Citi says women's athletics niche heating up

Women’s athletic clothing is becoming a hot game in retail, according to one Citi analyst.

Women are buying more sneakers and exercise clothing as more of them want an “active, healthy lifestyle,” said Kate McShane Wednesday in research note. So she expects retailers will start selling better products for women.

She pointed to Nike Inc. and Under Armour Inc. as companies that have been improving their women’s merchandising and marketing over the past few years and are poised to capture a bigger chunk of the growing market.

The women’s athletics niche has already proven profitable for Lululemon Athletica Inc. The Canadian company has grown quickly since it went public in 2007 with its yoga-focused clothing business. However, it has faced setbacks recently with a major yoga pants recall, and its CEO is leaving.

Other athletic retailers are also trying to expand their women’s business, McShane said. Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. is testing a shop-in-a-shop concept to better to cater to female shoppers. According to McShane, the retailer’s management believes it could potentially double the space in its stores devoted to women’s merchandise. And Foot Locker Inc. is testing a new Lady Foot Locker format.

V.F. Corp, whose brands include The North Face, Vans and Wrangler, is working on a new store prototype for its Lucy brand, McShane said. The company is conducting wholesale tests at some REI and Dick’s stores with plans to eventually install shop-in-shops at those retailers, she said.

Nike shares slipped 37 cents to $72.05 in late afternoon trading as broader markets declined. Under Armour shares fell 30 cents to $82.39. Dick’s shares dropped 31 cents to $53.59. V.F. Corp. shares fell $3.59 to $195.25. Foot Locker stock slipped 16 cents to $33.85.