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Under the direction of Jeff Gennette, Macy’s West’s young men’s department has become one of the strongest and fastest-growing segments in the chain.
This story first appeared in the April 10, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
LOS ANGELES — After years of trying, Jeff Gennette has managed to pull them in.
Walking into the young men’s department at Macy’s West today, one would never know that just a few years ago, the department was dead. The only young man shopping at Macy’s was there because his mother dragged him. Today, the story is much different.
The floor is filled with choices for the young man. The department’s size has increased by an average of 1,500 square feet per store, there are new fixtures that can accommodate almost any brand and has repositioned young men’s and activewear next to each other on the floor. It has enlarged its surf and streetwear shops to include clothes from Ecko, Sean John, Phat Farm and Rocawear for the streetwear customer and Quiksilver, Billabong, Hurley and Split for the surfer. In addition, to make the shopping experience even easier, the shoes are there, too, for the customer looking for the head-to-toe look. According Gennette, comp store sales increased by 50 percent in 2002 and the young men’s department made about $250 million by the close of 2002, based on market estimates.
When Gennette, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s and children’s wear, joined the team at Macy’s West Inc. in May 2001, his mission was clear: Get these customers into the store. So, Gennette broke the rules of the past and began to refocus in order to give young men reasons to shop at the store.
“The floor used to look boring and we couldn’t compete with the specialty stores,” he said. “Young men’s was the smallest business in the store.”
Gennette first adopted the specialty store concept for the young men’s floor. Part of this plan allowed brands to have in-store shops on the floor. For example, Quiksilver now hangs in front of a wall covered in wallpaper that looks like water, which helps to capture the surf-inspired look of the line. Next, Gennette did everything possible to understand what teen boys want. This included the hiring of new, younger buyers who live the lifestyle.
“It’s so important to have buyers who can pick up the vibe of the customer,” he said. “They attend concerts and surf expos and I’m happy to say that our streetwear buyer is endearingly called ‘girlfriend.’ They have to like and love young life.”
Next up was the assortments available on the floor. Today, there is more denim available at the store and a surf and skate area has gained popularity. Private label business was unsuccessful, so that was taken off the floor and streetwear has been given more space, since it has seen the most growth over the years. Gennette cited brands such as Ecko, Akidemiks, Triple Five Soul and Kangol as hot sellers with potential to grow.
Now that the product mix is right and the look of the floor is intact, Gennette said the next step is drastic marketing techniques to get the word out that Macy’s West is the cool place to shop. Here, a selection of examples from the marketing team:
Radio: Always a big hit with the teen crowd, getting known voices to advertise the products will capture their attention. For example, Russell Simmons advertised Phat Farm, Damon Dash talked about Rocawear and Snoop Dogg spoke of his line.
“This gets you closer to the teens,” Gennette said. “By getting the voices they know on the radio, you are speaking their language.”
Sponsor Events: Just by sponsoring events like surf expos and skate park events, it creates customer recognition.
Tournaments: Macy’s West has hosted many Sony Playstation tournaments and DJ spin-offs in the store. “This brings them right onto the floor and they can play and compete against others on video games that they already love,” he said.
For the back-to-school season, the store is planning a three-on-three basketball tournament at the stores.
Special Discounts: High school and college students receive 10 percent off their purchases every Tuesday, and to make sure they know this benefit is available, Macy’s West advertises in college newspapers on a regular basis. Also, during holiday time, the store asks teens to bring in their old jeans so the store can donate them to Goodwill. In return, each person receives a coupon for $10 off a new pair of jeans from the store.
Host Your Own Event: Macy’s West’s Passport is a night of fashion, entertainment and awareness for teens. Each year, the store puts on a loud showcase that includes a fashion show, performances by musical artists, games, food and counselors teaching them about the importance of safe sex. Money raised at the event goes to HIV and AIDS research.
“It’s a great event for a great cause and last time we had 3,000 teens in the room,” he said. “So we were able to observe them, too.”
Besides the Passport events, the store works with a team of trendsetting teens who talk about what they like, how they spend their time and what they would like to see at the stores.
Last year, Gennette said the young men’s department at Macy’s West saw hip-hop lifestyle products selling the most.
“Hip-hop is by far the biggest movement we have seen and because of this, the department is more diverse than ever,” he said. “But there is still more work to be done.”
Gennette said that two of the largest untapped markets on the West Coast are the Hispanic and Asian markets, which offer more expansion opportunities for Macy’s West’s 141 stores.
“We are beginning to focus a lot of efforts on them,” he said. “But we have to do something different.”
One of the biggest challenges Gennette said he faces in this market is the need for speed. He said that this customer shops regularly and craves fashions at a faster pace than the rest of the men’s departments. The solution? Gennette said vendors should consider increasing their domestic production in order to get closer to the junior cycle.
“This customer is willing to pay full price for what he wants,” he said. “So we need to get it to him and we need to get it there fast.”