Women in Business 2012 keynote speaker: Title Nine CEO Missy Park pioneered the women’s sports apparel industry
As CEO of Title Nine, a high profile retail and catalog company she founded in Berkeley specializing stylish performance apparel for women, Missy Park knows what it takes to break down barriers and build a business in an industry once dominated by men-only sportswear companies. A self-described sports evangelist and keynote speaker for the June 28 Women in Business Awards Gala, she helped launch, define and shape the female sportswear and equipment market.
She took the name for her company from the groundbreaking 1972 Title IX legislation that requires gender equality for boys and girls in every federally funded educational program and activity — including sports.
Ms. Park was 10 years old when Title IX became law. At age 26 the former Yale University athlete, who excelled at tennis, basketball and lacrosse in the early 1980s, was uncomfortable having to wear uniforms and shoes from a men’s catalog that did not fit properly – despite the passage of Title IX.
In 1989, she became the first retailer to focus on selling women’s sports and fitness apparel. She worked out of her house with inventory stocked in the garage. Her business philosophy can be characterized as “success by failure.”
“The best advice I can give those thinking about starting a business is to stop thinking about risks and start doing. In my experience, I believe you succeed only through many little failures. I’ve had my share of setbacks, but each paved the way for future achievement. There are a ton of opportunities for growth in the U.S. retail market.”
Her first direct mail venture involved 30,000 catalogs (a number that would grow to 25 million years later). She received only 56 replies from that first distribution, including three from her mom, but sports bras accounted for 30 of these orders. Ms. Park had found her niche, the essential product line and core business that continues to account for 25 percent of sales.
“We’re mailing fewer catalogs these days, but getting more sales from those we send out. Our website is now an extension of the paper channel. We also have a separate e-commerce brand identity specializing exclusively in bras, called Bounce.”
Title Nine has made a successful transition from a catalog company to a brick and mortar firm with 19 retail stores in nine states and 300 employees.
The firm’s gateway store is located at 1840 4th Street in Berkeley, CA.
“Change can be challenging for a while, but we figured out the formula that works for us with the right products and people at the right spots. Once you nail it down, stick with what you know — but keep innovating.”
Ms. Park takes a Money Ball movie approach to marketing. “We percolate a lot of little ideas each year and implement at least four of five of the best ones to stay fresh and relevant.”
The process works. The privately held firm has realized 15 revenue percent year-over-year growth, has no long term debt and focuses on sustainable, organic growth.
“We’re getting better at managing in a slow economy. Some say I like to micro-manage. While I am very hands-on, but when people know what they’re doing, I let them do their thing.
“We have a supportive culture centered around fitness and sports. There is a full gym in the office, we have a fitness challenge every three months and host the T9 Olympics once a year where employees compete in Noodle Hockey, Cup Stacking and by playing Mega Ball. “
Title Nine tries to hit every category of clothing its customers are looking for, including bras, swimming, running, fitness as well as performance dresses and skirts with benefits.
Today the Title Nine and Bounce carry over a hundred different bra styles. Forty percent of both company’s products are designed exclusively by the in-house design team with the rest sourced from among the best of what other manufacturers have to offer.
The firm is applying performance fabrics and hybrid fleece to everyday clothes as well as for workout gear. The key to performance fleece is that it wicks and warms even when wet.
Ms. Park has been coaching women’s and girl’s basketball for 30 years and is now working with soccer teams. She co-founded Night Court, a middle school girls’ basketball league based in Oakland that now boasts over 60 teams nationwide.
Title Nine has its own non-profit, called The Starting Block, that introduces girls to the spirit of Title IX by helping them get off the streets and on to playing fields.
Today Missy Park lives, works and plays in Berkeley with her spouse and two children, a son, 10, and a daughter, 13. She is an avid mountain biker, an enthusiastic, novice white water kayaker and rides her Elliptigo to work whenever possible.
Cartoonist Charles Schulz was a big supporter of women’s athletics and women athletes, and June 28, 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX.
The event is being commemorated with a “Leveling the Playing Field” exhibit through Aug. 12 at the Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center in Santa Rosa.
Mr. Schulz was a women’s softball coach and a champion of equal opportunities for women in the world of sports. He highlighted the issue of females in sports with a multi-day storyline in 1979 about Title IX in his comic strip.
This milestone exhibition features 86 original Peanuts comic strips showing girls participating in sports, displays celebrating the history of women in sports and women’s sport attire from the 1880s to the present.
Peanuts characters from the Title IX comic strips are featured on a series of limited edition T-shirts available through Title Nine.
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