ATTRACTING THE ELUSIVE JUNIOR
Byline: Kristin Young
LOS ANGELES — Like charting the movements of exotic wildlife, tracking the shopping patterns of the often fickle Generation Y customer can be tricky business.
In Southern California, where teen girls treat shopping like breathing, retailers recognize the area’s junior hub status and are responding in force.
The busiest areas continue to be retail-as-entertainment centers, followed by popular pedestrian promenades. But a new generation of stores is sprouting up, eager to grab a chunk of this group’s awesome spending power. Observers say that with the increased competition among youth-oriented retailers, there’s more pressure than ever to stay in tune with this customer.
The spending power of Gen Y (ages 14 to 30) will reach $135 billion by 2001, jumping to $145 billion by 2005, according to Look-Look, a global youth market research firm based in Hollywood.
“I’ve seen numbers as high as $165 billion,” observed Claudine Murphy, executive vice president.
“Kids change so fast. Trends change so fast. [Retailers] need to know yesterday what kids are thinking today. Ten years ago, retailers didn’t want teenagers in stores because they thought they were stealing or something,” Murphy continued. “Today, there is all this money being spent to attract this demographic.”
And there are several new players ready to be of service.
Italian junior sportswear manufacturer Fornarina opened a 1,500-square-foot North American flagship here on Sept. 9 at 8000 Melrose Avenue, near Costume National and Miu Miu. About 700 square feet are being used as a showroom.
The area’s demographics played a huge role in the company’s decision to open its second unit in the U.S. here, said Marina Chung, marketing assistant manager of the store. The first Fornarina unit is also in Los Angeles on La Brea Avenue. Chung said the Melrose store has surpassed its expectations “by a great margin” in the first three weeks it has been open.
“The junior demographic here is very broad,” she said, noting the core customer’s range is between 12 and 17. “There is the possibility of attracting an older customer as well. We can go up to 28.”
Chung said Fornarina entertains customers as well as catering to their fashion needs. The store features a video wall with nine monitors running MTV, Japanese cartoons or Fornarina fashion shows. The company has been known to throw birthday parties or pay hospital visits to their clients.
Pulling elements from teen lifestyle and incorporating it into a retail environment is even more critical these days, noted Sandy Potter, co-principal of Directives West, a Los Angeles-based retail consultant firm.
“This isn’t a new challenge, but it’s recently become a much more important challenge because of the demographics coming into play. Retailers are investing now, and the volume potential they could capture will come over the next 10 years. There’s a renewed interest in stores wanting to refocus their environment,” she added.
Look-Look’s Murphy said teens, if impressed with strong brand concept, have the impulse to buy a piece of it. “Kids will respect something if it has a point of view.”
Roxy is especially adept at conveying its concept to the junior customer. The Huntington Beach, Calif.-based surfwear maker opened its first flagship at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, with a 1,500-square-foot unit in early August. It already appears to be reaping rewards.
The store is visually strong with a five-times-larger-than-life girl surfer ducking the waves, Seventies antique lamps and glass mosaic details.
Calling the store a success, Randy Hild, Roxy vice president, said the Orange County teen consumer is extremely brand savvy and has large amounts of discretionary income.
“[We said internally] that if it was successful, we would roll more of them out,” he said.
Then there is music. Potter said one of the most difficult elements that retailers must capture is Gen Y’s musical tastes.
One retailer new to the local scene that tracks teens’ music preferences is Washington, D.C.-based Up Against the Wall. In August, the streetwear retailer opened its first unit in Southern California at the Fox Hills Mall in Culver City. There, a deejay spins vinyl from Thursday through Saturday. The company has slated an October opening for a second unit at the Galleria at South Bay in Redondo Beach. “You have to really be connected to the entertainment industry,” said Wendy Red, the retailer’s fashion director and buyer. “You really can’t just go home and watch the news and go to bed. I go to clubs to enhance what I’m doing. I really pay attention.”
It seems to be paying off. The stores are projected to reach sales of between $1 million and $2 million during the first year, but Red said the Fox Hills store is already surpassing those expectations.
Retail-as-entertainment centers are also hanging onto their relevance in the junior market. Look-Look recently surveyed 500 young adults between the ages of 14 and 24 at five malls in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The verdict? “They are spending versus hanging out,” said Murphy. “We asked them if they were bored, would they still come to hang out, and they said, ‘Yeah, we’d come here if we were bored.”‘
At The Block at Orange, a gargantuan, 800,000-square-foot mall near Disneyland, teens are especially busy on Friday nights and Saturday days, according to a spokeswoman there. The open-air center accommodates up to 200,000 people a week, and a sizable chunk is the junior customer, thanks in part to the area’s first Vans indoor skate park. Sales at The Block average $400 per square foot each year.
“They come, hang out, meet people and want their friends to hang out with them here,” said Christine Carpenter, senior marketing director. “They come here to be entertained and then they see the shopping.”
As for what they are buying, Murphy said the group is homing in on white-trash chic as well as punk-preppy looks.
At The Block’s Ron Jon Surf Shop, the 13-to-25 age group is reportedly tapping into the Eighties punk trend and shelling out between $10 and $150 for tartan plaids, nail-head T-shirts and skin prints. Moreover, the junior customer is increasingly savvy when it comes to fabrication, according to one buyer.
“They’re coming in looking for microfibers, whereas a few years ago, they would come in for a certain silhouette,” said Nicole Meyers, a junior sportswear buyer for the chain.
And gone are the days when all junior customers dressed to the same beat.
“It’s funny because there are multiple trends happening at once,” said Meyers. “We think it has to do with being an individual today and wearing what you want to wear.”
Murphy concurred. “There is a layer of irony,” she said. “They use separate ideas and mix them together. They still want to have ownership of their style.”
Gen Y is also heading to Irvine Spectrum Center, a retail complex in nearby Irvine, where live entertainment, like magicians and bands, helps to attract this particular age group, said a spokeswoman. She noted that 18 percent of the center’s shoppers are teen girls. “This is a huge group, and they have a lot of money to spend. So, we try to create an environment that’s surprising and different every time they visit,” said Michelle Bohrer, director of sales and marketing for the center.
One of the center’s busiest stores is Limbo Lounge, where the junior customer, ages 13 to 25, is snatching up pleather, animal skins, studding details and tartan plaids from the chain, which now counts 4,000 units across the U.S.
“It’s definitely all about excess,” said Tonya LaBarrie, design director of Wet Seal/Contempo Casuals, the parent company. LaBarrie said the most popular labels are Dollhouse, Bubblegum and Coolwear at the Irvine Spectrum store, one of its busiest units in Southern California.
At the original retail-as-entertainment complex, Universal Citywalk in Universal City, several retailers are attracting attention among this crowd. The 393,000-square-foot shopping area is adjacent to the Universal Studios theme park. The complex boasts disco bowling, NASCAR virtual racing and concerts geared toward teens who come here from the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles regions. Hot Topic, Vans, Skechers, Quiksilver and Atomic Garage are among the more frequented stores here.
“These retailers are doing extraordinarily well,” said Norm Rich, senior vice president and general manager of Universal Citywalk, noting there is a waiting list of retailers wanting space at the complex.
Universal Citywalk officials reported that, on average, 60,000 people visit the outdoor center, a third of them Gen Y.
Citywalk is investing “tremendous” entertainment dollars into live concerts on weekends and special events to entice the group, said Ron Herman, vice president of marketing and sales.
“We find them to be very good customers,” he said. “We welcome them and will continue to invest in them.”
The Zone is a recent effort by Glendale Galleria in nearby Glendale to cater to the Gen Y girl. Premium, Juxtapose and Verona’s Cat Walk are shops that recently opened units there. A spokeswoman at the Zone declined to disclose sales figures, but said business has been “great.”
Young girls are buying clubby merchandise such as studded pleather pants, fake fur jackets in Day-glo greens and purples and fake eyelashes from Verona’s Cat Walk, according to owner Cody Verona. Typical sales run from $36 to $400, she said.
Several retailers on Southern California’s main streets are equally pleased with their Gen Y locals.
Main Street at Huntington Beach is another hot destination for the junior shopper, a customer that is lured to the area by the vibrant surf and skate scene there. Juniors stop at Huntington Surf & Sport where they spend between $12 and $80 on average.
“[This area] is a catalyst and a microcosm of the whole surf industry,” said Dean Bradley, creative director of HS&S. “You can generally see just about [any trend] on the street. You see it here and then it spreads inland.”
Each weekend, Rick Paris, owner of Surf Like a Girl, with two locations in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, takes about 15 girls on a surfing trip to better tap into his customer. Paris picks up the girls in “The Betty Bus,” a vehicle painted with baby blue flames and flowers in which the girls can play their own music.
“It creates loyalty,” he said. “I’m just driving the bus, but I get to see their tastes, listen when they’re laughing and hear their conversations. It’s all about fun, and I want to be a part of it.”
The junior group is also flocking to Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, where they find retailers such as Guess, Urban Outfitters and Mudra.
Kay Miller, Mudra’s owner, said she has withstood rocky times in the junior market, but could not be more pleased with her business of late.
“I’m a small store, but I’m really happy,” said Miller, stating the store has been thriving. “I’ve learned how to survive through the bad times. I’ve learned that you don’t buy the house when you don’t have the money. But, I don’t complain anymore.”