By  on September 7, 1994

NEW YORK -- Paced by growth in men's, retail sales of sports apparel, including licensed imprinted goods, rose 5.1 percent to $33.1 billion in the 12 months through April 1994.

The growth is detailed in the study released last month by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association and prepared by the NDP Group consumer research firm. It shows sales of men's merchandise up 11.7 percent in the 12 months, while women's edged ahead 1.6 percent. Women's, however, remained the largest dollar generator, with sales of $12.7 billion in the latest 12 months against $12.5 billion. Men's merchandise posted total sales of $11.5 billion, against $10.3 billion.

Making up the remainder, sports apparel for children grew 2.3 percent in the 12 months, to $8.9 billion from $8.7 billion.

Measured in units, sales in the 12 months totaled 369.9 million dozen, up 8.5 percent from 340.8 million dozen. In women's merchandise alone, unit sales increased 9.2 percent to 126 million dozen from 115.4 million dozen, while men's grew 9.6 percent to 107.1 million dozen.

"The sports apparel market appears to be recovering from a period of malaise, buoyed by a stronger men's market and growth in sports apparel for several 'active' sports activities," said Sebastian DiCasoli, director of marketing services for SGMA.

"It appears that the low- and high-end market segments are growing at the expense of the middle," he added. "The licensed imprinted apparel market looks to be moving in a higher end direction."

As for the growth in men's merchandise, DiCasoli noted it was being fueled by specific items such as sports shirts, socks and golfwear. Men's sport shirt sales grew by 17 percent over this period.

Swimming and golf were the two biggest selling segments of the active sports apparel classification, the report noted. From May 1993 to April 1994, swimwear sales totaled $1.17 billion, or 29.7 percent of all sports apparel bought for specific active use. Golf apparel purchases for the same period were $588 million, or a 14.9 percent share, up 14.2 from a year ago.

DiCasoli noted that in the calendar year 1993, the number of people in the U.S. who played golf increased 5.5 percent over the prior year. From May 1993 to April 1994, the report noted that swimwear purchases were dominated by women, accounting for a 54.7 percent share.Men continued to dominate golfwear purchases, with a 75 percent share.

Sales of total licensed imprinted apparel grew to $9.1 billion in 1994 from $8.4 billion in 1993. The specific active sports apparel -- which includes ski clothes, fitness, running and exercise wear in addition to swimming and golf -- rose to $3.9 billion from $3.6 billion. The remainder of the sales in the survey is made up of general unlicensed activewear.

As for distribution channels, the SGMA survey showed that discounters -- such as Wal-Mart Stores, Bradlees and Caldor -- have been generating the biggest dollar sales gains in total sports apparel. While comparative figures for a full 12 months weren't available, the SGMA noted the discounters had a 28.1 percent share of dollar sales for the first quarter of this year, compared with 27.2 percent a year ago.

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