BUYERS SET TO SCORE
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Amid all the pumped-up fashion shows, fitness demonstrations, famous jocks and autograph seekers, retailers will be ricocheting around the Georgia World Congress Center, hunting for the latest trends in women’s activewear.
Not an easy task, with over 3,000 exhibitors and scores more buyers and tourists. But business is good and should pick up steam, according to some major sporting goods stores planning to attend the Super Show.
Women’s and men’s wholesale volume for activewear tallied $16.2 billion in 1995, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, the trade association that produces the Super Show.
In an attempt to gain more of that market, sporting goods stores will be looking for sport-specific items to turn up sales.
Having “planned conservatively for spring,” Jennifer Charles, women’s apparel buyer for Oshman’s, a 130-unit operation based in Dallas, said she’ll be shopping the Super Show for key fall items that will generate high volume business. For example, bra tops, shorts and T-shirts have been bestsellers and should continue to do so.
Marika, Nike, Adidas, Danskin, Everlast and Crunch are among the 50 vendors she will visit in Atlanta.
With sales running ahead of last year, Oshman’s is prepared “to react to hot trends” by buying heavily into them as they happen. In the past five years, women’s apparel has increased from 10 percent to 35 percent of the company’s total apparel sales.
High school and junior high school girls make up Oshman’s fastest-growing market, Charles said. There is a void in apparel for basketball and soccer — two sports that are particularly popular among this age group — even though Nike and Adidas are starting to address the sports, she added.
“Our business is still item driven. Women may buy the same item in two or three colors,” she said. “They prefer to put their own outfits together by mixing and matching fabrications and looks.”
While Lady Foot Locker attributes a good deal of its double-digit percentage increase in women’s apparel sales to branded activewear, the company has not ruled out lesser-known manufacturers.
Hilary Chasin, vice president of retail and chain director for Lady Foot Locker, said she’ll be on the lookout for startup brands to offer consumers newness. Susan Fixel and Guess Athletic, two resources that were introduced at some of the company’s 600 stores 18 months ago, are favorites.
Nike, Reebok, Fila and Adidas, respectively, are the leaders in the women’s apparel business, with the latter “coming on real strong recently.”
“We’re looking for fashion, function and some new fabrications in the technical arena which can have great pull,” Chasin said. “The customer who wears a product for its end use is definitely aware of what it’s made of.”
Chasin, who said she planned to spend more at this year’ show compared to last year, expects the women’s business to gain momentum due to women’s rapidly growing interest in sports, acceptance of casual dress codes and preference to lead an active lifestyle — not necessarily an athletic one.
Sport-specific apparel is also the focus of the women’s business at Sportmart, a 60-unit operation in Wheeling, Ill., according to Matt Powell, vice president of merchandising for fitness.
“More young women are playing sports than ever before. They’re looking for jockwear like mesh nylon basketball shorts and sleeveless cotton T-shirts,” he said. “They dress like boys but they don’t want to wear boys’ clothing.”
For the past year, Nike has had such a stronghold on the retailer’s women’s business that no other vendor “is of any consequence,” Powell said.
Even with a single-digit percentage increase in women’s sales, Sportmart will maintain last year’s show budget since existing merchandise from lackluster brands must be reduced. Sales for traditional bodywear such as leotards have “really fallen off significantly with young customers.” The category will not be eliminated entirely but two or three vendors have been dropped from the retailer’s buying list, Powell said.
Sportmart plans to pick up a few new “athletic looking” lines during the Super Show.
Beginning last fall, Sportmart customers started buying more items than outfits.
“She’s less concerned with looking pretty and matching,” Powell said. “She’s going out to work out and sweat.”
Kim Robbins, senior vice president of merchandising for Sport Chalet, a 17-unit operation based in La Canada, Calif., said women’s apparel sales have seen a single-digit percentage gain compared to last year.
With more girls and women competing in recreational and collegiate sports, Sport Chalet is planning for additional gains.
“There is a lot of growth potential for the women’s sport business,” she said. “It’s emerging in true sporting goods businesses.”
In Atlanta, the company’s buyer will review some of its activewear and bodywear resources such as Everlast, Marika, Gold’s Gym, Crunch and Adidas. With most women spending at least $20 for bra tops, bike shorts and leggings in cotton and Lycra spandex, logo-driven items are very popular, she said.
In addition to 20 scheduled appointments, Sport Chalet’s buyer will spend some time looking for new vendors.
To increase sales in the months ahead, Sport Chalet has branched out its offerings in a variety of sports. Tenniswear such as dresses, skirts, shirts and skorts from Nike, Fila and Adidas should be important going forward.
For running, another area that has developed a strong customer base, consumers like the looks of InSport and Moving Comfort.
Last March, the retailer began testing apparel for various sports to see which were popular with consumers. Now there is a variety of offerings in the store that should appeal to a wider group of women.