Female Athlete Goes to Bat With More Prospecting, New Web Site

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Not only will female teen-age athletes be able to shop online for batting helmets with room for a ponytail and nail polish in colors like Scrimmage and Hustle, but also they'll soon be able to get answers to sports-related questions on The Female Athlete's Web site.

The site, www.thefemaleathlete.com, will be relaunched in May as an interactive community for girls and will feature a bulletin board, on which they may post questions to industry experts or other girls. The site was originally launched in October 1998 as an e-commerce site.

As part of the relaunch, the Babylon, NY, company - which generated $1.5 million in sales last year and expects to reach $20 million this year - will introduce an online gift registry so girls can register for merchandise they'd like to receive from family or friends.

"Their grandparents on the West Coast can go into it, see what [they] want and be able to send them a gift, knowing the sizes are correct, knowing that this is the sport that really interests them. It's no guessing game," said The Female Athlete co-founder and president Mary Tenety.

Fifteen percent of the marketer's sales are generated from Internet orders, according to Lori Schmid, co-founder and vice president of the girls' catalog. The two executives had projected 6 percent of the company's sales to be generated from online orders after the Christmas 1999 mailing, but those sales actually accounted for 11 percent.

The sports-gear cataloger drives new customers to its site from its print book, spending less than 40 cents per customer and less than 2.5 percent of its revenues on any form of advertising. Schmid and Tenety estimate that 25 percent of total impressions to the site come from the catalog, but they have not yet tracked conversion rates to sales.

The company, which is staffed with eight people in its headquarters, also has advertising alliances with magazines, including Sports Illustrated for Women and Girls' Life magazine, that promote the print book and the Web site. The print book is designed by Catalogs by Design, King of Prussia, PA. FrontEnd Graphics Inc., Cherry Hill, NJ, manages its merchandise inventory and fulfillment house and handles the outsourcing of the catalog's printing.

The first catalog dropped in October 1997 in test quantities. For the next two years, the company mailed 100,000 to 250,000 books per mailing. For the 1999 holiday season, the catalog was sent to 1.5 million mailboxes. The cataloger distributed its 31-page spring book to 2.5 million mailboxes last month and expects to mail a similar amount to a new list on April 15.

There are no other companies offering merchandise targeted to young female athletes, according to Tenety. "That's kind of the beauty of it. You can go to Eurosport for soccer and find a page of women's soccer. We really don't see them as competitors."

The cataloger prospects with a variety of resources, she said - one strategy involves "Lori and I going out to local grass-roots tournaments and asking people if they want to sign up for the catalog." But Tenety would not specify which company is its list broker.

Schmid and Tenety said they expect to mail 20 million catalogs by the end of the year but refused to offer the size of the catalog's house file.

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