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Women: An Untapped Market
Don't miss out on the distaff side of sales

(This article is reprinted with permission from Wingshooting Dealer, January/February 1997, Volume 2, Number 1

A few years ago, after hunting pheasants all day, I walked into camp with my comrades and beheld a new sight: another woman! I'd been hunting for years and this was the first time I'd come across my own gender in a hunting situation. This may seem of little significance to the average hunter, but to the industry this represented the crest of a wave that had been due for a while: The influx Of women into the sport of shooting, particularly wingshooting.

There has been a remarkable increase in the number of women participating in all shooting sports in the past few years. Between 1990 and 1993 women's participation in sporting clays increased by more than 100%, LIP from 216,000 to 440,000. Female trap and skeet enthusiasts increased by 36%, to 415,000 from 305,000.

Even more remarkable was that the number of female firearms hunters increased by 23%, up 478,000 for a total of 2,556,000 In 1993. This figure increased to 2,891,000 in 1995.

Obviously, the involvement of women in the shooting sports is building rapidly, and the industry is finally recognizing that growth. A number of innovative programs designed to ease the women's entry into these sports have sprung up across the country.

The Women's Shooting Sports Foundation (WSSF, 1505 Highway 6 S., Suite 101, Houston, TX 77077; 800-820-9773) was started in 1993 in answer to the need for a nationally Supported women's membership organization. (It is currently funded by the National Shooting Sports Foundation). The mandate of the WSSF is to provide information and education, create opportunities and serve as the collective voice for women's shooting sports.

The WSSF's core events are its Ladies Charity ClassicsÑ58 ,A,omenonly shotgun and handgun tournaments held throughout the country. Organized by local women's commitWes as fund-raisers for women-oriented charities, these events provide the introductory training and atmosphere necessary to encourage participation by new and novice women shooters. More than 6,000 women were expected to participate in 1996, and electronic and print media coverage of these events was to reach an audience of more than 42,000,000 people.

Other things offered by the WSSF include the American Huntress Program. These all-ladies hunts are designed around wildlife education and a comfortable introduction to the sport. About 10 such events were planned for 1996, including hunts for ruffed grouse, pheasant, chukar and waterfowl. The success of this program was evident by a waiting list of more than 80 women this past year.

Another program dedicated to involving women in outdoor sports is Becoming an Outdoors Woman (715 outdoors has expanded to 40 states and four Canadian provinces. The program introduces women to all aspects Of Outdoor recreation, including archery, camping, fishing, hunting and target shooting. That first workshop filled quickly (and could have been filled two or three times over). What that told Dr. Thomas was that women are very interested in learning outdoor skills. When opportunities are offered, they line up for the chance to participate.

The women's market seems poised for rapid growth, and today there are many more sporting goods made specifically for women. "For several years the industry has responded to women's interests by developing and producing women-friendly products." said Sue King, the executive director of the WSSF "The principal problem exists at the store level, where only a few retailers understand and appreciate the economic benefits of catering to the women's market. When the retailers wake up, women will find an abundance of product available.

"Walk into any gunshop and take notice of how women-unfriendly that store Is. Most times the attitude of the clerks alone is enough to make a woman walk out. There are likely no displays geared toward women and no women sales clerks. Typically, the sales force consists of men who haven't the time for nor the inclination to spend it with a female customer. In addition the sales clerks usually aren't aware or knowledgeableof the women's products available."

For women only

As mentioned, manufacturers have been making an effort to cater to women for several years. For example, Browning (801876-2711) called on Sue King to help design a gun for women. The result was the Browning 425 WSSF Model. It weighs only 7 lbs 4 oz and the overall frame is slimmed down. The gun has a straight stock, with 1 1/2" drop. This keeps the gun from recoiling up into the woman's face, It has cast at the toe for a better fit in the woman's shoulder pocket, which is more steeply angled than a man's. The pitch is zero.

Another firearms manufacturer, Marocchi (Precision Sales Int., 800-221-2613), makes the Lady Sport-a women's version of its successful Conquista. This model has been revised in a variety of ways to better fit the female shooter.

And the industry is not limiting itself to customizing firearms. Apparel manufacturers have responded to the demand by women for proper-fitting clothing. At press time, Shoot the Moon (719-495-9793), a women's hunting and shooting apparel company, was back-ordered three weeks. The company started three years ago making custom hunting and shooting attire on a per-order basis. In 1996 it saw a 72% increase in sales over 1995 and expanded its line to off-the-rack apparel.

Shoot the Moon's success originated with a line of clothing designed strictly for women shooters. For example, the Shoot the Moon vest uses the princess seam for its fundamental style instead of the military cut, which has been the mainstay of the men's style. Shoot the Moon also incorporated the drawstring waist in its vests. This lets the vest conform to a woman's figure but also isolates the weight of the ammunition at the hips, keeping it off the back, neck and shoulders.

The line is now carried by Oshman's Super Sports (713-467-1155), Griffin & Howe (908-766-2287), Pachmayr (818-357-7771) and in the Orvis (802-338-9585) and Browning catalogs. Shoot the Moon still does custom orders, but now 80% of its business is off the rack.

Other companies that cater to women include Zanika (612-521-1429), Dame/O/Flage (912-647-1996) and Suzy Smith (719-873-5121). Deb Smart, general manager of Oshman's, found a great deal of interest in good women's shooting products. "Everyone had done a poor job selling to women," Smart said. "Availability of the product has been poor and retailers haven't merchandised what was available very well. Women didn't know what we were carrying. With the greater availability of product, we're finding that women will buy the product. The key, I think, has been the increased availability of properly fitted apparel and equipment. If there were more selection, I think we could see a very rapid growth in this segment. Women have had to make due with products made for their fathers, boyfriends, husbands and brothers. Part of my effort is to help women not have to make do."

Sue King believes the most important task facing the WSSF right now is to create and distribute the educational tools that can provide retailers with the marketing skills necessary to understand women's interests.

Syl Wiley of Sturm, Ruger (602-778-6555) has been fighting this battle for years. "The biggest problem is the way the stores are set tip," Wiley said. "They arc not user-friendly for women. Until that barrier is broken we will always have this problem and it's unfortunate. The market is there; the disposable income is there. It's a matter of convincing the retailer to commit to going after those dollars. The industry as a whole is making product available. Now we need the support of the retailer to bring those products to the forefront and to their shelves."

There are several places where retailers can turn for information on how to reach this huge segment of the buying population. Browning has developed an innovative program called the Dealer Training Academy. The purpose of this sixday school is to improve the success and profitability of authorized Browning dealers. The courses include how to use advanced sales techniques to better evaluate and satisfy customers' needs. One session, called Recognizing the Needs of Women in the Shooting Sports, focuses on how to reach this market and, more important, what and how to sell to it. Browning is also producing a video that retailers can purchase for their sales staffs.

Another avenue retailers can turn to is the WSSF's resource list of products for women and the companies that manufacture them. The list comes complete with addresses and phone numbers

The women's market is a very real one, and it is growing, untapped and undeveloped. The retailer who meets the demand for specialized equipment will find a group of enthusiastic, supportive buyers as well as loyal customers.

1,492 Posts
This is an interesting article, and typical of articles written to promote women's activities just a few years ago.

In 1991 the Department of Fish and Wildlife had issued licenses to about 1.1 million female hunters out of a total of 14 million hunters. Women were in a ratio of 14 to 1.

Because of the 1992 figures quoted in the article, and from personal experience, my guess is that the 1992 numbers quoted in the article are not accurate, as they would be double the 1991 figures. According to your article the ratio would be about 5 to 1 and from my experience in the shotgun business, I can tell you that figure is not accurate.

Personally, I would like to see both the clay increase in women's shooters and the increase as counted by the number of hunting licenses issued.

As female clay shooters become increasingly aware of the lead vapor issues, I think that issue will put a clamp on the growth of clay shooting. Even the states are jumping into this arena by requiring shooting ranges to post warnings about lead vapor.

Hope somebody has current numbers. This was an interesting post.
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