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.
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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. “