Women driving the winter sports machine
DENVER – Who would have guessed that winter sports would become such a chick magnet?From skiing to snowboarding, even snowshoeing, the power of the female purchaser has finally gained the respect of the industry, from head to toe, from hard goods to soft goods, and even in the “cutey pie” section of facial and skin-protection products.”At Burton, we would take the men’s jackets and pink them up and shrink them,” said Donna Carpenter, the co-owner and recently named president of snowboarding icon and industry change-agent Burton. “But that doesn’t fly. I’ve said a few times recently: It didn’t take me very long to realize that without women in decision-making roles, sitting at the table and deciding on products, we weren’t going to succeed.”Move over, guys.But first, you better wake up! In a room at the Denver Convention Center on Day 2 of the ski industry’s annual SIA Snow Show, key female industry leader dominated the attendance of a breakfast and brainstorming session on Friday titled, “Growing Snow Sports Participation from a Woman’s Perspective.”It was a keen conversation – women discussing the state of the state of an industry they are single-handedly reshaping on the force of immense buying power. Besides this reporter, only a handful of males attended.The conversation centered on the women’s powerful influence to get more people on the snow. The panel of eight who led the discussion was a pretty top-shelf powerful group, including: Kelly Ann Davis, Snow Sports Industries; Amy Caldwell, Caldwell Sports; Carpenter of Burton; Carolyn Crowley Simpson, Wachusetts Mountain (Mass.); Raslene Davis, Ski Utah; Kyre Malkemes, Roxy & Mervin Manufacturing; Heather Schultz, freelance writer, instructor and owner of the Holy Toledo consignment store in Minturn (an industry-leading voice on product testing and demonstration); and Kim Walker, Outdoor Divas.If you think it’s a man’s world, think again.Women are responsible for 80 percent of overall spending in sporting goods and apparel, and influence 92 percent of the vacation spending. Narrowing the purchase category to just women’s products: In 2010-11, women’s snow-sports products sold over $940 million. Women spent $202 million on equipment, another $501 in apparel, and topped it with $239 million in – wait for it! – accessories. What’s most rewarding about those numbers is the industry has learned to shape its signature products for women instead of women having to adapt to men’s designs.However, in snowboarding, the bad-ass, hard-core riders still are pretty unbending to accept they can be feminine and retain a high-level of respect.”That’s a great example of where women’s clothing and equipment still hasn’t totally been accepted,” said Carpenter of Burton.”Hard-core – serious riders that stretch the boundaries – they won’t be caught in anything but baggy and black. They think that’s what gets them accepted,” said Carpenter. “But the younger riders are wearing pink and soft colors and very feminine clothing, and they are still ripping it up and dropping some jaws.” Like any forum, not many wanted to speak first, then everybody had something to say.When it comes to form and function, an audience participant challenged the industry standards for marketing: “Why does every portrayal of snowboarding have to be pushing the boundaries, edgy, off the charts?” “That’s a great, great point. Women just want to enjoy the day on the hill, but the marketing is like politics today, blasting away at the upper 1 percent,” said Kyre Malkemes, of Roxy & Mervin Manufacturing. “We need to reel in our marketing, our point-of-purchase and hang tags,” said Malkemes. “The reality is simple: Photographers don’t want to shoot some blonde who is just making turns on a groomed run. It’s much more compelling and cool to catch a blonde in waste-deep power in the trees or some lady blasting on the half-pipe…but that’s really not a realist snapshot of the growing population of women who just want to enjoy the day.”Another woman from the audience followed up with the comment: “Lapsed riders, women who haven’t skied or snowboarded in a decade or more, they are intimidated to get back on the bike because the market is so X Games edgy. It’s intimidating because it doesn’t reflect me or my friends. I don’t want to fall on my ass and embarrass myself, so the marketing is another reason to do something else instead of ride.””That’s a great point. We need to contract with our photographers to capture the reality of the sport … get women enjoying the lifestyle side of the sports at an amateur level, or don’t get paid,” said Davis of Ski Utah. “It’s just too easy for a photographer to get something unique; they don’t want to shoot families.”In 2010-11, specialty stores handled the majority of women’s sales, bringing in over $569 for equipment, apparel and accessories. Alpine still makes up 68 percent of those purchases, with snowboard equipment at 27 percent. “Those numbers are trending up, but what they don’t reveal is a problem of reach in our sports,” said Walker of Outdoor Divas.”We have to get urban. I mean, we have to go to the kids, the younger athletes in the minority settings where hip-hop, surf and snowboard reside. Look around this room, it’s pretty white,” said Carpenter. “But the trend in growth should be in snowboard, i.e., diverse ethnic groups from urban settings, not just another generation of white skiers.”
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