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Chicago Formula4 Media Event A Lesson In Targeting Active Women's Market

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GREAT NECK, N.Y. (July 8, 2015) – For two-and-a half days in late June, retailers that walked past the Ferris wheel on Chicago’s Navy Pier, past the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and the souvenir shops, learned techniques for running a more successful business, one that caters to the powerful $11.5 billion women’s active market, and one where women either buy directly or influence 85 percent of the purchases in sporting goods.

The Running & Fitness Event For Women (TR&FE4W) conference and trade show, which just wrapped up its second year, attracted 900 industry professionals to Chicago, professionals who traveled there to network and consider products from 145 manufacturers offering the latest gear and apparel created specifically for the woman consumer.

This year’s event reports a 30 percent increase in buyers and a 20 percent increase in brands on the show floor, according to Beth Gordon, show director.

“TR&FE4W was a perfect convergence of fashion brands getting more functional, and functional brands adding flashes of design and color to their line-up,” said Gordon.

“There was tremendous interest in the category at all levels with buyers representing a diversity of channels, from running specialty to chain stores to online.”

The show attracted top athletes and media, all of whom were exploring the growth of the women’s business. Lornah Kiplagat, one of the top female marathoners in the world, was promoting the American launch of her signature apparel collection. Liz Thomas, who is known for her hikes of the Appalachian trail, walked 60 miles through the streets of Chicago in Altra shoes in advance of the event; and Runner’s World’s was covering new products for its website which has one million-plus page views per month.

Dave Zimmer of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago produced a fashion show featuring real women rather than models, to show how clothing fits on the average female buyer.

Dozens of new products were displayed, ranging from GPS watches (Timex), hands free dog leashes (Stunt Puppy), natural caffeine patches (, sandals offering recovery technology (OOFOS), and visibility vests (Noxgear). Nathan also introduced a new line of packs and accessories for the stylish woman under the XChroma brand.

At the show, there was also a growing awareness that women retail executives need to be on the front lines of selling the latest gear to female consumers. A new grass roots organization called She Runs Retail which was created to support, empower and mentor female store owners, managers and leaders across the running specialty space, held a roundtable session for attendees to share best practices and ideas.

“This is the first time we’ve really been able to reach out to a large number of women and have an impact,” says Barbara Gubbins, owner of four Gubbins sporting goods stores in New York, and co-leader of She Runs Retail.

Seminars Focus on Running Profitable Businesses

The trade show was more than a collection of the latest and greatest running and fitness products. It also included an intense full dayof seminars. Predominantly female owners and managers shared – with candor and honesty – the difficulties they face, the solutions they’ve crafted and the lessons they’ve learned about purchasing, time management, financial goals, networking, and more. They came to network and they came to learn from leaders in retailer education.

• Executive coach Libby Gill of Libby Gill & Company, told retailers, “You’re selling customers hope – they’re looking to retailers as purveyors of hope who give people confidence to become more athletic … especially those customers whose athleticism may be missing from their lives.”

• Sarah Bowen Shea of Another Mother Runner, suggests store owners let woman shoppers see themselves in the women who work at their store. As a running consumer herself, Shea says, “The best retailers don’t make me feel stupid.”

• In an entertainingly frank presentation by branding expert Erika Napoletano, retailers were advised to “embrace the power of unpopular.” She said, “Pick your audience, own your audience and understand how you’re going to use your voice to get them (customers) to come to you.

“Consumers want a reason to throw money at you. They want to feel you’ve earned the sale … customers come into you world to have their lives transformed.”

• Jim Dion of Dionco considers women the “chief purchasing officers” of households, calling millennial women the “largest purchasing demographic in the U.S. today.” He warns retailers not to stereotype women, “it’s stupid marketing.” Dion believes store employees need to be on top of their game because, “women want interaction. They seek out help and value employees more than male shoppers.”

Simon O’Brien, customer experience manager of 1st Place Sports in Jacksonville, Fla., said, “I learned a lot of new sales, merchandising and staff training concepts I’ll take back to the store. Plus, I saw a lot of new products I hadn’t seen before. My time out of the store for those three days will certainly pay off.”

Kathy Jones of Stomp Outdoor in Sycamore, Ill., won a prize for visiting almost every booth – she counted 105 out of 145. “I cameto this show to see everything. I wanted to see what’s new, what’s innovative and what’s out there. I’m amazed by all the technology available today for consumers.”

Exhibitors Open New Doors

While retailers walked away with advice to immediately apply to their businesses, exhibitors left Chicago with dozens of new sales leads, if not actual orders. “We’ve seen a lot of new buyers we had not seen up until now,” said Jack McPheron, technical rep manager for OOFOS.

At Ahnu Footwear, Julie Wieshuber, account executive, said on day one of the trade show, “I’ve been busy all day since the doors opened. We’re getting incremental business as a result of our presence here and our new YogaSport line.”

Handful, Inc. worked the show morning, noon and night, attending the Independent Running Retailers Association (IRRA) conference the day before, sitting in on seminars, participating in the fashion show, meeting with media covering the trade show, and networking some more on a show-sponsored architectural boat tour of Chicago. “We were connecting with retailers even before the trade show started,” said Jennifer Ferguson, CEO and founder.

Leigh Orne, COO and co-founder of Activyst introduced the brand to new buyers – “the show’s central location in the Midwest exposes us to buyers beyond our West Coast base.”

GGBlue is one exhibitor at TR&FE4W attracted by the diversity of buying channels in attendance. “We’re a new brand introducing ourselves to this market – we’re what you put on after the run and are a good match for retailers looking to move into lifestyle and travel casual apparel,” said Kathy Philo, vice president.

It was the first women’s-specific trade show for pack manufacturer Eagle Creek which debuted its Pack-It sports line. Tim McGuire, director of North America sales, said, “This was a great debut of our concept of compartmentalizing wet, smelly gear. It seemed to resonate with this audience and we’re excited to have some new specialty retailers on board.”

Elizabeth Clothier of RunWrap, an emerging running accessory company, also made TR&FE4W their first trade show, considering it “perfectly targeted to our demographic.” Clothier says, “we’re going to be busy in the coming few weeks following up on some great new leads.”

Next up for the running specialty industry is The Running Event, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in Austin on Dec. 1-4, 2015.

The third annual The Running & Fitness Event For Women returns to Chicago in summer 2016.

 Formula4 Media, based in Great Neck, N.Y., was established in 2005 and produces two trade shows, The Running Event and The Running & Fitness Event For Women, and seven publications: Footwear Insight, Outdoor Insight, Running Insight, Sports Insight, Team Insight, Textile Insight, and Trend Insight.

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