Footaction: going the distance

Footaction USA is counting on a marketing plan that appeals to the 12-to-24-year-old market segment to boost its market share. The 533-store athletic shoe retailer is competing with rivals Footlocker, The Finish Line and Woolworth. Its sales growth has been outstanding, with an average increase of 25.3% from 1993 through 1996. Estimated sales for 1997 are $655 million. The marketing plan includes about 74 new stores in 1997, designed to appeal to the target market, creating custom shoe styles, and publishing a magazine.

The race to compete for fashion-conscious athletic footwear consumers is a marathon, not a sprint. For Footaction USA, the specialty show retailer currently in second place in terms of store count, the key to long-term success lies in winning the loyalty of 12- to 24-year-olds.

So the retailer is building “cooler” stores for them, customizing shoes for high instep and high arch for them and even publishing a magazine for them. It’s not a bad market to bet on, considering 13- to 19-year-olds represent about 10% of the total population, and are expected to grow to about 30 million until the year 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Footaction’s president and CEO Ralph Parks, 51, is working to manage costs and inventory through the current cyclical downturn of the athletic shoe business.

Parks, whose footwear industry roots run 29 years deep, loosely refers to his personal management mantra as the four Ps: people, product, presentation and pride.

Notice that price is not among his alliterative list. Not surprising, considering that in a market where price is fairly consistent from store to store, fashion reigns.

It’s up to footwear retailers to give shoppers what they want, when they want it, in an environment exciting enough to lure them from the competition — which for regional mall-based Footaction includes department stores, freestanding superstore Just For Feet, Birmingham, Ala., and other mall stores such as industry leader Foot Locker and Indianapolis-based the Finish Line. Currently, Footaction goes head-to-head with The Finish Line in about 110 malls, says Parks. Footaction and The Finish Line compete with Woolworth in about 600 malls, and they both compete against Woolworth in more than 100 malls, according to Genesis Merchant Group Securities, New York City.

Indeed, Footaction is giving Foot Locker reason to worry. As a former regional vp of Foot Locker, Parks knows his ex-employer’s turf. “Both Footaction and Finish Line are attacking Woolworth in malls where its most profitable stores are located … avoiding mediocre malls where Woolworth is saddled with 1,000 athletic stores,” according to a report from Genesis Merchant Group Securities. Footaction in particular is targeting ethnic as well as upscale malls, says Genesis’ John Shanley, managing director.

Since 1993, Footaction’s sales have increased an average of 25.3% annually. Sales for 1996 were $515.7 million. Same-store sales rose 16.9% in 1996, impressive considering fewer than 100 of Footaction’s larger stores were old enough to be included in last year’s same-store calculations. Sales for FY1997 are estimated to increase about 21.3% to $655 million with the help of a net of about 74 new stores and 50 remodels.

This year, however, business has been tougher than trying to prevent the Chicago Bulls from repeating as champions. In the second quarter ended June 28, 1997, while total sales were up 12.7%, same-store sales decreased 5.2%. In July, same-store sales fell 1%; total sales for the month rose 23.3%.

What’s more, comp-store sales are expected to decrease for the full fiscal 1997, according to one analyst’s estimate, based in part on the overall sagging sales of athletic shoes.

“For whatever reason, [Footaction] had a miss on the merchandise in the near-term basis … with too much basketball and not enough brown,” says research analyst Marcia Aaron, who follows the industry for Alex. Brown. Baltimore.

Parks disagrees that Footactions’ product mix was off. “We’ll go as far as the consumer tells us to go.”

While Parks says Footaction is increasing its nonathletic shoe brands from 5% to about 10% of product offerings, Footaction will not stray far from its niche. “Consumers have so many other choices as far as good sneakers for plantar fasciitis. The driving force behind our business is the 12- to 24-year-old consumer buying our exclusive products.”

Market: The athletic footwear industry has nearly doubled since 1987 as fitness turned from sport to lifestyle. Sales soared from $6.4 billion in that 1996, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, Mt. Prospect, Ill. However, that increase has not been evenly spread.

Since 1992, sales have been relatively stagnant as the industry came off an Olympic year. What’s more, says Shanley, the growth of chains like Footaction and Finish Line is derived from stealing market share away from big guy Foot Locker, not from a growing market. Overall industry sales for fiscal 1997 are expected to decrease about 5% to 7% from last year, due in no small part to comparatively flat Nike sales.

Today, retailers face a host of challenges, including unpredictable consumer tastes, preferences for “brown” over “white” athletic shoes to wear with bunions, changing lifestyles of baby boomers and their children, and what some industry watchers say is a saturated market. “There has been a fair amount of square-footage growth in the last 36 months,” says Smith Barney’s Maureen McGrath, vp and senior equity analyst.

Retailers also remain quite dependent on manufacturers to deliver new product lines that move consumers into a “gotta-have-it” frenzy. When they don’t, as is the current case, retailers feel it in their cash registers.

“Over a five- to six-year time span there will be some years that are better than others.” says Parks about the business cycle for athletic footwear. “But it has always been a gradual, consistent growth, and I don’t see that changing.”

Smith Barney’s McGrath agrees: “I think most retailers are viewing this [slowdown] as reasonably temporary and they are optimistic about 1998.”

“Overall, product launches haven’t been exciting,” says Steve Richter, vp-research with investment and brokerage firm Tucker Anthony in Boston, which gave Footaction’s parent company, Footstar Inc., a buy rating earlier this year. One reason Richter likes Footstar, which also owns leased shoe department operator Meldisco, is for its long-term potential.

“Footaction has done well to manage in today’s slower growth environment,” says Richter, whose report cites Footaction’s strong expense management and solid overhead controls.

“The key element in managing costs is people,” says Parks. He says employees — Footactions has 5,500 — always consider how they can bring more, and save more, toward the bottom line.

“We also try to keep the number of stores under a district manager to a manageable level,” which is about 15 or 16 stores, says Parks.

Footaction was founded in 1976 in Wichita Falls, Texas, and acquired by Melville Corp. (now CVS) in October 1991. In 1996, Melville spun off Footaction and Meldisco into stand-alone footwear company Footstar. At presstime, Footaction had 533 stores in 44 states, concentrated in the Southwest, Southeast, mid-Atlantic and upper Northeast regions. “We are a bit underrepresented on the West Coast and in the Midwest,” says Parks.

While competitors such as Athlete’s Foot primarily target moms, Footaction is dedicated to the younger, “fashion-forward” market. Teens and young adults represent 64% of all Footaction shoppers. Everything Footaction does — from exclusive products to mall stores big in teen appeal — reflects this group’s lifestyle. It’s a segment worth tapping, considering that teenagers spent an estimated $103 billion in 1996, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, Northbrook, Ill.

To understand this often elusive market, Footaction’s buyers meet with at least 300 teens each year through advisory boards. It take cues from what it learns in these focus groups. For example, Footaction recently cut its skus by 30% to about 650 as buyers zeroed in on the styles its core shoppers wanted, according to Parks.

“It’s not how many dollars of inventory you have in your store,” says Parks, “but how much you have that the customer really wants.”

Footaction skus run narrow and deep. It also pushes one-of-a-kind products in what seems to be an industry standard, at least for retailers with enough buying power. Perhaps more than its competition, Footaction develops exclusive merchandise with manufacturers such as Adidas, Reebok, Fila and others. More than 52% of its merchandise are styles and colors found only at Footaction. Exclusives account for about 55% of all sales.

Presentation: As the footwear industry has shifted to fashion over performance, so has emphasis on display. “Store design has become just as important as the workers and the product,” says Keith Daly, senior vp and general merchandising manager. “Today, everything we do in our stores must connect with 12- to 24-year-olds.”

Footaction is betting on its latest prototype, a 4,000-plus-sq.-ft. store that combines athletic themes. Television monitors span the length of the show wall, and the drive aisle — Footaction’s Walk of Fame — is embedded with stars featuring athletes’ signatures. The color scheme is subtle and clean: Most of the fixtures are black; a rich wood grain gives the floor a sports-stadium feel.

Footaction also is pursuing aggressive expansion and conversion plans. All of Footstar’s Thom McAn stores should be converted to Footactions by this fall. By yearend, 276 Footaction stores will be 4,000 sq. ft. or more, according to Parks. The remainder, about 50%, will be 2,000 sq. ft. From 1997 through 2000, the chain will add a total of 2.1 million sq. ft. in new stores and expansions, according to Genesis Merchant Group Securities.

Footaction also intends to increase apparel offering in its larger prototype. Its current shoe-to-apparel ratio is 3:1.

Technology: Teen-agers typically buy fashion over price, and are highly likely to shop multiple stores until they find exactly what they want. So having the right shoe or shirt at the right time is critical.

To that end, Footaction has updated its information-technology infrastructure, which includes its new, “highly automated” distribution center in Dallas. The center can ship to any store nationwide in one day, if necessary, and three times a week in busy seasons. That means stores with larger sales floors and smaller stockrooms. By early next year, says Parks, some purchases will bypass the distribution center completely and go directly to stores.

To help build customer loyalty, Footaction also is building a customer database through its preferred customer Star Card program. It has logged names addresses and even birthdays of more than 1 million card holders since the program’s launch in May 1996. It hopes to have 2 million by year’s end.

“Footaction is probably ahead of the sector as far as database marketing goes,” says Tucker Anthony’s Richter. “It will give them an advantage longer term.”

Star Card holders get discounts on sale items as well as a glossy as well as a glossy quarterly publication, Footaction Star. Part magazine and part catalog, Footaction Star features products next to original articles.

“The magazine is a great way to lock kids in and keep Footaction on top of their minds,” says Alex. Brown’s Aaron. “But at the end of the day, it will be who has the right product.”

Unfortunately, Park’s first P, product, is still somewhat out of the footwear retailers’ hands, and the company has publicly called for manufacturers like Nike to re-energize their brands. As it waits for manufacturers to once again wow the teen-age world, Footaction will focus on developing one-of-a-kind items, honing its product mix, and beefing up apparel offerings and presentation in its larger stores.

“We can’t be everything to everybody,” says Parks. “We’re just real focused and we’ve chosen to be the best source of athletic footwear in malls for the 12-to 24-year old.” With that, a fifth P — profit — may continue to flow.


Best Softball Bats – How to Buy Them Cheap?

You might probably assume that all softball bats have a high price tag. This is exactly the reason why people often borrow bats from their friends instead of paying for their own bat. You will easily be able to get softball bats for as low a price tag as 40 USD. Softball bats are quite varied from baseball bats, which are constructed of wood and have a faster depreciation. On the other hand, a softball bat is constructed in a process which is technically engineered and made of special types of materials. But the technicality of the procedure does not indicate that the bats have to be costly. There are many inexpensive bats to be found in the market and you can get the best softball bats for yourself without spending a lot, as you make use of the following tips.

Price comparison can be effective

Many people use baseball bats instead of softball bats due to the simple reason that the former is cheaper and resemble the latter a lot. If you truly wish to enjoy softball, you need to make use of softball bats instead of baseball bats. First, you have to look for more cost-effective bats before you decide about the ones that you have to buy. With some careful price comparison, you will be able to get a bat worth 100 USD for a price of 40 USD. This means that you will get to save a lot of money. Before deciding about the bat that you should purchase, you need to look around. Today, you can buy cheap and high quality bats which are as good as costlier versions.

Check out the web stores

For people who know which bats can be ideal for them, checking out the web stores can be ideal for buying the best fastpitch softball bat. While buying these bats, you will need to find the best deals online. It is essential for you to ensure that the web store that you wish to buy your bats from has a solid return policy. In this way, you will be able to return any bat that is unsuitable for you while batting.

Look for used bats

If you want to save money, you should look for slightly used bats although from reputed brands. These come at half the cost of new ones. You will possibly be able to get these from your friends who are ready to give their old bats to you. Before settling on a specific bat, you should consider the weight and height of your bat. Look for a bat that suits you in the most appropriate manner so that you are able to enjoy softball playing to the hilt.

Wait for season sales

If you are not desperate to get a bat for a match that is a few days away, it is better to wait until the season has come to an end. This way, you can get cheap bats at clearance sales which are held in order to make way for newer models and other gears for the next season.

What Is the Best Waist Cincher – 3 Useful Tips for Choosing the Best One for You

Having a perfect body, with an hourglass silhouette, is one of the biggest dreams for most women. It can not only help you look feminine, but also highly sensual and more confident. Very few women are blessed with good genes to have a narrow waist even when they lose a lot of weight. With weight loss, the body actually tends to lose its shape after some time with the bosom and the hips losing their mass and the waist getting flabbier. With the best waist cinchers, your waist area can be more well-defined and more sensual in appearance. However, choosing waist cinchers of the best variety is not as easy as you may imagine. The following 3 tips will help you to decide for yourself “What is the best waist trainer in stores for me”.

Right fit

It is important for you to go for a cincher which can perfectly fit the shape of your figure. In simple terms, it has to match your body size similar to any ordinary clothing item. You need to take a few measurements. First of all, you should measure your waist area. Make sure at first that you do not wrap your tape too tightly. At the same time, however, you should avoid allowing it to hang too loose. It needs to follow the natural contours of your body. You should also measure your hips, the region below your bust line and lastly, the fullest section of your bust.

Perfect material

Before you order any waist cincher for yourself, it is recommended that you check the type of material that it has been constructed from. As per the choice of fabric, you should choose a size that it 2 – 6 inches smaller. It is important for you to know that the waist cinchers that come with a higher amount of Lycra are those that stretch the most around the body. This indicates that the cincher should not be smaller than 2 inches, otherwise you will be unable to wear it. The size of the outfit can be smaller by as much as 6 inches, as the amount of Lycra gets decreased to 0.

Right style

It is essential for you to know that there are waist cinchers of varied styles. Naturally, you should not buy an outfit of this type in a random manner. In order to choose the right one for yourself, you have to analyze your body shape. The two primary types of waist cinchers are Modern waist cinchers and Classic waist cinchers. The former come with a more modern design and look more stylish. These are designed to properly fit your body shape and they are naturally quite comfortable. Classic waist cinchers can be used as a substitute for medical back braces as these tend to offer a proper support to the back. These are highly comfortable and are designed to be a more proper fit for your body. However, if you want to appear at your best in any kind of apparel, the modern waist cinchers can be your best choice.

Ideas for the cyclist on your gift list

You’re scratching your head, wondering what to get for the cyclist on your list. Relax, it’s easier than you think! Big or small, simple or extravagant, the ideas are nearly inexhaustible. Besides the products showcased here from our advertisers, there are staples such as bike shorts and jerseys, sunglasses, energy bars, tools, lubes, tubes and tires, just to mention a few. But there’s also the more unique: from special blends of coffee (Phil Liggett’s Morning Brew or Jittery Joe’s) to Colnago’s Carbon Fiber Gift Set (including a signature watch, pen) to a GP or two-way radios, or a deluxe tour or trip to a training camp; there are also vintage cycling posters, or DVDs of classic cycling movies, such as Breaking Away, or even a membership in an advocacy group such as IMBA or the League of American Bicyclists; or, from Bicycling, there’s always the option of a gift subscription to the magazine. So, enjoy the holidays–everything about them, including the shopping!


If sharp SLR pictures matter, everything inside The Nikon N75SLR matters. It empowers photographers–beginners to experienced alike–with innovative technology to create great pictures with stunning color and exceptional sharpness, while providing them with a choice of simplicity and ease-of-use or full personal control. The N75 is a great choice for portraits, sports action, nature photography, and all shots that matter.


Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Tour De France with the limited edition numbered ELITE “TDF Centenaire” trainer. The chromed folding trainer stand resists flexing while the “Elasto-Gel” resistance roller and hydrodynamic oil resistance unit provides adjustable resistance. A 16 function monitor for best training results is included.



Introducing i-pads, from Promax. i-pads fit virtually every road, mountain and BMX bike with rim brakes, and feature two LED lights which illuminate whenever the brakes are applied. Promax i-pads make a great gift for any cyclist.


Emergency bicycle tool. The Performer X combines a compact, lightweight tool design with versatile features and functionality for on-the-trail tweaking and reapir. It has 20 functions including hex wrenches, screw drivers, spoke keys, torx wrench and an independent chain cutter.


Our most advanced mountain shoe yet! Even if you manage to wear out the lugs, you can replace them with our unique Sole Replacement System (SRS) and still keep riding. Sidi’s NEW High Traction SRS Mountain Sole is the perfect platform for this Lorica upper with our 3-buckle closure system. Available in sizes 39-48 and half sizes in 39.5-46.5.



The choice of Tyler Hamilton! Easton designed this bar with its cutting-edge Intelligent Flexibility & Taperwall Construction Technologies. At 290 grams and with a Reach/Drop of 158mm, this Oversized Ergo Bend road bar is the perfect stocking stuffer for the Roadie in your house and better yet, it’s stamped with Easton’s Limited Lifetime Warranty!



The Fortezza TriComp incorporates an additional PRS (Puncture Resistance System Technology) layer to give this race tyre clincher technology with the ride of a tubular. At 240 grams, this tyre performs best when pumped to 150 PSI. For speed without compromise, and unmatched handling and ride quality, try the Vredestein tyre and tube system.


The choice of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team! This limited edition 57 function HAC 4 delivers more accuracy obsessed features per dollar than any of its competitors. From speed to altitude to power, it’s a heart rate monitor, altimeter and cyclometer all-in-one! The perfect stocking stuffer for your roadie or mountain biker!


You’ve fine-tuned your bike for optimum performance, have you done the same for your body? The Enervit Enervitene Sport Gel is the only energy replacement gel with 15.6 grams of fructose for long lasting energy and B group vitamins for quicker carbohydrate assimilation. Available in Lemon or Cola Flavors.


Look never stops pushing the envelope when it comes to carbon fiber technology. From frames to pedals to accessories, Look brings you the Carbon Stem–the perfect lightweight component that doesn’t sacrifice strength. This stem weighs in at just 155 grams and is compatible with clamp diameters of 26.0 or 31.8mm. In a natural carbon fiber finish, it’s the perfect way to finish off your road bike!


If digital detail matters, everything inside the Nikon[R] Coolpix[R] 5700 matters. It’s the overachiever of digital cameras. Its advanced features include a powerful 8x Optical Zoom-Nikkor[R] ED lens, 5.0 effective Megapixels, and an electronic viewfinder for easier focusing. The Coolpix 5700’s tele-converter and wide-angle converter lens options help you get the reach and flexibility of the pros. If taking digital to the next dimension matters, get there with the Nikon Coolpix 5700.


  • The FIXX ID back

Don’t let the cyclist an your gift list go another mile without Road ID[R]! This necessary part of cycling gear is invaluable in the event of an unforeseen accident while on the roads. Road ID[R] is available in 4 models: the FIXX ID, WRIST ID, ANKLE ID, & SHOE ID.


Want a Kinetic Trainer, cut out this page for your gift buyer!

The Kinetic is the World’s Best because it has the most road like ride. The fluid resistance is smooth and quiet. The Cycling Press says the Kinetic as their “favorite” Ask for a Kinetic at your local bike shop or buy one online.

Gifts for the traveler

Here are some ideas for making trips more pleasant, along with some suggestions on where to send your favorite globetrotters.

Maya My, What A Wonderful Day (And Night)

Give a gift of relaxation at the intimate Hacienda Xcanatun (ssh-kana-toon), the recreated “Tall Stone House” of an 18th century farm near Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. The 18-suite luxury hotel on 9 garden-filled acres has a highly rated dining room, two swimming pools and a spa, where Mayan treatments include massages using honey and flowers or sacred rocks.

From this secluded spot, it’s a day trip to the famed Mayan architecture of Chichen Itza and the Flamingo Sanctuary at Celestun, on the Gulf of Mexico.

Wrap up a four- or five-night All Things Maya package or A Flamingo Eco-Adventure package; they range from about $1,500 to $1,900 a couple (five-night packages receive a sixth night free).

Going, going!

High bid wins a stay at Amberley Castle in West Sussex, England, a Viking River Cruise through the Burgundy region of France or four nights at the St. Andrews Bay Golf Resort & Spa in Scotland in the online auction hosted by the Society of American Travel Writers. These and many other trips and gift items are up for bid through Dec. 12 (

Picture ID

Colorful graphics in 31 designs – sunflower, cats, dogs, yoga, golf – on oversized (3.5-by-4 inch) BagTags help distinguish luggage ($7.50 each, JetSetGo, Write Impressions).

Have putter will travel

The three-section wooden handle of the metal-headed travel putter (right), plus practice hole and two golf balls, fit neatly into a zippered vinyl case ($36.85, Magellan’s).

Bright idea

Compact and lightweight, the torch clock combines a clock and flashlight ($14, FlaxArt).

Some like It hot

Warm them up with Coffee & Tea for Two, an insulated thermos tote outfitted with insulated, brushed stainless cups, a 24-ounce vacuum flask and accessories ($45, FlaxArt).

Tune time

AM/FM travel clock radio with CD player (ICF-CD2000) comes with headphones, built-in speakers and AC adapter ($189.95, Sony).

Motion pictures

The 8.9-inch-wide screen of Toshiba’s portable DVD player SD-P2500 boasts high resolution, two headphone jacks and many audio/video features at less than 2 pounds without battery ($699 Best Buy, Neiman Marcus).

Roadside dining

Equip foodies with a travel picnic kit (right), packing a cutting board, cheese knife, wine glasses, corkscrew and more in a slim carrying case with handles ($34.85, Magellan’s).

Save trees

The New York Times Touch Screen Crossword Puzzle Game carries 1,000 crosswords at different skill levels and includes a stylus and adjustable contrast for varying lighting conditions ($69.95, Marshall Field’s).

Green Gift Ideas For The Holiday Season

Scharffen Berger Chocolates

These all-natural, European-style chocolates–the “Extra Dark” is 82-percent cacao–are some of the best we’ve ever tasted, and they’re made in the USA, Chocolate-covered apricots and chocolate-covered crystallized ginger are also available, The nifty, wooden gift boxes can be reused, too. $12 to $50; (800) 930-4528;

Garden Insects of North America

This new book truly is “The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs.” Written by Extension entomologist Whitney Cranshaw, it includes the best color insect photos we’ve ever seen, plus authoritative advice on least-toxic pest control options and beneficial bugs. $29.95 in paperback; (866) 803-7096;

L.L. Bean Storm Chaser Clogs

These slip-on shoes have the cushioning of sneakers and the waterproof protection of overshoes. An elastic collar seals out dirt and pebbles, and the lining keeps toes toasty warm. $49; (800) 441-5713;


Heath/Zenith Solar Motion Sensor Light

This motion-detecting, solar-powered outdoor light is easy to install and, with no electric cords, especially convenient on moveable buildings such as chicken coops. The light has a battery-charged solar panel that mounts on the roof and holds a charge for several months. $80; available at hardware stores.

Gardening by the Moon Calendar

A beautifully illustrated and practical calendar that simplifies the technique of lunar planting. Packed with great information on garden activities for each month, it comes in three versions for a long, medium or short growing season. $12.95; available in natural food stores or at (707) 869-3974;

Green Glass

These elegant glass products are made from reclaimed bottles, collected from around the world. This “Protect the Earth” design features that message etched in four different languages into the glass. $25 to $50. Call (715) 355-1897 for questions; order online at

Meadow Stone Farm Goat Milk Soap

Elsa, a dairy goat from Connecticut, is the sole supplier of all the milk used for these gentle hand and facial bars. Meadow Stone Farm also makes facial creams and shaving bars, and even dog biscuits! $5 to $8; (860) 617-2982;

Energy-efficient Clothes Washers

Want to include large appliances in your holiday gift giving? Consider an energy-saving, front-loading washer. They use two-thirds less water than top-loading ones. Manufacturers such as LG Electronics, Bosch, Frigidaire, Kenmore and Maytag, as well as Asko, Haier, Equator and Thor, offer versions ranging in price from $400 to $1,600. Available at most appliance stores. Contact the American Council for an Energy–Efficient Economy for a full list of appliances: (202) 429-0063;

Smart Gift Wrap

These reusable, hand-dyed and hard-to-miss cloth bags make the gifts more special. To encourage reuse, the company created a Web log where gift givers can follow each wrapsack’s journey from person to person. $3.95 to $6.49; available in natural food stores or at (800) 505-3365;

MOTHER’S Merchandise

MOTHER’S cotton tote bags are great for trips to the market or library. Also try MOTHER’S delicious, triple-certified coffees. And, best of all, give an Earth-friendly, online subscription to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, $10. Totes and coffee also $10 each; (866) 803-7096: