Listen; do you hear that? It’s the sound of money talking. According to the SIA (Snowsports Industries Association), women spent $1.4 billon on women-specific gear during the ’15-’16 season (through February, anyway). That’s 31% of total sales — a pretty hard number for gear companies to ignore.
All the same, not all companies are fully committed to the women’s market. Some still treat it as an afterthought – a backseat to the unisex (read men’s) gear they already produce.
This isn’t the case at Blizzard Tecnica. Well known for its outstanding skis and boots, the company reaffirmed its commitment to the women’s market a little over a year ago with its Women to Women Initiative.
So what is this, exactly? I spoke to Leslie Baker-Brown, Blizzard Tecnica’s US Marketing Manager, to find out.
SD: Blizzard has been selling women’s skis for a long time. What’s the Women to Women Initiative, and how is it different from what you’ve already been doing?
LBB: That’s a good question, because the Black Pearl is the best selling ski in the country, so you’d wonder why we need to do anything special. Yes, it’s true we make great women’s products, but we believe we can do better. Our objective is to create authentic, relevant products that work for women. But we also want to improve the way we communicate with, engage, and educate women, too. This includes setting up a platform where we not only bring like-minded skiers together, but bring more women to the sport and get them to say ‘Omigod this is so much fun! Look at the people you meet, the connections you make.’ It’s a two-fold effort.
SD: So what’s the shape of this initiative?
LBB: The first phase has been focused on product — looking at what we have and figuring out what we can do better. In November, 2015, our parent company held a focus group in Italy where we brought together a variety of women to talk about equipment, determine what women value, and explore solutions. The next month, we held a North American focus group in Park City, Utah. And we had another one this past December.
During the first group, we spent a lot of time on the hill skiing our skis along with those of our competitors’. We talked about what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what we’d like to see changed. Then we spent a day talking about the issues women have with boots, whether it’s fit or stance or alignment.
SD: What came out of the boot portion?
LBB: We have a separate initiative called Project 165 — 165 is the Pantone color of our Tecnica orange – which we started a while ago. It’s made up of five of the people we think are the best bootfitters in the country. Four years ago we put them in a room and said, ‘Okay, blank slate. Design your dream boot.’ The end result was our Mach 1 collection of boots, which has been on the market for three years and has been hugely successful. We work with them on our other boots, too. So at Park City, we sat around and came up with all these different issues that women have with boots, and then brought in the guys from Project 165. They fit a lot of women’s boots so they see a lot of the same things. We all talked about the issues women have, as well as what women want. Then they went away and worked with our product development team to develop solutions.
SD: And what about skis?
LBB: Honestly, we started working on these sooner. We’ve always worked with a number of our athletes on projects and had a lot of success with that. Last year we introduced a women-specific design that basically takes what we’ve learned about carbon to make a ski that’s lighter without compromising performance. And this year moving forward we’ve got some new shapes and side cuts that are a littler more user friendly in terms of initiating a turn — not that they were hard in the past. You wonder, ‘How can they make this better?’ But they just keep doing it. It’s kind of fun.
SD: Have you learn anything from these groups that surprised you in any way?
LBB: Well, here’s something interesting. Everyone knows women’s calf muscles seem to be larger lower down on the leg than men’s, so fit can be an issue. For example, this prevents some women from getting their foot all the way to the bottom of the boot. But we had one woman in our focus group who had a skinny calf and couldn’t get her boots tight enough around her leg. That’s something you don’t generally think about. So we came up wth inserts that a boot fitter can use to fill in space around the calf to make the boot fit a skinny leg.
SD: So is W2W an ongoing project?
LBB: Ongoing. Corporate has hired a woman full-time to spearhead this project globally. She’s a young, Italian former ski racer, but she spent four years in the US, which is helpful for us because it gives her an understanding of the US market. She’s super energetic and fun. And I can tell you that as long as I’m here, we’ll be continuing this effort.
We’re also going to keep having focus groups; we’ll probably hold two in 2017. This past August we did a women’s-only athlete trip to Portillo, Chile. We took four of our athletes – a very diverse group – along with our brand creative manager, and brought in a bunch of prototype skis to get their feedback. We also did a lot of talking about the product, but since the next phase of the project is building out, we also discussed how to engage women, how to speak with them, what sort of information they want to know from us as a brand, and how to connect with them better. One conclusion we came to is that we all love sharing our skiing experiences, so we want to determine how we can we do that better so other women can come to love it as we do.
SD: So what are some of the things we can expect from Blizzard in the future?
LBB: We’re going to get this first phase of product out, and we’re going to launch a website in the next month or so that’s associated with the Blizzard Tecnica website. You’ll be able to go there to learn things like what to expect when you go into a store to buy a ski, what you should be looking for, how you should expect a boot to fit, how to in get shape for skiing. We have athletes we can tap into for expertise; who can act as a resource for women. So the next phase is pushing this out to the female sking community — educating, empowering, and drawing them into the sport. It’s a more 360 degree approach. It’s not just ‘Here’s a boot, we’re done.’ It’s a lot more than that.