Salomon’s Novel Approach to Gender Equity

First, it acknowledged the size and potential of the female ski market. Then the company quite literally broke the mold, creating a women’s ski from scratch, not as an offshoot of a men’s model.

By Erme Catino April 26, 2016

When consumers glance at a wall of fresh skis on display at their local shop or e-commerce site, the last of their concerns is the process of how those skis came to market. Will these skis meet my needs (conditions, terrain and ability level)? That is any consumers’ main criteria. But the answer to that question often does have something—if not everything—to do with how the ski came to market. That’s what drove Salomon when creating its new Constellation series of women’s skis. Rather than tweaking a men’s ski—as is often the case—or updating previous models, Salomon started at square one, with a blank slate.

“For us, it starts with the end user and consumer,” explains Jenny Taylor, brand manager for Salomon USA. “When [we’re] building a new line of skis, the more work we do on the front end, the better we can succeed. And while we have a talented group of women here, we need to go outside of ourselves to understand the target.”

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(That target, it’s worth mentioning, is largely untapped, even though women make up roughly 37 percent of all skiers, according to ConsumerVue data.)

For Salomon, this type of market research isn’t new, and, according to Taylor, it’s what sets the company apart. “What makes us unique is the time and investment we place on product launches—it’s not one meeting then pulling the trigger. It’s a process with timelines built in, research on trends, and our designers and athletes are constantly out in the field testing gear.” While most ski companies follow a similar path to design and implementation of new product launches—typically via designers, engineers, and team riders—Salomon’s commitment to hard data and two years worth of gathering research, involving both outsiders and influencers, can be attributed to their continued success. Salomon also involves the retailer, an important contributor to the intel. Salomon asks retailers: would your shop and customers be interested in this? “Through the research process, we’re checking all the boxes to be as thorough as possible,” notes Taylor, and overall Salomon found women were willing to help and give their honest opinions.

By way of a two-year research study prior to coming to market, Salomon developed a product line that is easy to understand and allows consumers to digest what they’re looking for in performance and on-snow feel. And as Taylor notes, “this past season the line sold through amazingly well for us, people were getting behind it through retailers and consumers.”

Throughout the two-year study, Salomon gathered data to validate preconceived notions on women’s skis and to learn things perhaps they wouldn’t have accounted for. The research was conducted via in-person focus groups, consumer insight and trends data, and observations in the field. All in all Salomon estimates more than 1,000 women were taken into account in some way or form. The women represented a broad range of skiers and demographics, and, as Taylor explains, the brand also utilized its ambassadors, who helped recruit local influencers, further extending the data set of female skiers.

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Gathering information and inspiration for the new line of women’s skis.

“We had a pretty broad [sample], but the end goal was ‘what are the skiers’ motivations and what do they value—whether it’s ease of use, durability, graphics, purchase behavior (frequency and where), how they participate within the sport, and what they’re expecting their gear to do for them,” says Taylor. Salomon also tapped its athlete test team, as it does with most product launches.

“It’s a fun process,” says Taylor. And “I think the ski industry needs both unisex and women-specific models.”

In an industry that constantly hears that women need dedicated products, Salomon also understands that some women skiers want unisex models, such as Salomon’s new QST line. “Sometimes we can focus too much on segmenting skis rather than on what the intended use is—be it width, stiffness, etc.” And from a marketing side, Salomon knows that women appreciate having women-specific products. “The consumers see the marketing, they feel included by a brand that is addressing their needs and that helps build the women’s ski community,” explains Taylor. As for the research-driven approach, Salomon understands it’s a validating concept. “We’ve always done things this way, explains Taylor. “It’s in our DNA, working with the athlete and community until we get it right.”