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Pushing Hard at the Super Show

ATLANTA -- It was a flashy sale, but it was also a tough one.<BR><BR>Throughout the Super Show here this past weekend, models did back flips, rollerblade stunts and trampoline tricks -- practically anything to attract attention to the new lines of...

ATLANTA — It was a flashy sale, but it was also a tough one.

Throughout the Super Show here this past weekend, models did back flips, rollerblade stunts and trampoline tricks — practically anything to attract attention to the new lines of women’s activewear they were wearing.

Buyers swarmed fashion shows, dance routines and celebrity appearances to see what the commotion was all about.

But by the time the four-day show ended Monday, it was clear that although some retailers were enthusiastic about the growing tendency for manufacturers to show activewear specifically made for women, many others were resisting that concept. Some also complained that the new lines lacked innovation.

The show, sponsored by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, drew 105,495 attendees — nearly 10 percent more than last year — to the sprawling maze of exhibits at the Georgia World Congress Center.

John DeMaria, a buyer for Shenk Bros. Sporting Goods, Lancaster, Pa., with 22 stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said many of the chain’s female customers buy men’s activewear instead of women’s. Women and teenage girls also buy licensed products for the fashion colors, he said.

“For us, women’s clothing is very confusing. It’s hard to get a grasp on what exactly women are looking for. I think Nike and Reebok are having that same trouble,” said DeMaria. “We didn’t buy anything at this year’s show.”

Ned Arnold, a buyer for Duck’s Surf & Sport, a 10,000-square-foot store in Gulf Shores, Ala., that carries primarily surf and swimwear, said he didn’t plan to spend much money at this Super Show, his first. Accustomed to buying at the Surf Expo trade shows in Florida, Arnold said he wanted to look at the basics — shorts, T-shirts and leotards — since his store might start to carry women’s activewear.

“We do really well with the spring break crowd, who buy a lot of our bright-colored surf wear. But now we can’t afford to be limited to just water sports,” he said.

George Franklin, the owner of Duck’s Surf & Sport, said he and Arnold had made many new contacts.

“I’m finding it interesting, but I’m not buying,” said Franklin. “It’s too distracting to buy here. This show is all about hype.”

“The displays are something else. But I haven’t seen any sportswear or activewear that’s really different,” said Wayne Wilson, president of Wilson Sportswear and Beachwear, Clearwater, Fla. “The product is basically the same; it’s how they package it that’s different. Companies with avant-garde artwork and designs will win. The designer is going to be the hero.”

Sam Ball, the buyer for Key Sport in Rolla, Mo., which has one 2,200-square-foot store and another 1,800-square-foot store, said while business has been good, outlet stores carrying bodywear have affected sales, forcing him to be a more selective buyer.

“We mainly come to pick up on trends for next year,” he said. “We carry Reebok, Hind, Nike, Speedo and In Sport apparel.”

Tracy Lambert, the buyer for Competitive Edge, a small family-owned sporting goods and apparel store in Monroe, Wash., said she liked Reebok’s activewear, especially its spandex blend running tights and nylon warmups.

“I also liked the geometrical prints and graphic designs on the T-shirts, shorts and warmups,” she said, although she had no plans to buy them this time around.

“Thirty-five percent of our customers are women, but they don’t really care if they work out in men’s or women’s clothing,” she said.

Carol Dunn, who owns Sportique’s two 4,000-square-foot stores and a small tennis pro shop in Jackson, Miss., said she was buying tenniswear, warmups and aerobic wear for the fall.

“This show is very important to us because we find contacts and see everyone’s range,” said Dunn. “We usually buy Head, Prince, Nike, Avia, Ellesse, Sport Casuals and Lily. New trends are going to be crossover looks, multi-sport items and an old recycled look. We’ll also continue to buy the traditional colors and the classics.”

Chris Bevin, a buyer for Fleet Feet, a chain of 35 running specialty stores based in Sacramento, Calif., said he was planning to spend $2,000 to fill in his women’s activewear line at the Super Show.

“I usually buy Moving Comfort, which really fits women,” said Bevin. “Nike and some of the other vendors don’t always design products that fit women. I haven’t seen anything innovative. Most of the activewear is pretty basic.”

Deborah Lassen, a buyer for Macy’s West, said she came to the show to check out bodywear.

“You get to see everyone here,” she said, noting that Norma Kamali’s OMO Gym line was the newest thing she saw. “It’s a fresh idea to see a designer name on the label.”

Jim Shuman, the owner of Second Sole, a small sporting goods store in Raleigh, N.C., said the surge in women’s interest in sports and exercise has boosted business. Most of his customers wear the same styles and colors regardless of gender, he noted, so he tends to buy the basics from men’s lines.

Shuman said none of the women’s apparel had impressed him. Although he planned to spend more money on women at this year’s show, Shuman would not say exactly how much.

Jeff Burton, who is co-owner of Burt’s Sports Specialty, said Speedo swimsuits, Moving Comfort running shorts and Champion sweatshirts are very popular in both of his sports apparel stores.

Burton said he looked at women’s apparel, but didn’t buy anything.

“By carrying more men’s apparel, you can sell to both genders. The oversized-sweatshirt look is still really big — it doesn’t seem to go away. Women’s apparel is the last area I would go into,” he said.