Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tweens Spend Billions At Stores

By Tom Tobin; Source: Democrat & Chronicle

Children, parents like to say, are always growing up too fast.

Now, at least, they're doing it in style.

"Tween" fashions and accessories, those marketed to children, usually girls between ages 7 and 14, are a multibillion-dollar business in America with a healthy and growing component in the Rochester region.

Justice, the latest evolution of the Limited Too brand for girls, has a devoted clientele at Eastview Mall in Victor, as do Claire's Accessories, Icing and Abercrombie and Gap stores aimed at kids.

One doesn't have to walk too far along the mall promenades to find a store that, if it doesn't cater strictly to young children, has a wide enough inventory to encompass them. The tween market is a fast-growing niche in the apparel and accessories world — kids of that age spend $30 billion annually and influence as much as $150 billion in spending by their parents.

Marketing costs for tweens were estimated at $17 billion in 2006. In 1983, the tween dark ages by comparison, the national marketing budget for that age group was a mere $100 million.

How young is young in the world of modern marketing? Ali Nordeen, who sells cell phones at the Sprint kiosk at Eastview, said he recently sold a phone to a family buying it for a 4-year-old.

"I know other 6-year-olds who know how to use the phone to order games and things," Nordeen said.

In a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week information and entertainment culture, pre-adolescents are eager sponges of all that is hip, fresh, appealing — and expensive. A sequined or lace T-shirt sells for about $21, and designer, brand-name sweatshirts can run as high as $80, though these stores in general are finding a need in the rough economy to lower prices to compete with the big-box stores.

"A lot of this awareness goes back to TV," said Marie Cornelius, marketing director at Eastview. "They watch Disney, High School Musical, The Cheetah Girls, Hannah Montana, and pick up what's stylish."

Parents are trying to keep the lid on as their children move from having dolls to getting dolled up.

"My children are just more savvy about this sort of thing," said Karyn Lederman of Pittsford. "They like glitzy, bright, neon colors and that sort of thing, lip glosses, jewelry and know where to go to get them. When I was a kid, I had a pair of sneakers and one of dress shoes. Now they have a closetful of shoes."

It's crazy," said Leda Messineo of Webster. She is the mother of two tweens, one 10, the other 12. "My 12-year-old is going into the seventh grade and it's very important at that age that she has the right style. We try to put out the right values about clothes and cost, but there's a lot of pressure."

Some of the tween fashions are inappropriately provocative. "I tell my kids they're going to school, not a nightclub," Messineo said. The famously risqué clothing store Victoria's Secret now has a department aimed at college women, with styles that could go younger. Costume stores now feature miniskirted items designed for trick-or-treaters.

There's a niche within the niche, too — retailers who keep the style and more adult attributes without erasing the childish fun and innocence. Sweet and Sassy, on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford, offers salon and spa packages for girls tween-age and younger. Birthday parties, which can include a ride for 10 girls in a pink limousine, are especially popular. The top-end price, for 17 girls, is $450.

"The girls love it. They get their hair done, their nails," said owner Deidre Rosenberg. "It's dress up."

That used to mean raiding your mother's closet on a rainy day, long before Hannah Montana rode into town.

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