Girls Learn to Ride skates into social networking

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Girls Learn to Ride, a Web site focused on content for girls who like snowboarding and other extreme sports, is using social networking profiles to increase its e-mail list.

The site has profiles on Facebook, MySpace and Sponsorhouse to find prospective customers. It has 10,000 names in its e-mail database while it maintains 50,000 friends in its combined social networks. Constant Contact, Waltham, MA, is the company's e-mail service provider.

"In our social networking groups, we send out daily bulletins to get our friends to sign up for our e-mail list," said Mark Sperling, founder of Girls Learn to Ride, Laguna Beach, CA. "We are expanding more into these networks as this is where we've seen the largest growth in our customer base."

This expansion includes high conversion rates. Though no numbers were disclosed, Mr. Sperling said that within two days of an e-mail for one of its sporting events, which hold anywhere from 20 to 1,000 people, the event will sell out.

The site at www.girlslearntoride.com is an online magazine meets e-commerce for sporty teenage girls interested in sports like snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX racing, surfing and motocross. It includes editorial content, forums and e-commerce.

The site sells gear such as snowboards and wakeboards; apparel to outfit the activities and lifestyle products associated with the sports like DVDs, music and books. The firm also produces 800 sports educational clinics nationwide that are sold on the site. For the holidays, the site lists a gift guide for the action sports girl.

E-mails are sent twice a month. One e-mail goes on the first of the month to the entire database and carries information about upcoming events and tips on sports like reviews of sporting equipment and interviews with female athletes. On the 15th, more targeted e-mails are sent based on news in a customer's region or preferred sport.

In the past the firm experimented with more graphics-heavy design in e-mails, but Mr. Sperling said that too much design led to problems with delivery and browser viewing. Simple design with stronger calls to action is the way to go, he said.

"Every link drives customers back to the Web site," he said. "When we started our e-mail program three years ago, we only had one or two links. Now we have 15 to 25 links back to different sections on the site."

The firm is expanding into the over-21 market with a new site at www.womenlearntoride.com. It will function similarly to the girls site, with an older feel and more travel-oriented offers.

"This site will include multi-day retreats for snowboarding that also include stays at four- and five-star resorts and massage and yoga classes in the package," Mr. Sperling said. "This will appeal to an older audience."

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