Nicole DeBoom – Owner of Skirt Sports

[quote style=”boxed”]My best ideas always appear when I am working out. Fitness is a huge part of my life, and it has proven to be the place that my cluttered brain can de-clutter.[/quote]

The employees of Skirt Sports like to think of Nicole DeBoom as their turbo-charged, high energy, fun-loving leader. Hailing from the ’burbs of Chicago, Nicole’s passion for fitness started at an early age when she qualified for the 1988 Olympic Swimming Trials in the 100m breaststroke at 16. She went on to swim varsity for Yale University and in 1999 made her professional triathlon debut.

Over the next several years, she raced around the country securing wins at major events in Boulder, Chicago and Memphis and rocked three top 15 finishes at the legendary Hawaii Ironman World Championship.

In December 2003, Nicole was on a training run when her love for fitness, desire to feel feminine and entrepreneurial drive collided. After a run, she wrote the word “pretty” on a piece of plain yellow notebook paper, and the idea for Skirt Sports was born. In September 2004, she raced on to victory at Ironman Wisconsin wearing the world’s first-ever women’s running skirt, and Skirt Sports was officially founded on September 15, 2004.

At the Skirt Sports launch at a marathon expo in February 2005, the fitness market quickly took note of Nicole’s groundbreaking designs; she had pioneered an entirely new product category. In the last several years, her leadership has grown Skirt Sports into a women’s fitness powerhouse with a full collection of styles including tops, dresses, outerwear and accessories sold in over 600 specialty retail stores throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia.

In 2007, Nicole launched the Skirt Chaser 5k race series nationally, and in 2009 she received a 40-Under-40 award from Sporting Goods Business. So whether you’re into running, walking, hiking, yoga, weightlifting, dancing, flirting, golf, tennis, shopping, soccer mom carpooling, running errands, gardening or meeting the girlfriends for coffee (whew!), Nicole definitely has you in mind when she’s dreaming up the next generation of Skirt Sports.

Recently, Nicole and her husband Tim, a two-time Hawaii Ironman World Champion, have been working on a new project together: parenthood. On December 30, 2011, they welcomed their daughter, Wilder Jette DeBoom, into the world. You can read about Nicole’s odyssey as a nearly-40 mom and CEO in her weekly blog and on her Facebook page.  (See the “Connect” section below.)

What are you working on right now?

What am I not working on?! The first thing I’m focused on is trying to figure out this so-called balance between work and being a new mom. I keep saying, “I just had a baby,” and then I realize it’s already been eight months! From a business perspective, I’m currently working in a four-season zone. We are concepting our Spring 2014 product line. I am working up 2013 financial forecasts, including our marketing plan. And at the moment, I’m rallying the troops for a big push for the remainder of 2012, which is proving to be a tougher year than we expected.

Where did the idea for Skirt Sports come from?

I had the idea for Skirt Sports on what I call an “epiphany run.” In my former life, I was a pro triathlete, training and racing around the world for a living. Along the way, I realized that there was something missing in the market: cute, functional fitness clothing for women who didn’t want to compromise their personalities while competing. During a training run, a light bulb went off when I saw my less-than-feminine reflection in a store window. I couldn’t shake the word “pretty” from my mind. I just wanted to feel pretty while I was out there. So I ran home, started scribbling my ideas for a groundbreaking line of women’s fitness apparel with a focus on fashion, and Skirt Sports sprang to life.

What does your typical day look like?

First of all, I haven’t had more than five straight hours of sleep since December 30, 2011 when my daughter was born. So my days generally start pretty groggily!

During daycare days, I wake up and do an activity with Wilder in the morning (hike or stroller jog) and then drop her at daycare for a full workday. On non-daycare days, I have great adventures with Wilder and when she’s napping, I jam on emails, work calls and try to occasionally do things like cleaning and organizing our house. Thank heavens my husband has embraced cooking, or we would all be dwindling away to nothing!

How do you bring ideas to life?

My best ideas always appear when I am working out. Fitness is a huge part of my life, and it has proven to be the place that my cluttered brain can de-clutter. When that happens, the creative juices start to flow, and pretty soon I’ve created all sorts of new projects!

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I love the recent trend of interesting, themed running events. I have always believed that there is a huge barrier to entry to the world of running for many people. I also think that we have the greatest opportunity in that virtually every person walking down the street is a potential “customer” of running. These new events are less intimidating than your standard running races because they focus on something other than running—namely, having fun. I think this trend will encourage people to go to the next level and join the world of runners out there. This is great for biz and also great for HEALTH!

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

This is a tough one, because I didn’t have many horrible jobs. My three big careers were swim coaching, racing as a professional triathlete and starting Skirt Sports. In order to identify a pretty rough job, I have to dig back pretty far.

I guess I would say that my worst job was being a crew scheduler for a startup airline in 1996. I started as a temp making $8/hour. My job was to make sure that the pilots and flight attendants were properly scheduled and to call them if someone didn’t show up or if a flight was delayed. The downside was that I was given a pager and if a pilot was a no-show in the middle of the night, I would wake up and start calling other crew members. At some point, the airline bought out the temp agency workers and I was so excited that I would finally start making $10/hour or more. When they approached me, they offered a raise to $8.25—and I still had the damn pager! I lasted another month before I realized that my heart was on the trails, not the runways. I learned that a paycheck (even a small one) was not worth compromising your passion.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I wouldn’t do anything differently. I’m so proud of what I’ve built, and if I changed anything it would take away from the company I’ve built and the incredible team I’ve nurtured.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I believe that we need a network of people to help us during tough times. I have always operated with my own informal “Board of Advisers.” I call on people I know when I can’t solve something. I encourage every single person at Skirt Sports to build their own network of advisers. None of us has done this before, so we can’t expect to know all the answers. We can’t be afraid to tap into our networks.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In 2007, we came up with this really edgy, innovative 5k event concept called the Skirt Chaser 5k. Basically, the women start first and then men go three minutes later, effectively “chasing” the women to the finish where a big party awaits. The concept was intended to be in good fun. Well, every college newspaper around the country picked up on it and started blasting us as a sexist company and calling the Skirt Chaser “one step back” for the women’s rights movement. I was appalled, as a woman myself and as a strong women’s business leader.

We brainstormed and decided that the concept was not to blame, but our branding and messaging was too overtly flirty and sexy. We revised our logo to be stronger rather than sexier, and we repositioned our branding to point out that women start first and “invite the men to join us.” Since we made those changes, we have not had a single complaint. This definitely demonstrates the power of details!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think someone should start a frosting cafe franchise. I believe there is a big market for the cake crowd, but I think there is an even greater market for frosting lovers. I envision a slew of “bases” and then a huge range of frosting options: cream cheese, mint chocolate chip, red velvet, butterscotch, and of course some more unique baconesque flavors as well. If you jump on this, all I ask is that you name one of the frostings after Skirt Sports (for a little extra cross-promoting!).

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would make people be nicer to each other, especially strangers. I believe that everyone has a story. Everyone has something happening in his or her life that we have no idea about. Every person deserves attention and respect. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we treated everyone as if they were our best friends?

Tell us a secret.

I play Words with Friends against my mom…and I TRY to beat her! We have three games going at all times. We’re pretty evenly matched.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources, and what do you love about them? – I am a new mom. I love the basic online hand-holding that tells me things like “what to do when your baby starts biting you.” I have no idea how moms survived before the Internet! – I am a newspaper girl at heart, but with a life on the move, is pretty awesome for GOOD news reporting!
YouTube – Countless hours of entertainment…

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Fred Factor. This is a basic reminder of how to treat people and how treating people well will only improve your life and the life of your business.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Tony Hawk – He’s a very successful athlete/entrepreneur. There aren’t many out there!
Lara Merriken – She’s the founder of Larabar—a strong woman who created something amazing, changed a category and transitioned her business so she could pursue a new passion, motherhood.
Oprah –  I love Oprah.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

This morning. My husband Tim made Wilder laugh, which is the cutest giggle you’ve ever heard—which in turn made me laugh. Cheesy but true. Happens all the time.

Who is your hero?

Right now it’s Missy Franklin. That girl has the world at her fingertips. Yet she is grounded, goofy and sticking to her principles. Go Missy!

Do you plans to remain the CEO of Skirt Sports for the long haul?

This is a toughie. I plan to remain in a leadership role at Skirt Sports for as long as I can be helpful to the brand. I want to grow with the company, and I believe that if someone is smart and talented, they can go as far as they want to. But the future is yet to be seen. For now, I’m enjoying this role and I am excited to steer Skirt Sports for the foreseeable future!

Are you and Tim going to have more kids?

I have learned to never say never. But at this point, we believe that one perfect child is just right for us.


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