Nike Courts Women in Southeast Asia

MANILA — Southeast Asia may seem like an unlikely place for Nike to leave its retail imprint, but that’s just where the company is putting its foot down.<br><br>The athletic company opened its first women’s store in the region last...

MANILA — Southeast Asia may seem like an unlikely place for Nike to leave its retail imprint, but that’s just where the company is putting its foot down.

This story first appeared in the August 21, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The athletic company opened its first women’s store in the region last month, in Manila’s Robinson’s Galleria Mall, and plans to open another next month. “NikeBeautiful,” an aggressive and provocative advertising campaign, has bowed in Southeast Asia, and aims to empower Asian women by defining beauty as a fusion of strength, power and confidence. The message on a poster in a window of the new 1,000-square-foot Manila store is “It’s not Beauty Lotion, It’s Sweat.”

Called (swoosh) | women, the store is known as “Nike Women” by local shoppers. The choice of Manila as the pilot store for the NikeBeautiful retail concept in Southeast Asia is a curious one. While the retail scene in the Philippines is buoyant, and “malling” is among Filipinos’ favorite leisure activities, the shaky political situation has not always put Manila at the top of the list for international brands scouting for new retail locations in the region. Despite that, Bulgari, Paul Smith, Salvatore Ferragamo, Kate Spade, Anne Klein and Cole Haan have set up stores in recent years.

“Why Manila? It was actually due to our own initiative,” said Colo Ventosa, Nike Philippines’ marketing manager. “The focus on our women’s business is really part of Nike’s global direction toward addressing the needs of women consumers.”

“It really isn’t such a surprising thing,” concurred Mia Borromeo, manager and buyer for the hip Manila boutique, Wish, which stocks such brands as Earl Jean, Jimmy Choo, Catherine Malandrino and Manolo Blahnik. “Filipino women definitely know what’s going on in fashion and are quick to pick up on new trends.”

Last year, Nike’s $431 million apparel sales in the Asia Pacific region accounted for 36 percent of the brand’s $1.2 billion sales in that part of the world. In total, Asia Pacific sales comprised 12 percent of Nike’s $9.9 billion in worldwide volume. Next month, a 1,200-square-foot store will bow in the posh Greenbelt 4 Mall, and similar spaces will open in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur before the end of the year.

Manila’s huge, somewhat frenzied Robinson’s Galleria Mall attracts heavy consumer traffic, especially on weekends, when families descend on malls en masse. Nike Women holds its own, even though it is surrounded by athletic specialty stores including Nike Park, which sells only Nike-branded sports apparel, shoes and equipment.

The nearby stores are geared for male-dominated sports like basketball and running. Ventosa said, “Women go into these shops, but usually only to accompany their husbands or boyfriends who are shopping for themselves.”

After some research, Nike determined women need different types of products in a different kind of retail environment. Instead of the heady buzz of testosterone, the Manila store has a distinct sense of calm. It is staffed by women selling products designed for women. It feels like a fashion boutique, not a sports superstore.

Ventosa pointed out that merchandising is based on a color story, a strategy that appeals to women. The store also features such fitness products as gym backpacks, gym totes and yoga/Pilates mats. Hard-to-find products in Asia — tennis skirts, workout shorts and bra tops — are selling briskly, even though Nike’s prices are higher than most, a saleswoman said. Current bestsellers include $28 capri pants, the $20 Absolute Bra, and the $64 Accelerate badminton shoe.

“Our Dri-FIT products are doing really well,” said Ventosa, adding that today’s woman is willing to spend for high-performance workoutwear.

Special consideration was given to the relatively smaller frames of Asian women, with Asian sizing employed for most items. Many of the new tops, like the Power Airbourne and Absolute Bra tops, feature an inner bra cup for added support, which, claimed Ventosa, “gives Asian women a better fit.”

Sales associates are trained by specialists who tout Nike’s corporate culture, history and product technology, and ensure that they are familiar with every aspect of every piece of footwear, apparel and equipment.

Free weights, stretch bands and badminton equipment will be sold in the store, which opens next month. The latter is a sport that has grown immensely popular in the Philippines in the last year.

To coincide with the opening of the new store in September in the Greenbelt 4 Mall, Nike plans to step up its advertising campaign, which features Asian models, as well as sponsor several fitness events. There are plans to offer free exercise sessions at Fitness First, a gym in the mall. In addition, Nike will give shoppers a “women’s book,” to help them keep track of their fitness routines and to encourage them to pursue their fitness goals.