Byline: Karyn Monget, with contributions from Brenda Lloyd

ATLANTA — Major retailers are eyeing women’s sports apparel as a key growth vehicle this year.
That was the message from merchants and vendors attending the 10th annual Super Show here. They said looks that combine fashion with function exemplify the growing trend toward lifestyle merchandise.
Exhibitors said a growing number of top management executives from department stores came to the show at the Georgia World Congress Center here with one mission: to source and buy dual-purpose athletic apparel that addresses different lifestyle needs. The classification consists primarily of easy, casual pieces of fleece, jersey and cotton knit that can be merchandised over a core of stretch bodywear pieces.
John J. Ryan, vice president of Mercantile Merchandise Group, a division of Mercantile Stores Co., acknowledged that department stores are looking to beef up assortments of dual-purpose sports apparel and related accessories.
“We know exactly what to do with these lifestyle items,” said Ryan. “We plan to move many of these items from main floor hosiery and bodywear areas to activewear departments on the same floor near sportswear.”
The Super Show, which began Friday and ends today, is expected to draw more than 110,000 attendees, according to a spokesman for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, the show organizer. Last year’s edition pulled in 105,000 attendees.
In a state-of-the-industry address kicking off the show last week, SGMA president John Riddle predicted the sports apparel market would grow 5 to 6 percent in 1995, with teenagers accounting for much of that growth. He estimated 1995 growth of 5.5 percent for the sporting goods industry, to $36.5 million at retail. That projection is down from the 6.3 percent rise in sales last year, due to lagging footwear sales and the professional hockey and baseball strikes.
Show organizers noted that a turning point this year was a bigger turnout of department stores, especially major buying groups. In addition to Mercantile, retailers at the show included Sears, Roebuck & Co., Dillard Department Stores, Macy’s East and Carson Pirie Scott. Sporting goods outlets included Herman’s, Oshman’s, The Sports Authority and Lady Footlocker.
The retailers’ game plan, said vendors, primarily was to discuss promotional programs for transitional and fall selling. There also was lots of talk about co-op ad campaigns geared to the new “attitude” in lifestyle dressing.
The show has developed a reputation as a must-attend event for athletic footwear and apparel companies, and it gives smaller, mom-and-pop operations with limited budgets the opportunity to pitch new ideas to an international audience.
Also drawing attention was an all-American pitch by vendors to capture the spirit of the upcoming Summer Olympics, which will be held here in 1996. Major companies such as Authentic Fitness Corp., maker of Speedo sports apparel, were selling a stars-and-stripes package of women’s, men’s and children’s athletic apparel and swimwear.
“This show is extremely important for Speedo, especially since Speedo will be the official licensee of nylon outerwear, water shoes and water electronic equipment for the Atlanta Committee Olympic Games,” said Linda J. Wachner, chairman and chief executive officer of Authentic Fitness.
Roberto Muller, president of Reebok International, said, “Everyone comes to this show, and it gives us the opportunity to present our ideas in a grandiose way. This show really is geared more to conducting strategic meetings with top management from major stores.”
For example, Muller said, he had just finished a meeting with Roger Farah, the ceo of Woolworth.
Howard Cooley, ceo of Danskin, noted, “The biggest thing for us is this show gives us the opportunity to get retail reaction to our new products. Retailers come to this show to see new product, not to write orders.”
“A lot more major stores are here, because they are trying to find what’s happening in fashion right now. Our appointments are up 50 percent over a year ago,” said Alden Sheets, senior president of apparel division of Fila USA. “There’s a tremendous amount of crossover products from the men’s apparel into women’s active apparel. It’s what we call the boyfriend look.”
George Horowitz, president of Active Apparel Group, said appointments for the licensed Converse and Everlast lines of sports apparel more than doubled this year to 130.
“This show has become a great networking vehicle for us,” said Horowitz.
“Specialty stores and major department stores definitely are looking for more brands this year, especially in active looks for women,” said Norm Zwail, president of Weekend Exercise Co., San Diego. “There’s no doubt about it, major department stores are coming to this show and talking about expanding the segments of their women’s active businesses. Some are even increasing budgets between 25 and 30 percent for the category.”
Regarding the broader perspective of the sports apparel market, SGMA president Riddle noted that manufacturers are projecting 10 percent growth in licensed apparel. Trends in licensed apparel will include a focus on more “authentic” jerseys and replicas. In-line skating will be the hottest sports activity in 1995, said Riddle, followed by soccer, and roller/in-line hockey.