By and  on August 25, 2014

BERLIN — German efforts to address the over-50 customer now tend to be less overt than in the past.

Jürgen Dax, director of the German Apparel Retailers Association, said the more-established domestic brands that outwardly focus on the 50-plus crowd are often overdistributed or have a reputation for being frumpy and outmoded. “It’s not been easy to find an alternative. I don’t know anyone who has the right solution,” he stated.

Philip Beil, partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in Munich, noted a lot of so-called best-ager companies have dropped out of the German-speaking market in recent years, because “they overlooked the fact there is not the 50-plus target group. That may have been different 20 years ago, but now there’s a wider array of target groups that are 50-plus.”

“If you want to dress this group, you must get away from age segmentation,” he declared. “Style is not a matter of age anymore. Yes, there may be some conservative, rational consumers in the 50-plus age group, but they were like that before.” Similarly, a woman who favored a fancy style of dress in her 30s is not likely to want to dress down at 50, he added. “You have to segment target groups by types and preferences. It’s a question of style in the first place.”

In Beil’s opinion, brands and retailers in Germany are aware of the power of the 50-plus consumer segment, though sometimes a bit reluctant to embrace it. “It’s a big [consumer] group and growing, and if you look at the wealth distribution, most people have the most money between 50 and 70… The money is there and the interest in fashion is there.”

Yet, he cautioned, companies need to be careful regarding their approach. Major swings in brand communication from too old a focus to too young generally flop. “So we say get away from age and concentrate on other values, like quality, style or a family sense. Women 50-plus don’t feel old, and they don’t want to wear things worn by 50-year-old models. Nor is it easy to find the right models, so why not play it the other way and do the whole family, like Ralph Lauren,” he suggested. “It’s a way to avoid annoying these consumers.”

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The second step is to decide what age group is your brand’s main base, and adjust your fit and other issues accordingly, he advised.

Also, don’t overlook the Internet. “Online in general is a big issue. No matter whether the consumer buys online or not, a Web shop is the biggest window (a shop or brand) has. So even if the shop is not so successful, it’s a mistake to cut back. This age group may not be buying so much online, but for researching and finding inspiration and an overview, the Web is extremely important,” he said.

Back in the “good old days” when the mature customer was more uniform and classic in her tastes, at least in Germany, Basler more or less owned the business. So when designer Brian Rennie joined the management board and sent out a parade of HotPants and miniskirts at the label’s first major runway show in July 2011, there was an uproar. Basler, many said, had abandoned the older woman customer.

Not so, countered Rennie. “They are our core customer and we love and embrace them. I simply wanted people to look at us in a new way, and three years later, we have a new following of women over 50. Our business in Bloomingdale’s is on fire and we’re number one on the floor,” he claimed.

However, the company’s market research indicates there are still two types of Basler customers. Rennie said there’s the classic Basler woman who holds to traditional values, doesn’t look at fashion magazines and doesn’t want to stand out from the crowd. And then there’s the modern Basler woman who wants be more fashionable and sexy with a style that’s feminine, full of color, prints and embellishment. “Modern is our future,” he declared.

Basler sizes up to 52, except in the Gold Label range, which goes up to 46, and in Europe, 42 to 44 are Basler’s best-selling sizes. Ironically, it was with sizes 34 to 36 where Basler ran into a fit issue. “We had to slim up the sleeves because things were looking dowdy,” he acknowledged. Also, contrary to popular thought that older “women are always screaming for sleeves, we sell sleeveless dresses the best. But we also always have cardigans and jackets to wear on top.”

Rennie has been travelling around Germany on a series of “Brian and friends” ladies’ lunches, where women like Princess Bentheim in Düsseldorf invited 60 to 100 of her friends to get to know the brand. “Probably none of them had been in a Basler shop in their lives, and couldn’t believe how modern Basler was. They thought Basler was for grandmothers, even if they were grandmothers too.” Most new customers won through these events wear size 34 to 38, Rennie said, and are between 50 and 60 years old.

He noted that where the collection hangs “modern” — that is, next to brands like Marc Cain or Laurèl, it performs much better than when its neighbors are more conventional best-ager ranges like Gerry Weber and Taifun. Dressing celebrities the likes of Oprah, Jane Seymour and Andie MacDowell, as well as the new ad campaigns with a variety of women, including 40-year-old model and mother of three Nieves Alvarez or 44-year-old Daniela Pestova “shows Basler can be for many types of women,” Rennie said.

Five-year-old online retailer Navabi focuses on premium brands in plus sizes, including Lacoste, Basler, Roberto Cavalli White, and Zizzi. Based in Aachen and shipping to more than 20 countries, the company said women 50-plus do shop at Navabi, and are able and willing to spend the money for premium clothes and designer pieces.

“We do not do special marketing activities for 50-plus as we never made assumptions that women shop by age,” commented chief executive officer Zohejr Dehnadi. “However, we do find that they are especially interested in advice about what flatters their body shape and what trends look good on plus-size and how to wear them. So we have increased our content around these areas.” Along with Adele and Marilyn Monroe, Navabi’s style icons section highlights Oprah Winfrey and Judi Dench, and shows how to get their look.

Though they don’t have exact figures, Munich-based ceo and founder Mario Eimuth estimated that shoppers aged 50-plus make up about 20 percent of the high-fashion e-tailer’s clientele. The 10-year-old company carries more than 250 brands and upwards of 15,000 products, with brands including Valentino, Jil Sander, and Prabal Gurung. Stylebop ships to more than 100 countries.

In his opinion, this segment has been addressed by the fashion world. “Personally I do not believe that they have been ignored — a lot of collections offer items which tend to address women in this market,” Eimuth said. As a result, “Age is not a prime target category in marketing for us.”

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