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Sporting Goods Shop Caters to Women

July 31, 1998

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) _ Dr. Sheila Hardee walked into a sporting goods superstore one day last summer to buy a golf glove and walked out instead with an idea for her own business.

She was frustrated by the lack of selection for women _ one tiny rack with just a couple sizes _ compared with a wide range of sizes, brands and colors for male customers.

So the Virginia Beach dentist researched the recent explosion of women’s interest in playing amateur sports and decided to open her own store, where a woman can find everything she wants for whatever sport she wants to do.

Ms. Hardee’s store, Girls Play Too!, is designed exclusively for women. The store, which opened in late June, stocks apparel, light equipment, footwear and accessories for all women’s sports.

``In doing research, I found that there is demand but there is just no place like for this women,″ Ms. Hardee said. ``My husband and I joke that this is either going to be an incredible success or we’re going to be bankrupt.″

The Lady Footlocker chain carries women’s athletic shoes and some apparel. And Ms. Hardee said she knows of a women’s store in Denver that caters mostly to runners.

But she believes Girls Play Too! is the first of its kind, a full-service sports store for women.

Larry Weindruch, spokesman for the National Sporting Goods Association, said he was unaware of another such women-only store. The association, based in Mt. Prospect, Ill., represents about 22,000 sporting goods stores nationwide.

``There is a need for it,″ said Susan Nicholl, partner in Chicago-based Dillon Productions. The company sponsors the 13.1-mile Chicago Half Marathon, which last year attracted 3,800 runners _ nearly half were women. ``Our bodies are different. The clothes fit differently.″

Ms. Hardee said she discovered a need for the store while working on a research project for her MBA program at the Virginia Beach campus of Averett College.

She said she found a 73 percent increase in women’s participation in sports last year. An NSGA survey had similar findings. The survey found a 55.8 percent increase in women’s participation in basketball from 1991 to 1996.

So Ms. Hardee reasoned that all those women athletes need a place to shop.

Women can find some clothes and accessories in other sports stores or department stores, Ms. Hardee said, but ``as a rule, there’s not everything that a woman needs.″

``Before, if a woman wanted to play golf, she might have to go to one store to buy an outfit if she wanted selection, and another store to buy clubs,″ Ms. Hardee said. ``We’re trying to put it all under one roof.″

``Women like color and selection. We have a higher fashion demand, but we want performance at the same time,″ said Ms. Hardee, 47, an avid golfer who also used to play softball and tennis.

Girls Play Too! carries a wide variety of items, from balls to hats to bats to gloves.

``Everything in the store is made for a woman only _ no unisex items,″ she said. ``We’ve looked around for merchandise designed for women players. Women’s basketballs, for example, are smaller.″

Ms. Hardee’s husband, Richard, is the on-site manager of the 1,500-square-foot store. Ms. Hardee is actively involved as the store’s buyer, as well as continuing her dental practice.

``We’ve had very good reception from the public,″ said Ms. Hardee’s son, Deck Hardee, who is the assistant manager. He said he could not estimate how many customers have come in.

Robin Garrett, assistant coach for Northwestern University’s women’s basketball team, said she thinks the store is a great concept, but she wonders how it will reach female athletes across the country.

``A woman like myself here in Evanston, Ill. _ I’m not going to go to Virginia Beach just to buy some apparel,″ Ms. Garrett said.

She also said that women won’t necessarily flock to sports goods designed specifically for women, unless there are quality items.

``If there’s a shoe built for women but there’s a man’s shoe that’s higher performance, that’s what we’re going to go for: the performance,″ she said.

George Horowitz, chief executive officer and chairman of New York-based Active Apparel Group, which makes women’s apparel for clients including Everlast and Converse, said he sees consumer demand for a store like Girls Play Too!

``The consumer should be given more places to receive this kind of product,″ Horowitz said. ``It’s a fine service and it will work very well with the right brand, the right presentation, all the normal things that a retailer has to do.″

Girls Play Too! should be a wake-up call to retailers, said John Andreliunas, vice president of marketing at Georgetown, Mass.-based Salomon, which makes ski boots and other outdoor sports equipment.

``All retailers should have a goal to serve women’s needs as well as men’s needs,″ he said. ``The major realization both manufacturers and retailers have to come to is that women are as demanding of performance in their (sports) products as men.″

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