NEW YORK — Don’t even think about asking teens to hand over their money — that is, unless the product is fashionable, comfortable and priced right.

That seems to be the formula for success when it comes to targeting the teen consumer. But it seems to be easier said than done. With major retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and H&M taking a large portion of the teen dollar, smaller firms have a lot of homework to do.

“What Target has managed to do is just amazing,” said Chris Griffin, president of the Los Angeles-based junior sportswear firm Chica. “In the Eighties, you wouldn’t be caught dead in Target and now people are going there first for hip fashion. Today, there’s nothing hip about overpaying for anything. When we talk about this age group today, she doesn’t even know from the Eighties. She’s growing up in a new playing field.”

That field includes a new set of factors that influences teens. While past generations looked up to such career role models as Neil Armstrong and Gloria Steinem, today’s career role models include Russell Simmons and Jennifer Lopez, people whose fame started around music, but who have crossed over into everything from fashion labels to restaurants to film. TV shows like “The Apprentice” and “The O.C.” are among their favorites, shows that deal with more serious issues than shows that were big hits just a few years ago, like “Friends” and “Will & Grace.”

“It’s not just teens who are looking to live a mogul lifestyle as they get older,” said Cory Berger, a buzz marketer with Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners, a marketing solutions agency that works with such companies as Intel Corp., Nestlé and Volvo.

“Kids as young as eight idolize superstars like Jessica Simpson and Hilary Duff who are transitioning between media outlets at an unprecedented level. They are crossing the lines from music to film to TV projects, giving fans more and more access to them. With so many young stars attaching their names to restaurants, production companies and product lines, kids today are getting a very clear message that their idols aren’t so much about the ‘art’ as they are about accumulating power and wealth, and creating their own brands. And that’s something these kids intend to emulate.”With moguls as role models and “The Apprentice” showing teens how to make it big in business, this generation of teens is a more serious bunch than recent generations. They are saving for college, securing after-school jobs and spending their money on iPods and MP3 players. They know that in order to get to the top, they have to gain experience when they are young.

“Teens know that it’s not enough to say they want to be a doctor when they grow up. They know that in order to become a doctor, they have to volunteer as a candy striper at the local hospital or work in a medical office,” said Schuyler Brown, associate director of trendspotting and research for Euro RSCG MVBMS.

With that sophistication comes an appreciation for quality and price.

“Teens today are displaying their interests in value shopping as they set new fashion trends, such as wearing upper-end product with lower-end product,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with The NPD Group, a marketing information company. “Teens are still shopping at both specialty stores and department stores for status items. They are, for example, wearing full-price shoes from Nordstrom with jeans from Target.”

But for junior apparel makers, this revelation comes as no surprise.

“Teens are very value-conscious consumers, they always have been,” said Denise Segal, president of the JLo by Jennifer Lopez brand. “It seems like they are just becoming even more value-conscious. If you have great product at a great value, that’s a win-win. Innovative product will stimulate them to buy. This is a consumer who has to be reenergized when they shop, and retailers have to provide that kind of shopping experience.”

Now, as there are more dynamic brands on the market, Segal said, the industry seems to be in good shape.

“We go through these waves in retail,” she said. “Right now, there is a lot of excitement in the better department with new lines launching that carry high-end designer names. The urban brands have created that same sort of excitement on the junior floor.”

Alden Halpern, president of junior denim firm Tyte, said he agrees that teens are value-conscious, but said the right product will always be the winner.“Teens are more motivated by fashion and peer pressure rather than the price of the item,” Halpern said. “As long as you are in with the value price range and the style is right, they will buy it.”

Halpern said the secret of his own company’s success is that he strives to offer a high-end looking pair of jeans at a retail price range of $24 to $39.

“Teens want to buy these status denim brands, but when it comes down to it, most of them do not want to spend that kind of money on a pair of jeans,” he said. “So, by offering them quality denim in those high-end washes, we are doing great business.”

PROFILE OF A TEEN SHOPPER

  • Number one factor that drivesteens to stores: Size availability
  • Average amount of money teens report spending per week: About $50
  • Number one source where teensget their money: Allowance fromparents/guardians
  • Number one item for which teensare saving: College
  • Number one item purchased by orfor a teen: Clothing


WHERE TEENS SPEND ON APPAREL

NEW YORK — Last month, Euro RSCG MVBMS conducted an online survey that included 486 teens between 12 and 19 years old. Here’s where these teens said they will spend their money.

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