May 10, 2004
Dawna Stone (’95) Launches Magazine for Women Athletes
Her Sports targets niche vacated by Mega-publishers
Los Angeles — Until recently, Dawna Stone (’95) was chief marketing officer for MarineMax, the world’s largest pleasure boat retailer. MarineMax is a $600 million publicly traded company, with over 62 locations in 14 states. Stone was responsible for all marketing, advertising and public relations for the company. In addition, she oversaw the development and distribution of a 67,000 circulation lifestyle magazine.
Now, she’s an entrepreneur, the president and publisher of Her Sports magazine, a publication aimed at avid women athletes, as well as those who would like to be more active. The first two issues cover topics ranging from alternative medicine to rock climbing and contain articles like, “Moms Who Double as Triathletes,” and “America’s Most Stunning Day Hikes.”
The focus is on individual sports such as running, cycling, skiing and surfing. Some articles address topics such as training and nutrition, while others profile pro and amateur athletes who compete on the track, snow or water and also are busy in the home and in business. Her Sports occupies the niche between a fitness book like Shape and a sports magazine like Runner’s World.
Stone was a competitive swimmer from age five through her college years at UC Berkeley. Now she’s an avid hiker, water skier, snowboarder, trail runner and triathlete. In fact, in ’97 she qualified for the triathlon age group World Championships based on her performance at the USAT National Championships and in 1999 she competed at the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii.
As a result of her own interest in sports, developing a magazine for active women has been a lifelong dream. “When I was growing up, my father ran his own business. I always knew that I too wanted to have my own business one day,” she says. “I just didn’t know what that business was going to be.”
Getting her MBA helped to further the entrepreneurial dream. “My Anderson experience definitely had a positive impact on my desire to be an entrepreneur. Some of my classes still come into play almost 10 years after graduating,” Stone says. “The two business plan courses have played a big role in my work and, of course, (Professor Bill) Cockrum’s Finance class.
Stone came to UCLA Anderson after working as a financial analyst for Morgan Stanley, but she admits that she has a love/hate relationship with finance. “The thing I realize now is that no matter what you are doing – working for a company or running your own business – it all comes back to finance. And now that I’m running my own business, I truly understand the phrase that Cockrum used to share with us daily: ‘Cash is King!’ I’m not sure if he still uses the phrase in his classes today, but boy was he right.”
While it may have been a lifelong dream to run her own business and create a magazine like Her Sports, actually turning her dream into a reality was as a business decision as well. “I personally felt that I was left out by the magazines on the market today,” she says. “There wasn’t a magazine for people who were into individual sports like running and hiking and biking and a lot of my friends felt the same way, that there was a huge void in the market.”
Stone identifies her core readers by breaking them into two broad categories. “There are two types of readers in our core market, which is generally women who are 25-49. Some are already out there participating in sports and some want to be more active - would really love to find a way to get started. We write a lot of articles for beginners, and in the sidebars, we’ll have information for the more seasoned athlete.”
Historically, sports magazines aimed at women have faced a tough challenge. Thirty years ago, tennis star Billie Jean King started WomanSports, which was the precursor to Women’s Sports and later Women’s Sports and Fitness. Mega-publisher Conde Nast purchased the magazine in ’98 and put a lot of promotion behind it, before eventually folding it. In 1997, Time-Warner launched Sports Illustrated for Women with some trial issues, began publishing it in earnest in ’99, and ultimately folded it last year.
So, why does Dawna Stone think she can succeed where the big publishers failed? “Every single advertiser asks that question,” she notes. “Whether I was talking to L’Oreal, or Coke or Kraft, I always received that question first.
“SI for Women was wonderful, I was sad to see it go. But it covered professional athletes, and many women couldn’t relate. Her Sports readers are real women, with kids and jobs and a very full schedule.”
Maintaining a reasonable budget for Her Sports is one key to the possibility for long-term success where others have gone under. “Conde Nast spent $40 million to launch their magazine, plus the $7 million they paid for it. That’s a lot of money to try and recoup; we’re not spending that kind of money to launch Her Sports. SI for Women – look at their masthead – 100 to 150 people worked on it where we have five and don’t plan on growing beyond 20.
“SI for Women would spend $50,000 on a cover shoot – we go nowhere near that – nothing close to that. If you run the numbers, there are a lot of magazines that are very profitable. They just couldn’t make it profitable with expenditures like that.”
Her Sports began with a solid plan. Stone began immediately after leaving MarineMax, conducting focus groups on both coasts. “I learned a lot of what women want to see, developed a prototype, took that to more women and to advertisers, making sure that the market existed and there was a need from both advertisers and readers.”
One thing she found was a need to fill a niche for women not met by the sport-specific magazines that concentrate solely on cycling or running or swimming. “There are some great magazines out there,” Stone says. “But they are tuned towards the male reader. The tone is very male – training, race results, the technical aspect of biking – Her Sports is more lifestyle-focused and not as technical.”
Like any start-up, those in on the ground floor must wear multiple hats. Stone is president and publisher, but her job duties go from circulation to distribution to copy editing to overseeing creative. “The funny thing about having your own business is you tend to work longer hours but it never truly feels like ‘work.’ The greatest thing is seeing all the hard work pay off as you watch your business grow,” she points out.
Stone also brings in the advertisers, and in this area the magazine has already shown great success. “We’ve had a lot of great advertisers come on board. Issue three is paying for most of our printing and mail costs already,” Stone says. “We’re on the right track – we’re looking for more investors so that we can do some additional marketing beyond the grass roots marketing we’re doing, and grow the magazine faster.” Among the advertisers currently on board are L’Oreal, Kraft, ASICS, Ford, TYR and Dove.
Her Sports is available nationwide and can be found at Borders, B. Dalton’s, Barnes and Noble, REI and other major book store chains.