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Growth opportunities are everywhere—especially when industry sales have flatlined and new prospects look grim.

Sounds impossible? Not if you understand that there's a new breed of adventurous female customer waiting in the wings, ready to experience your products and services.

Every month I get calls from traditionally male-focused industries: fishing and hunting, home improvement, sporting goods, auto aftermarket, marine and boating, online gaming. Executives there are noticing a major shift in their customer base. Many women are diving into activities that were formally the testosterone-laden domain of men, and manufactures and retailers are responding with "for-women" classes, events and learning communities.

While some visible, for-women marketing efforts can lead to pale, watered-down versions of the original, a smart and tightly focused campaign tailored for female newbies can generate incredible results.

Here's the story of one company that got it right, and the lessons we can all take away from their considerable success.

Target your top prospects

In early 2004, Rutabaga (www.rutabaga.com), the 28-year-old Wisconsin retail paddling company, was looking for a way to build its customer base. CEO Jeff Weidman and his staff reviewed the research from the Outdoor Industry Association and identified women (especially those new to the sport or interested in giving it a shot) as the company's number-one growth opportunity for increasing participation and sales.

To champion the new marketing-to-women effort, Weidman promoted part-time Rutabaga employee Carol Lynn Benoit to a full-time marketing position. Together, they created Water Divas—an in-store educational program for new and inexperienced women paddlers. Rutabaga publicized the May 2004 event through a series of radio ads and some savvy grassroots marketing.

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image of Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson (lisa@reachwomen.com) is the CEO of ReachWomen (www.reachwomen.com). She is also a coauthor of Don't Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy—And How to Increase Your Share of this Crucial Market (AMACOM, 2004).