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North Carolina Upstart Takes on Lululemon

Stocks in this article: LULU GPS FORR

The company carries roughly 120 activewear labels and thousands of styles, including boutique lines with names such as Prana, Alo , Zobha and Manduka alongside established outerwear names including Patagonia, O'Neill and Merrell.

Besides selection, the company wants to be known for giving customers sound guidance on choosing the merchandise best suited for their needs.

"A key point of customer service is the guidance," she says. "We want to be able to help our women customers make the right choice when it comes to apparel for the activities that she's in. We just want her to have the right choice at the right price point."

Woolman wouldn't release sales figures, but would say revenue leaped 400% last year. By April of 2012, the company had already surpassed that, with plenty of potential to grow, she says.

"I think we are in a unique position because we are independent. We're not just one brand. We're very objective and our customers knows we are unbiased. We can sell a customer" the product that's best suited for them, Woolman says. "Some of our brands, you can't find anywhere else."

ActivewearUSA is also taking advantage of the trend toward online sales.

Forrester Research (FORR) estimates that total online retail sales will reach $327 billion by the end of 2016. This holiday season alone is expected to generate $68.4 billion in online sales, a 15% increase over last year and 3% higher than the expected overall annual online retail growth rate, the company says.

"This year's optimism is in large part due to an ever-increasing number of consumers choosing the Web over physical stores and the rise in mobile commerce," says Forrester vice president and principal analyst Sucharita Mulpuru in a recent report regarding holiday sales.

Woolman says there may be an opportunity for ActivewearUSA to open bricks-and-mortar stores, but for now she's sticking to e-commerce.

For retailers that don't make their own clothing, is this a good business model?

Women's activewear represents just over 10% of the overall women's apparel market. Last year, sales in women's activewear totaled $13 billion, an increase of 6.7% from 2010, according to The NPD Group.

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