Byline: Teena Hammond
LOS ANGELES — Juice bars, mirrored disco balls and black-curtained rooms filled with glow-in-the-dark accessories are some of the twists major retailers are using to lure Generation Y into new-concept junior stores.
One retailer at the forefront of those pushing to attract a younger audience is Wet Seal/Contempo Casuals, which opened its first Limbo Lounge last December and plans to open its fifth later this month.
Maurices, a mainstream junior chain based in Duluth, Minn., has just rolled out Juxtapose, a funky, lively offshoot, and Washington-based Up Against the Wall is getting deeper into the market.
It plans to expand its longstanding Commander Salamander concept into new stores.
And Federated Department Stores is slated to open another six of its Aeropostale junior boutiques before year’s end.
“These new junior stores are a good idea because the successful retail chains are people that constantly reinvent themselves. If you stay fresh with showing new offerings with kind of a new tweak to your merchandising strategy, it keeps your consumer interested,” said Tony Cherbak, a retail specialist and partner with Deloitte & Touche.
Limbo Lounge attracts teenagers with its glittering, lime-green storefronts and revolving signs bearing the Limbo Lounge name.
At the Los Cerritos mall in Cerritos, Calif., about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the store stands out from its neighbors.
A shiny disco ball at the entrance is used to display shoes, while music from artists such as Chemical Bros. and Prodigy resonates through the store.
Nearly every surface — including the ceiling — is filled with artsy, offbeat fixtures, from Fifties-style pink porcelain lamps and naked mannequins decorated with multicolored glass buttons to modern art chandeliers.
To one side is a blue-neon nook with glass cases filled with studded black leather dog-collar chokers, chocolate body paint and cigarette lighters on heavy, foot-long silver chains.
Counter to that is a hot pink-painted area crammed with candies and gum of all sorts and giant fuzzy dice. Stretching across the back of the room is a juice bar.
And, of course, there are clothes.
Labels such as Diesel, Roxy, Mossimo Tart, Porn Star, XOXO, Hot Kiss and Dollhouse fill the shelves and racks. The merchandise is about 90 percent branded, and the rest is private label. Women’s fashions make up about 60 percent, with the remainder men’s, said Alex Bajrech, vice president and fashion director for Wet Seal/Contempo Casuals/Limbo Lounge, based in Irvine, Calif.
“It’s a lifestyle. The original Limbo Lounge concept was to bring an alternative store to the mall,” Bajrech said. “Originally, we were targeting college-age kids. But it’s a mix. We get the college-age kid, we get her younger sister, her younger brother.”
The stores also offer interactive games, CD listening booths and Internet access.
“It gives it more of a ‘hangout’ feeling,” Bajrech said.
The stores range from 3,000 to 4,000 square feet, and the other two California locations are in Berkeley and Riverside.
The fourth store is in Paradise Valley, Ariz., and a fifth will open later this month in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. There are also plans to expand into New York City, he said.
Maurices opened its first Juxtapose stores on Aug. 1 to hit the back-to-school market, said Diane Missel, president and chief operating officer of the chain, whose parent company is American Retail Group Inc.
Before Juxtapose, the company operated 600 Maurices and The Closet by Maurices junior stores. On Aug. 1, 33 stores in this existing store base were converted to Juxtapose locations. Four of these — in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Portland, Ore., and Seattle — became Juxtapose prototype stores.
Each of the 33 stores carries the new Juxtapose merchandise mix, but only the prototype stores have the new Juxtapose store design, which is marked by plenty of exposed metal pipes, colored disco lights and interactive kiosks featuring movies, horoscopes and videos, as well as juice bars. In these stores, the music blaring from overhead includes the Dave Matthews Band and the Spice Girls.
“The test was a measurement of how important the store environment was to the target customer,” Missel said. The target customer is a 17-year-old girl. The prototypes are each 3,000 square feet.
The hot brands include Space Girls, Roxy, Mossimo and Rusty, she said.
Maurices decided to dip into a younger market — a typical Maurices store targets a 24-year-old woman — to take advantage of the growing audience, Missel said.
“This is a consumer who has a lot of expendable income. Last year, these consumers, girls ages 16 to 19, spent $37 billion,” Missel said.
After six months of operation, Maurices will measure the performance of the Juxtapose prototypes against the other Juxtapose stores to determine the demographics best suited for the new type of store.
“We’ll probably open five to 10 stores in the markets most successful to the prototype,” Missel said.
Retailers are so interested in marketing to juniors because of the growth of Generation Y, that group of 10-to-24-year-olds that is 55 million strong and is expected to increase by 13 percent to 62 million by the year 2005. This generation is larger and growing more rapidly than the generation ahead of it — Generation X — according to a 1996 industry report by Hambrecht & Quist.
Another participant in the market is Aeropostale. This chain opened its doors in 1987 and is operated by Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores. There are 113 Aeropostale locations, and a typical store is 3,500 square feet. In 1996, the average store rang up about $1.5 million in annual sales, according to Federated figures.
The chain is more mainstream than its counterparts, with wooden floors and beige walls. The merchandise, an even mix of women’s and men’s, consists mainly of sweaters, jeans and other casual clothing. Everything is private label, with knits, sweaters and pants driving the business, according to an Aeropostale spokeswoman.
The target audience is 16-to-25-year-old men, with women “a drop younger,” said Julian R. Geiger, president of the Aeropostale/Charter Club specialty store division. The chain is scheduled to open six additional locations this year.
Another, funkier concept is Commander Salamander, which opened 20 years ago in Washington in a 1,000-square-foot site. It was so successful that its parent company, Up Against the Wall, moved it to a 1,800-square-foot location. It now pulls in $1 million in annual sales and is about to expand to other locations for the first time, said Wendy Red, fashion director for Up Against the Wall and Commander Salamander.
“It’s an eclectic mix of everything that’s fun in fashion. It’s fast, it’s trendy. We want customers to come in the store and stay a while, enjoy themselves,” Red said.