The National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) has announced initial findings of its annual Sporting Goods Market 2001 report showing good news for several segments of the footwear industry.

For the past five years, female purchases of athletic footwear has grown steadily in several channels of distribution: from nearly 38 per cent to more than 42 per cent in general full-line sporting goods stores; from nearly 47 per cent to just over 48 per cent in specialty athletic footwear stores; and from 41 per cent to 45.5 per cent in specialty sports shops.

Slight declines in female purchases of athletic footwear were seen in family footwear stores (down 1.5 per cent) and department stores (down 0.4 per cent).

"Right now in the sporting goods industry, there's not a faster-growing segment than the women's market and that includes footwear, apparel and accessories. There are more women today not only interested in fitness in general, but also there are more women participating in team sports," said Michael J. Pallerino, editorial director of Sporting Goods Business.

The retailers that are successful are the ones that have identified the women's market and are going after it. Retailers such as Lady Foot Locker have been targeting women for years. Most recently the Athlete's Foot has created a store just for women called Athlete's Foot For Her in Nashville, Tenn.

"We just completed an exclusive women's research study that identified what women want from sporting goods stores, where they shop, what they look for, and we discovered that they are starting to shop more in traditional sporting goods stores that are targeting product to them," Pallerino added.

"Athletic footwear as an entire category - not looking at a specific shoe, like basketball, golf or running - is now coming into favour in terms of non-athletic uses, such as casual or fashionwear," said Larry Weindruch, director of communications for NSGA. "There's a good bit of optimism for athletic footwear compared to 12 months ago. I just read in today's news that the athletic division of Footstar almost hit a billion in sales in fiscal year 2000 and they're not No 1 in terms of sales.

"Athletic footwear was replaced by brown shoes for casual wear, but people now may be coming back to athletic look - maybe not like they were 10 or 12 years ago, but the worst is definitely behind of us."

"My personal feeling is that so much fashion is dictated by the whims of 14 and 15 year olds. What's the shoe of the day? What's everyone wearing this week? If their parents are wearing Nike, it can't be cool to wear Nike. I think that's as much of a factor as anything. Fashion is being dictated by people with short attention spans."

Other findings show footwear segments reporting average price increases include basketball and golf shoes and hiking boots, driving up prices paid for all athletic footwear in 2000, according to the NSGA report.

For 2000, the average price paid for all categories of sport and athletic footwear surveyed rose to $40.32, a 2.2 per cent increase from the 1999 average price. The average price of basketball shoes rose 2.9 per cent to $57.16; golf shoes, 5.2 per cent to $60.97; and hiking boots, 3.9 per cent to $42.16.

Hunting boots maintained the No. 1 ranking as the most expensive shoe in the 2000 sports footwear market, averaging $64.43, ahead of golf, trail running and basketball shoes. "Since 1995, average prices have risen moderately or actually declined in many categories," Thomas Doyle, NSGA vice president of information and research, said, "In this five-year period, the average price for all sport and athletic footwear has risen 11.7 per cent."

"This year marked a turning point in terms of footwear prices going up, because prices had been decreasing for several years. The fact average prices are going up is good in terms of retailers being able to sell their products without having to cut too deeply into margins to cut prices," Weindruch adds.

"It's a reflection of what we've seen and heard anecdotally during 2000 that sales are doing better, and we've seen bits and pieces of improvement, but this quantifies what exactly happened during 2000 in footwear sales. Athletic footwear has seen its worst and now we're heading back to where we need to be. Now, quantitatively, we see that things are getting better in this area."

"The reason prices are rising is that when people go to buy footwear, they go in to buy what they want, so they go in specifically for shoes that meet their needs. Years ago footwear prices were high because people were buying on fashion, but the fashion days are over and consumers, especially women, aren't afraid to spend a few extra dollars," Pallerino says.

The report, which has been published by the NSGA for nearly two decades, will be released in April. The full study will include demographics and sales data in units and dollars on more than 24 types of athletic and sports shoes, as well as products in more than 20 sport categories.