving in.
With 76 stores, Speedo Authentic Fitness is by far the leader in the retail game; no one else currently has more than nine. But Reebok, Nike, New Balance and other manufacturers have a bunch of new stores on the way.
In 1990, Nike set a precedent, opening its first Nike Town in Portland, Ore., and using interactive displays and other theatrical elements to lure consumers. The company's 52,000-square-foot store in Chicago pulls in 2.5 million visitors annually and its New York store, which will be nearly twice the size, should an even bigger drawing card when it opens next year. Athletic wear makers want to tap into a women's activewear market that amassed $13.1 billion in sales at sporting goods stores in 1994--a 4 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
In New York alone, Reebok International's flagship and New Balance's first licensed store have opened since June. Next month, Bogner moves from 655 Madison Ave. to a new 5,000-square-foot store at 821 Madison Ave. As reported, New York's first Nike Town on East 57th Street is scheduled to open next November, and Fila USA is negotiating for a Fifth Avenue site between 50th and 58th Streets where it plans a 10,000-square-foot store.
Despite the increased competition, most manufacturers said they were planning double-digit sales gains in their concept stores this year.
Speedo Authentic Fitness plans to open eight stores in the next six weeks and 16 additional sites before the end of the year, according to Linda J. Wachner, chairman and chief executive officer.
Sales of women's apparel account for 50 percent of the Speedo stores' business and should increase this fall when the category gets 10 percent more selling space.
"The women's business is going to explode," said Wachner. "Women are finding out this is really sportswear they can wear out on the street or to exercise in."
With stores in Santa Monica, Calif., Boston and two here, including a 6,500-square-foot flagship that opened in June, Reebok International plans to open up to six stores next year, according to Andrew Rees, director of stores.
Located at 160 Columbus Ave. here, next door to the Reebok health club, the flagship should enjoy sales gains of at least 20 percent in the next year, he said. Its traffic is expected to increase in October, when Reebok opens a connecting 5,500-square-foot store for its Rockport division.
A similar setup will be established in November, when Reebok plans to open a company store next door to a Rockport store at the King of Prussia Mall in Philadelphia. Renovations are under way at Reebok's lower Broadway store here to incorporate an "arena concept of selling," which features new bestsellers, classic looks with small margin discounts and close-out merchandise. Aiming to offer a variety of price points in one location, Reebok has invested about $150,000 in new fixtures, signs, graphic designs and photograph murals. The arena concept will be rolled out to other stores, provided it improves business in the lower Broadway store, Rees said.
In all the stores, women's products are featured near the entrance.
"A man will make his way to the back of a sporting goods store. With women, it helps to have product in the front of the store to entice and romance them," said Rees.
Nike is also on the move to create a stronger retail presence.
In the next year, the company plans to open a 25,000-square-foot store in Seattle, a 50,000-square-foot store in San Francisco's Union Square and a 30,000-square-foot store in Beverly Hills, according to a spokesman. By early 1997, Nike plans to open a 100,000-square-foot store here in Trump Tower and "negotiations are moving ahead" to build a 25,000-square-foot store on Boston's Newbury Street.
The company is also eyeing property in Denver, he said.
Women account for 44 percent of the customers at Nike Towns in Chicago, Portland, Ore., Atlanta and Costa Mesa, Calif., and they should become a larger part of the business in the months ahead, the spokesman said.
Unlike some sporting goods stores, which display several categories on the same racks, Nike Towns have adequate space to merchandise sport-specific apparel by category, he said. To build the women's business, the company plans to offer more products in existing apparel categories and to introduce more sport-specific lines. To expose more customers to its offerings, Nike holds fitness clinics and other in-store events monthly. While most events appeal to the general market, some are geared more to women, such as an appearance by professional volleyball player Gabrielle Reece, who discussed her training with 400 people at the Chicago store earlier this year.
"We want women to see the product, to touch it, to meet the designer who made it and the athlete who uses it," the Nike spokesman said. "Unlike the trends in the past, women and young girls are staying involved longer with sports and recreational activities.
Fila USA will christen a 5,500-square-foot boutique in The Mall at Short Hills, Short Hills, N.J., Friday. In March, the company unveiled a 10,000-square-foot flagship in San Francisco that is the most profitable of its six stores, according to Sergio Moroni, senior vice president of retail. In the next 12 months, the new locations should increase retail sales by at least 10 percent, he said.
For 1995, Fila expects sales in its own stores to jump 50 percent, he said.
"Women shoppers have a very important role in our retail business, especially in the athletic part of our business. For future growth, we need to understand their needs," Moroni said. "We're going to survey more customers on an ongoing basis to find out what they need."
Women account for 12 percent of Fila's retail business and that ratio should increase to 15 percent in the next year, he added.
Fila store employees, managers, buyers, merchandisers and salespeople are encouraged to exchange consumer information with one another as well as with executives, said Moroni.
"It's not just about selling the goods. We need to represent the image of the company, to give the best customer service we can and to analyze the customer's needs," he said. "It's like having a guest in our own house." Fila is considering branching out to Florida and Dallas and looking for a larger site in Chicago.
"Today, women handle more of the decision-making. They're working more, they need to buy clothes for different activities and they have more income available to buy clothes," said Don Schwamb, executive vice president for Bogner. "Women have been largely responsible for the growth of our apparel business as well as of our men's business."
Women account for 65 percent of the company's retail base and the company plans to maintain that figure while increasing the business, he said.
Bogner's new 5,000-square-foot flagship will have three times as much selling space as the current location.
In addition to its 1,400-square-foot stores in San Francisco and Chicago, Bogner has licensed units in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and at Stratton Mountain in Stratton, Vt., where 30 percent more selling space is being added.
"We want to be in the places where our most important customers are. We're not looking for additional locations," Schwamb said. "We want to strengthen our existing conditions."
For 1995, the company's stores should generate at least $6 million in retail sales--a $700,000 increase over last year's results.
New Balance plans to open 25 licensed stores in the next three years, said James Davis, chairman and ceo.
Multiple sales are higher in concept stores than in sporting goods stores, he said. For example, the average women's sale in New Balance's licensed store in New York is $45 --80 percent higher than the average sporting goods store sale, Davis said.
With nine stores in the U.S., Patagonia's concept stores are posting the highest sales growth of all distribution channels, according to Jennifer Wass, retail director.
The company's wholesale accounts sometimes object to store openings, but they generally benefit from the publicity generated by the Patagonia units, she said.
"We work in a partnership," Wass said. "If we're out of a product, we'll call a dealer around the corner to see if they have it."

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