November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Sporting Goods

Sharp focus on what’s new in sports gear and apparel is common among the seven sporting goods retailers in this year’s Hot 100


Sporting Goods

GanderMtn.com
Journeys.com
Nascar.com
Orvis.com
RunningWarehouse.com
Skis.com
TheNorthFace.com

Winning in the business of retailing sporting goods requires a sharp focus on what’s new in sports gear and apparel-and connecting with the passions of each sport’s enthusiasts. That strategy is common among the seven sporting goods retailers in this year’s Hot 100.

Take skiing. Ski buffs wait for months for the first snow to fall, as they clamor for any information on the latest in constantly changing ski gear and styles. Skis.com serves their passions in a way only an online retailer could: It posts hundreds of videos prior to each ski season that feature skiers testing and commenting on new skis, boots and other equipment. “That brings credibility, brand recognition and traffic to our site,” says Steve Kopitz, president and CEO of Summit Sports, which operates Skis.com and several other e-commerce sites for outdoor sports.

Each sport has its own set of passion plays that winning retailers serve well. At NASCAR.com/Superstore, stock car racing fans don’t have to look far to find merchandise personalized to their favorite drivers. A tower of lighted drivers’ numbers-mimicking the racetrack tower that shows the current race position of each driver-lets shoppers click into a merchandise shop for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon or dozens of other professional drivers on the NASCAR circuit.

Hunting and fishing enthusiasts, of course, love to brag about the one that didn’t get away. So when Gander Mountain launched its first retail e-commerce site this year, it didn’t crimp in providing an online forum on GanderMtn.com for customers to strut their stuff. The site’s Bragging Board lets visitors upload photos of their catch and share comments on each other’s accomplishments. “The outdoors person is very community oriented, so our Bragging Board gets a lot of attention,” says vice president of marketing Casey Ramm.

When sports enthusiasts aren’t outside doing their thing, they often imagine they are. No one helps them do that better than outdoor gear retailer TheNorthFace.com, where high-resolution photographs give viewers the feeling they’re right there hiking alongside a glacier or scaling a rocky peak. And when they’re ready to buy something for their next outing, the retailer’s online imaging and quick-look features make shopping a breeze. Back to top


A community of hunters
More than a decade ago, Gander Mountain left the direct-to-consumer business to its rivals in retailing of gear and apparel for hunting and fishing enthusiasts. In the summer of 2008 it returned, sporting both a catalog and its first-ever retail e-commerce site.

A big reason for the return, says Casey Ramm, vice president of marketing, is to use the web presence to build on the outdoor sports enthusiasts’ interest in sharing their exploits and learning from one another. They can do that on the site’s Bragging Board, where visitors upload photos of the fish or deer that didn’t get away, and comment on each other’s accomplishments. Judging by its popularity, Gander Mountain has come a long way in a short time in meeting its online objective.

“The outdoors person is very community-oriented, so our Bragging Board gets a lot of attention,” Ramm says.

Gander Mountain has struck a chord with its community features, one expert says. “The Bragging Board seems to have some nice traction, they should promote that more,” says David Schofman, former head of Callaway Golf Interactive who is now an independent e-commerce consultant.

The site is designed well with good navigation, but needs better searching and sorting capabilities to help shoppers find what they’re looking for, Schofman adds.

Gander Mountain’s return to the direct business remains a work in progress, as it steadily increases the assortment of products available for purchase through GanderMtn.com and completes its integration with Overton’s, a web and catalog retailer of marine sports supplies it acquired last year.

In the meantime, it’s generating traffic with seasonal changes in merchandise along with its community features. “What gets people coming back to our site is the newness of product offerings changing from one season to another,” Ramm says.

As Gander grows online, it will use its community features to better understand what customers want, Ramm says. “Our goal is to properly outfit our customers, so they’re not disappointed when they get out to the hunting or fishing site.” Back to top


Social shoe shopping
A big marketing challenge for online retailers these days, especially those targeting a youthful audience, is figuring out how to project a brand on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook without using devices like banner ads that are overtly commercial.

Determined to leverage the marketing potential of online social networks, shoe retailer Journeys.com allows shoppers to share product information through several social networking sites such as Digg.com and Facebook.com.

Shoppers can share product information by clicking on the social networking site’s icon on the product page. For example, Digg.com allows members to submit stories on a topic which others can then comment on.

Journeys.com added the feature to appeal to its core audience, made up of consumers between the ages of 12 and 24. “This is a social-oriented demographic when it comes to sharing information,” says John Tighe, director of e-commerce for parent company Genesco Inc. “They want to share opinions in a relevant manner.”

“More retailers are dipping their toe into social networking in order to draw shoppers to their sites,” says Sunita Gupta, an executive vice president for consulting firm LakeWest Group LLC. “Journeys.com has found a good starting point.”

Recognizing that its customers like to share opinions, Journeys.com also has added customer reviews that are posted on its site and in some cases on product review site buzzillions.com. The feature enables shoppers to comment on products in their own voice, which makes the information more poignant to their peers.

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