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Born to Shop : Store Hope Youth Programs Will Create Loyal Customers Later

CHICAGO -- If you can get them when they're young, conventional wisdom says, you'll have your customers for life.<BR><BR>Two Midwest stores are putting that theory to the test with special programs targeting the youthful consumer-to-be. In-store...

CHICAGO — If you can get them when they’re young, conventional wisdom says, you’ll have your customers for life.

Two Midwest stores are putting that theory to the test with special programs targeting the youthful consumer-to-be. In-store wardrobe consultant Jill Friedman is the force behind a program targeting graduating college students at Carson Pirie Scott’s newest store in Chicago’s merchandise mart.

Friedman takes her know-how out of the store and into the field, making presentations at local college campuses on “dressing for success” — looking your best at a job interview and building a career wardrobe on a limited budget.

Although the program only began in September, early signs indicate it’s paying off. After presenting to three groups of about 50 students, 15 became Carson’s customers, Friedman said, spending an average of $575 each.

Eight of those proteges have also opened Carson’s charge accounts. “The first credit card is the one you will have for the rest of your life,” she notes.

Friedman addresses both men’s and women’s career wardrobing needs and ranges literally from head to toe — hairstyles to shoes. “I don’t take anything for granted,” she says.

She begins with the basics: How to choose a good suit. “I tell them to buy one good wool suit rather than two cheap polyester ones,” Friedman says.

Students are also reminded of the big career no-no’s: high heels, heavy perfume, red nail polish. She does allow for some flexibility depending on the job involved; retailing and accounting jobs call for different styles, she says.

Friedman is mindful that most students are on a tight budget and teaches an investment-dressing approach. “A graduating college student gets nervous at the thought of spending $300 for a suit, but I tell them it will last five years. Amortize it out and it’s only $60 a year.”

She also distributes a handout that shows women how to put together a suitable outfit, including hosiery and earrings, for $330, with the help of a 15 percent Carson’s discount. Students can also get free consultations on skin care or makeup for interviews at Carson’s Estee Lauder counter.

Friedman’s service fits well with the career-dressing niche Carson’s at the Mart is trying to fill. The store carries such career lines as J.H. Collectibles, Jones New York, Saville and Chaus, which Friedman says offer good quality at the right price point for her students. If the program continues to prove successful at the Mart store, it may be rolled out to other Carson’s stores with wardrobe consultants.

Jacobson Stores Inc., Jackson, Mich., is taking an even longer view, with a special program for 5-to-8-year-old kids.

Called “The Magic of Manners,” the five-week course is designed to teach children the rudiments of polite behavior, explained Janice Hayes, public relations director and program coordinator.

The retailer first began running the classes in 1986, but they were revamped and relaunched in September, she says. Each of Jacobson’s 25 stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Florida runs the program three times a year. She says the response from parents has been “mind-boggling,” with 70 children on the waiting list at one store.

The main benefits to the store are qualitative, relationship-building ones.

“We are a family-oriented specialty retailer. We want to form the relationship early on,” explains Hayes. “As [the children] grow, they’ll shop with us.”

The classes generate traffic in the store, and often parents will shop while they are waiting for their children, Hayes says.

While the concept of teaching good manners may seem quaint and outmoded, Jacobson’s classes have a definite 1990s slant, with sessions on leaving a message on an answering machine, ordering food in restaurants and greeting people in different languages.

“We realize not every social situation is a white-gloves party,” Hayes says.