Cataloger Chases Female Athletes

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Banking that word of mouth is a sure-fire means to reach sports-minded women, cataloger Athleta is looking to fill the gap in the hi-tech athletic wear and gear market.

Athleta, Petaluma, CA, issued its debut mailing this week with a 125,000-piece drop to women on a list generated through proprietary events and names from American List Counsel. The catalog offers private-label and branded products.

"The retail environment is off-putting to women athletes, and there is not a lot of hi-tech, high-quality gear," said Kandra Canning, marketing director for Athleta. "The whole concept of Athleta is to provide a place for women to be active, to be inspired and to create a community of women."

Athleta hopes to build that community with a quality-rather-than-quantity approach. "We're building a really strong house list through grass-roots marketing efforts that are based on strategic alliances with active sports participation," Canning said.

The word-of-mouth strategy is gaining attention within direct marketing. A new study by marketing consultant Frankel, Chicago, found that informal communication is critical in shaping women's buying decisions. The study indicated that nearly 50 percent of women surveyed trust referrals of family, friends and neighbors in making their purchasing decisions. No respondents cited advertising as a credible information source.

The survey also found that 60 percent of female respondents relay their positive and negative shopping experiences to family, friends and neighbors. The study polled 50 men and 50 women ages 30 to 50 on their purchasing behavior and was part of Frankly Female, a marketing initiative Frankel launched to monitor marketing opportunities among women, who are expected to be the country's most influential consumer group by 2020.

"No marketer can ignore the female consumer when planning marketing strategies," said Marti Barletta, a senior vice president with Frankel and head of the Frankly Female initiative. "The important thing to remember is that advertising alone can't do it. Our belief is that you have to build a brand bond with consumers, especially women, and that means at every point of contact with the brand."

Athleta's list-building tactics include sending volunteers to sporting events in exchange for registration lists and through customer calls requesting to have the catalog mailed to a friend.

"Women are great talkers, and they can chat it up and tell 10 of their friends to be added to the list," Canning said. "The underground friends of Athleta is where the power of it is coming from. Our goal is to create relationships with women and have it be a two-way interaction."

The four-color, glossy stock catalog features watches; cycling, climbing and running apparel; and accessories by Danskin, Pearl Izumi and Casio. Editorial content includes articles about diet, training and health. "We want it to be the definitive source for women," Canning said.

The women Athleta is targeting are ages 22 to 40 and participate in several sports. "It is really just the active female and is also positioned for up-and-coming athletic girls," Canning said.

Although orders can't yet be placed online, the company's Web site ( marries the look, content and graphics from the catalog. Athleta plans to issue a second catalog this fall and has four to six issues slated for next year.

A toll-free number is available for orders 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The start-up, headed by Scott Kerslake, was in the works for about a year before the first catalog mailed.

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