Byline: Faye Brookman

NEW YORK — While many retailers court tween shoppers from ages 5 to 12 with glam and glitter, a two-store operation in the Chicago market is getting them to join the club.
Club Libby Lu is a new format selling everything for preteens, from custom-created body lotions to fun jewelry. But president and creator Mary Drolet views Club Libby Lu as more than just a store. “What we’ve really tried to do is create an interactive environment,” said Drolet. “There are birthday parties, dress up [games] and kids can become club members.”
At the entrance to Club Libby Lu, shoppers can join the club. In return they receive bonuses such as a VIP bracelet and a Libby Lu Looking Glass newsletter. The company is using the database created by the membership to market to its clientele.
Through the membership base, Club Libby Lu can learn what young divas-in-training want. Drolet, however, already has a good notion. Not only does she have the retail experience — she’s been in the business for almost 20 years including positions with Carson Pirie Scott and Claire’s Stores — but she also has a handle on what young girls want thanks to her own young daughter. “She thinks this is ‘her’ store,” said Drolet. “She made me realize how much young girls love to shop.”
She knows there are many customers like her daughter — the 5- to 12-year-old segment of the population is the second largest in the U.S. behind baby boomers.
The first Club Libby Lu opened in the upscale Woodfield Mall outside of Chicago last August with a second store bowing in Oakbrook Center last November. The stores average 1,500 square feet in size. Although Drolet won’t comment on numbers, estimates are that sales exceed $600 per square foot.
Drolet said she has intentions of rolling Club Libby Lu out to five or six other spots within the next year. However, she said the right location is paramount for the concept to work. “These are two very good shopping centers,” she said of Woodfield and Oakbrook malls, which serve affluent suburbs with free-spending tweens.
Although Drolet admitted there are many merchants currying the tastes of young customers such as Bath and Body Works, My Emotions, Skin Market, Rave Girl, Velvet Pixies, Limited Too and just about every mass merchant, she believes Club Libby Lu is very different. “Girls make their own products or decorate their own T-shirts. It is very interactive.”
Her inspiration comes from merchants such as Build-A-Bear and American Girl. At Build-A-Bear, shoppers create their own teddy bear; American Girl offers a stage show and a restaurant, as well as merchandise.
The entertainment at Club Libby Lu starts at the entrance. Drolet worked with the Chicago office of Chute Gerdman, a Columbus, Ohio-based design firm, to make the store whimsical. Store associates sprinkle shoppers with fairy dust as they enter the door. And, the store is colorful, accented with magenta, blue and purple. Like much of the products, the in-store signs glitter and the floor twinkles. Light shades are wrapped in ballerina tutus.
Rather than stock brands such as Caboodles or Bonne Bell, which can be found at the local drugstore, Club Libby Lu sells its own private label. The bestsellers are the concoctions customers create on their own, Drolet said. While it is usually hard to find suppliers who can produce small lots of product for tiny retailers, Drolet has called upon her experience in the business. “We’ve been lucky enough to find resources and I’m always looking for other suppliers,” said Drolet.
The self-service bath and body and cosmetics area is the core of the business. Birthday parties are also a major profit generator for Club Libby Lu. Partygoers are treated to rock star or princess makeovers and get to create their own beauty gift bags. Focus groups conducted prior to the store opening revealed that young girls love to dress up and experience make-believe. “They also are very hands on and love crafts and making things,” said Drolet.
The merchandise assortment is rounded out with T-shirts, jewelry, hair clips, beads and accessories. Knowing that the young customer is fickle, Drolet said she’s changing her inventory often. While discounters and drugstores work feverishly to offer tweens trendy products, Drolet said Club Libby Lu has the advantage of being able to operate in shopping malls, which is where girls prefer to shop, according to her research.
To keep items affordable, opening prices are about $5 and range up to $10. Another area of the store is called the Princess Pad where customers can merely hang out. There is also an area for photo shoots. And, as Drolet is finding, many tweens are more than ready for their close-up.

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