THE WAR OF THE ROSES

Byline: Scott Kramer

The trouble with selling to women is a nearly universal complaint in pro shops -- many professionals claim their female customers are fickle, picky and impossible to please, while still others claim most manufacturers still don't take the women's market seriously. Complaints aside, women have to be buying their stuff somewhere, right? And the pros who are willing to make the sale are the ones who dig in their heels and struggle to successfully satisfy the needs of their female customers.
"Granted, I'm not a golfer," admits a frustrated Becky Adams, director of retail for Resort Management of America, of Phoenix, "But, if I did, I wouldn't buy anything in my shops. That's how bad the women's market still is."
Adams says the niche for coordinated golf looks has been filled successfully by the likes of I.P. Pro. But what is missing, she stresses, is "contemporary golfware."
"We're missing a lot of business from the segment of the population whose taste level leads them off-course to lines like Donna Karan, Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman," she explains. "That customer is out there on the course. And if we have that kind of customer, why are we letting her shop elsewhere?"
Pro-shopbuyers such as Adams note that, as the golf industry continues to grow, the problem with offering appealing women's golf lines needs to be addressed. These buyers say it is difficult to talk to manufacturers about what they'd like to see from women's lines, because the manufacturers either are after the older woman looking for coordinated golf clothes or they don't want to devote their efforts to the women's market, which is dramatically more difficult by nature than the men's market.
Manufacturers, on the other hand, claim women's apparel has gotten a bad rap from retailers who blame manufacturers for a lack of variety among women's styles.
Manufacturer's say women make up only 10 percent of their business so they don't invest time making large selections. Antigua, for one, has reduced its women's line from five collections to one for 1995, according to Brett Moore, who as vice president of product development is devoting her time to Antigua's men's lines.
"Somewhere in time," Moore says, "the idea of women playing golf gave manufacturers a distorted view of what women wanted. If they could tell me in all seriousness what I should wear, I'd listen to them. Women have to ask for things because they're not readily available."
But, she's quick to add, "it's a whole lot better than it was five years ago. I see a lot of growth in the women's golf apparel market. But it's hard to merchandise correctly. The more detailed and sophisticated buyers get, the more manufacturers opportunities will increase. The market is much different than the men's market and it's the highest growing area of golf. so there are a lot of opportunities. But manufacturers have to offer products that women want. Women shop all of the distribution channels, especially malls, and they know what's out there. Because they see the whole scope of what's available, they know what they want."
Unfortunately, Adams says, in most cases pros don't have the option of going outside of the golf world for clothing lines to carry."A lot of those companies who match the taste level of contemporary women won't sell to pro shops due to requirements," she says. "Plus, I think there are certain components that these retail lines need to have for the golf market -- longer short lengths, more collared shirts -- so I can't just go out and buy retail in every case." Offering some potential solutions, Adams says she'd like to see Ashworth develop its women's line for the modern, hgthirtysomething woman. "Ashworth would be the perfect line for the woman I've described."And she also would like to see Liz Claiborne develop a true golf line, instead of offer pro-shops pieces from its retail collection.
Other pros have found their own solutions. For example, Rick Kline, director of golf at Marriott's Seaview GC in Absecon, N.J., says that ever since he began stocking many lines in shallow skus his women's sales have been "soaring."
"Ladies are difficult to buy for," he says. "It's important to listen to them, but if you gather information from listening to them and make sense of what you gathered, you realize they all want something different. And even if you get the merchandise in, they don't buy it, where guys will say "That's a cool shirt. Where did you get it?', women want something nobody else around is wearing. Ever since I decided to go deep and narrow with brands and stock, my sales have been soaring. It's working very well."
"Just like Ashworth can't be 100 percent of your men's business," Adams concludes, "E.P. Pro can't be 100 percent of your women's business. I don't think this is a dead issue. Companies just need to realize the potential of this business and get serious."

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