SOUTH FLORIDA’S TEEN SCENE
FOR THE LATEST STYLES, TEENS FLOCK TO THESE FOUR SUNSHINE STATE SHOPS.
Byline: Rebecca Kleinman
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — South Florida is experiencing a teen population explosion, significantly altering its businesses, residential communities, schools and fashion sense.
Here are four examples of teen stores with growing influence in the Sunshine State.
The pioneer of the bunch is Teen Angel, a specialty store with three locations in South Florida: Miami, Delray Beach and Hollywood. Opened between 1995 and 1999, the stores have achieved mecca status — a rite of passage of sorts for affluent girls.
One local tween’s voice mail notifies callers to beep “1-800-TEEN ANGEL.” Fans even take their loyalty to college, where co-eds have been known to monogram “Teen Angel Forever” on sorority sweatshirts.
“Our direction was unheard of when we started researching the concept for the boutique. None existed,” said Kerri Kovler, who worked at Burdine’s and Ann Taylor and co-owned a children’s wear store before teaming up with husband Andy Kovler to create Teen Angel.
The idea came to her when customers couldn’t find clothes to take their children into young adulthood. The Kovlers have been approached, but have turned down offers from entrepreneurs across the nation looking to open franchises, out-of-state customers call to hear the latest items in the store and sales have increased 20 percent annually, estimated to exceed $400 per square foot in 2001.
Though more retailers have turned to this market in the last year, Kerri believes her broad selection of special occasion, making up some 25 percent of sales, sets her store apart. Carrying Jessica McClintock, Bianca Nero, Nicole Miller and Monkey Wear for sweet sixteens and bat mitzvahs, she merely dabbles in prom.
“Good prom dresses are either too expensive at $700 or are too cheesy, looks I would never bring in,” Kerri said.
Concerning sportswear, she buys deep in basics and uniforms, known as “dress code clothes.” Brand-conscious girls prefer Teen Angel’s updated interpretations of shorts, polo shirts and belts for school. According to Kerri, this category represents a major portion of her business.
When ordering trends or weekend wear, she takes a lighter approach, keeping her fickle market in mind.
“We get a lot of mad customers because things run out and once it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said, citing a terry cloth tracksuit worn by Jennifer Lopez as an example of an item that sold out in days.
Riley, a line of recycled, reconstructed pieces, is a top seller, along with Tail Feathers tank and cardigan sets, Hard Tail’s Lycra spandex tanks with spaghetti straps and a lots of denim lines, including Miss Sixty, Diesel and Lucky Brand.
Initially Kerri looked for good quality at a low price, but customers requested more expensive brands.
“I compromised my parental morals and carry $125 jeans now,” she said.
But customers aren’t willing to spend on accessories due to a shorter trend cycle. Because it’s not worth the time to sell an item for $25 and under, Teen Angel offers only a few things, like horseshoe necklaces, belts, shoes by Stevie’s and build-your-own bracelets by Charm It and Nominations.
Immediately swamped with after-school traffic, the Kovlers were hesitant to advertise their first store. But with business dispersed throughout three branches, their cute, signature ads play all weekend long on radio station Y-100.
“One of my favorites was a joke about moms raiding their daughters closets for cool clothes — we told them it’s OK to shop here, too,” said Kerri.
Opened in May 2001, Teen Heaven in North Palm Beach is more like parent heaven. Co-owner Susan Kaplan reported an overwhelming response from weary mothers and fathers faced with the challenge of clothing adolescents.
“So many mothers say, ‘I’ve died and gone to heaven,’ when they come in for the first time. They are so grateful to have an alternative to the mall,” she said.
Kaplan worked at Macy’s and Laura Ashley before meeting partner Chip Bruton while working together at Jacobson Stores.
“There especially wasn’t any logical progression from children’s to junior’s,” she said. “The edgier fashions were simply inappropriate for tweens.”
Aside from offering more and different merchandise, they distanced themselves from the mall through a 1,200-square-foot space in a plaza with a landscaped courtyard, fountains and sculptures. The concept is to give kids a place to hang out and mingle, grab a sandwich and sit down at a picnic table, or watch DVDs and music videos on big screen TVs.
Though they don’t carry men’s wear, Kaplan and Bruton chose Teen Express as their corporate name in anticipation of adding it next year.
“Mothers get down on their knees and beg us to carry clothes for teenage boys,” she said. “Those are even harder to find than girls’ things.”
They are already having a hard time gathering “appropriate” girl’s resources. To The Max, the junior division of BCBG, fits the criteria.
“They give kids that edgy look, but turn it down a notch,” said Kaplan, noting that Hard Tail achieves similar results within the casual category.
The line’s drawstring pants has done exceptionally well since it’s able to fit a wide range of figures and all pieces “can be washed a trillion times and handed down to the next kid because they still look brand-new.”
Rather than chase the denim name of the moment, Kaplan believes in telling a story with range and depth.
Jeans must lie somewhere between trendy and basic for parents to consent, meaning no slashes or exposed bellies. Similar to Mavi, Brazil-based New Max answers the call and is well-priced.
Teen Heaven also stocks the latest tanks and T-shirts from Breezes, Cue, Fang and Shameless; formal gowns; On Gossamer lingerie with clear, removable straps; Becca and XOXO swimwear and designer labels like Blumarine, as well as contemporary vendors including Work Order and ABS by Allen B. Schwartz.
Kaplan estimated that accessories make up one-third of sales. Current bestsellers include XOXO handbags with hardware, rhinestone belt buckles, toe rings, ankle bracelets, novelty watches and backpacks with wheels. This spring, she will add To The Max shoes, having been successful with Becca and Me Too thongs.
Projecting sales of $400,000 to $500,000 for the first year, future plans include branches in Orlando and Naples.
Based in Plantation, Fla., retailer Nicole Astaphan’s business has grown up with her clientele. In May 2000, she broke through the walls of her Just Kid-ing boutique, which carries sizes infant to 6X, to incorporate a new teen and tween store called Fusion Teen-wear.
“There was such a big calling for tween clothes. Plus, I’m located in a large Jewish community and got so many requests for bat mitzvah and formal dresses,” she said.
Noticing even today’s six-year-olds have outgrown “cutesy baby stores and frilly dresses,” Astaphan went for hip, mature decor and South Florida-style low-cut tops, low-rise pants and bare midriffs.
Brushed aluminum displays and the floor’s ocean motif culminating into a roaring wave is pure kid fun. The new formula has proven so successful that Astaphan has decided to phase out Just Kid-ing by year’s end, which has been in business since 1996.
“Little kids grow so quickly that parents don’t want to spend $50 on an outfit,” she said. “They can find the same trends at Old Navy or Target for less.”
Fusion’s sizes run from a girls’ seven to a women’s eight. Hard Tail, the only line that crosses over from children’s, is her number-one seller, accounting for 20 percent of sales.
“Locals live in Hard Tail for its broad spectrum of colors, sizes and styles. And the price is so reasonable,” she said of the $25 to $60 price range.
Astaphan also carries Tessutio Kids for beautiful, miniature versions of Tessuto and By Debra’s ballgown skirts and sequined tube tops.
With the state of the economy, special occasion hasn’t been as strong. Astaphan toned down the category because there weren’t enough inexpensive resources.
“My customers want a nice outfit for $100,” she said.
Tractor Jeans has been another good resource for its up-to-date styles and good quality. In addition, its sizing is perfect for tall, thin girls, one of the more difficult body types to fit.
After high-end accessories didn’t sell, she toned down those, as well. Sticking to the “Claire’s” strategy, she specializes in items $20 and under.
“The kids ride their bikes over to the store with their baby-sitting money. It’s so cute to watch them pick out a little something,” said Astaphan.
Levi’s denim handbags and bookbags, bandanna-printed headbands and flip-flops, thick-soled mules, American flag motifs and styles from High Intencity are current must-haves. But none compares to the Charm It phenomenon. At $3 a pewter charm and $5 a bracelet, little girls to hip grandmas have been scooping them up faster than Beanie Babies. Its 200 charms ranging in themes from sports to beauty products appeal to collectors of all ages. Astaphan predicts sales of less than $500,000 for 2001.
TEEN & IN BETWEEN BOUTIQUE
As the stepmother of a 14-year-old girl who adores fashion, retailer Rosa Stein was one of the Fort Lauderdale parents who had to drive far west, south and north for teen boutiques. Having no retail experience, she joined forces with her sister and former swimwear store manager Cristina Roig to open Teen & In Between Boutique on the city’s main drag, Federal Highway.
“My sister had always wanted to have her own boutique and it seemed like the best direction since there are four private schools within a four-mile radius,” said Stein.
The store’s pink-painted walls, black ceiling, stainless-steel fixtures and fun furniture stand out from the drab chain stores and restaurants, creating a mini Shangri-La for the feminine spirit. Packaging is sweet and girly, too. Accessories are dressed up inside ornate Chinese boxes decorated with a feather, tiny bell and the store’s label. Stein reports people have bought items simply for the wrapping.
Major Dilemma’s tanks sold out in days, so Stein and Roig moved forward with drawstring pants and hoodies. Soffe’s cotton shorts sporting college names in rhinestones are a hit with cheerleaders and dancers.
Special-occasion separates and gowns, corduroy and denim by Joe’s Jeans and Buffalo Jeans, and item-driven lines like Joomi Joolz, Betsey Johnson, Juicy Couture and Hard Tail complete the teen closet. Stein reports novelty and variety determine sales, expected to reach up to $400,000 the first year.
Accessories range from $10 to $120, whereas clothes are $22 to $185. A few higher-priced items aren’t deterring shoppers who hear of the store through word-of-mouth — its owners haven’t done a bit of advertising.
“We get a lot of drive-by traffic and walk-ins because of our location,” said Stein.
Instead of increasing their square footage, the sisters have opted to open more stores in Florida. Boca Raton, Naples and Miami are a few possibilities.