ACTIVEWEAR MAKERS TARGET WOMEN IN SPORTS
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Activewear makers are counting on performance-driven, technical looks, such as those designed specifically for running, soccer and cycling, to provide growth in 1996.
Unlike some other categories, branded activewear is a growth area for many stores, especially major sporting goods chains. In recent months, FootAction, Foot Locker and The Finish Line have reported double-digit percentage gains fueled largely by powerhouses Nike and Reebok.
With women’s sports receiving more television exposure and next year’s Summer Olympics in Atlanta, activewear makers expect women’s interest in sports and fitness to increase in the months ahead. Several companies said they’re planning for double-digit gains for their women’s businesses in the first half of 1996.
To broaden its appeal among women, Nike, the Beaverton, Ore.-based athletic footwear maker, is spotlighting female athletes who endorse the brand in a national TV campaign that breaks in February. Pleased with the response it has received for a current commercial that features basketball star Sheryl Swoopes, Nike is moving forward with new ads featuring pro volleyball player Gabrielle Reece, tennis ace Monica Seles and Picabo Street, an 1994 Olympic silver medalist in downhill skiing.
After researching what types of fitness classes are offered to women in health clubs, Nike executives determined that a growing number of women are cross training.
“We try not to use the word ‘aerobics’ anymore. We are focusing on fitness and technical apparel that can be used for a variety of sports or fitness activities,” a company spokeswoman said.
“We want to show how athletes cross train. When Picabo trains for her ski season, she skis, runs, weight lifts and goes rock climbing. It’s not just about skiing.”
Having introduced its first signature athletic shoe for a woman, Air Swoopes for Sheryl Swoopes, Nike plans to follow up with a Reece shoe, called GR, scheduled for an April 1 debut at retail.
Nike is on track to exceed $1 billion in apparel sales this year, and the company is planning for additional growth in 1996.
With Adidas AG, based in Herzogenaurach, Germany, providing the uniforms for the teams of 19 countries that are competing in the Summer Games, Adidas America expects its brand to gain greater recognition among women and is planning for double-digit percentage gains in 1996. In addition, Adidas America has purchased seven buildings, encompassing 45,000 square feet at 300 Marietta St. NW in Atlanta that will be used as a hospitality center for its Olympic athletes and select retailers during the Summer Games. Following the Olympics, the site, which occupies a city block, will be used as a Southeast regional sales center for Adidas America, a company spokesman said.
“We’re not going to walk away from Atlanta once the Games are over. This is a long-term investment for the company,” he said. “Our business is growing in the U.S. and we’re committed to it.”
During the National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association’s Super Show in Atlanta in February, Adidas will unveil a collection of soccer apparel designed specifically for women. Carla Overback, captain of the U.S. National soccer team, was instrumental in designing the line, said a company spokesman.
Having seen solid sales for its core basics, Reebok International is planning for a 20 percent gain for 1995 and additional growth in the first six months of next year, according to David Chandler, vice president of apparel marketing.
To build the business, the company plans to increase its advertising and introduce new products.
At the Super Show, Reebok will officially launch a 12-piece fitness collection called GYM. Made primarily of nylon and polyester, the line features bra tops, shorts, unitards and other core basics. Wholesale prices range from $8 for a cotton T-shirt to $18 for a nylon and polyester unitard.
To “personalize its message and to focus on everyday people,” Reebok’s spring advertising campaign will center on the tag line, “This is my planet.”
“We want to focus on everyday people. We’re saying, ‘Do it for yourself — not to be the next Nancy Kerrigan,”‘ a company spokeswoman said.
To convey that message, Reebok will spend $30 million just on TV advertising during the Summer Olympics, Chandler said. Unlike previous years, total advertising will be equally divided between women’s and men’s products. This year, 60 percent of the ad budget went to men’s products, 40 percent to women’s.
Avia, the Portland, Ore.-based athletic footwear maker that is owned by Reebok, is focusing on its apparel for fitness, cycling and running instead of activewear for 1996.
Following spring deliveries, the company will discontinue its 30-piece cotton fleece and jersey activewear due to saturation in the market, a spokeswoman said.
“There are too many brands out there. Licensed apparel is having problems because most of it is made of fleece and jersey,” she said. “Our heritage is in performance apparel so that’s where we’ll stay focused.”
With women’s apparel sales running even with last year, Avia expects sales to remain flat during the first half of 1996 due to the reduction in offerings, the spokeswoman said.
For spring, sales for Arena North America’s 15-piece multi-sport line for women should account for 40 percent of the company’s overall sales — a 10 percent increase compared to last year, said Doug Powell, marketing manager.
“Consumers are gravitating more to technical products for sport-specific activities,” he said.
Sales in small specialty stores are strong, especially on the West Coast, where outdoor training is possible most of the year. Unlike large sporting goods franchises, specialty stores are willing to try unusual products from lesser-known labels, Powell said.
However, it is essential to maintain solid sales in some large sporting goods stores due to the high volume generated in those outlets, he added.
With many retailers looking for technical activewear, Arena North America has shifted its merchandising and design operations to Osaka, Japan, where its parent company, Descente Ltd., is based. By manufacturing in Japan, Arena’s designs are more varied and quality is improved, factors that should secure at least a 15 percent gain in 1996, Powell said.
Crunch Fitness, the New York-based health club operation, which licenses its name to Age Group Ltd., expects sales for the first half of ’96 to exceed $3 million, said Doug Levine, its president.
Some of the growth should stem from sales at the 500-square-foot pro shop in the company’s newest health club, at 152 Christopher St., which opened in Greenwich Village here last month. Additional pro shops will be opened in Los Angeles in March and in Manhattan in April.
The company is also working aggressively to open concept shops in major retail accounts such as the Macy’s East flagship in Herald Square. Crunch also aims to sell apparel in unorthodox outlets such as record stores, Levine said.
To support the apparel and improve brand recognition, a consumer print ad campaign is slated to break in magazines in February, he said.