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MERCHANDISE—New Robinsons-May Campaign Sets Sights on Youths

With retail sales statistics painting a grim picture for conventional department stores, as young consumers flock to boutiques and discount outlets instead, Robinsons-May is fighting back with a major marketing push. The chain is revamping its juniors and young men’s sections and launching a $1 million advertising campaign. “We strongly believe in this customer (segment), and want to be their department store of choice,” said Jay Levitt, president and CEO of Robinsons-May. The restyled departments for young men and women will be updated with more “cutting-edge” merchandise and music, along with a new visual look, in an effort to lure the Generation-Y customer. This age group, between the ages of 10 and 19, spent $129.6 billion nationwide in 1999, according to the Rand Youth Poll. Robinsons-May officials say the Gen-Y market comprises 19 percent of the chain’s customer base and 21 percent of its total sales. Department store sales have been flat so far this year for the most part, and in some cases down. May Department Stores, the St. Louis-based parent of Robinsons-May, recently reported a 12 percent decline in second-quarter earnings. Other department store chains like Sears and J.C. Penney are also reacting to the changing market by updating their own somewhat stodgy images, said Al Frank, partner in the retail services division at Deloitte & Touche. Frank called Robinsons-May’s effort to focus on the teen market “clever.” “This is all about creating a new image and letting the teens know they have a reason to go there,” Frank said. The concept should stick, he added, if “they can stay the course.” Some of the best-performing boutiques and specialty stores are those targeting the teen market. The so-called “echo boom” children of the baby boomers are coming of age, and these young people generally have larger allowances and make more at part-time jobs than their predecessors did. The Glendale Galleria has picked up on the trend by grouping these stores together and providing a section in the mall intended as a gathering place for the Gen-Y customer. Robinsons-May learned from focus groups that teenagers want value, service and attention when they are shopping. Simply put, the store is targeting this group because “they are spending a hell of a lot of money,” said Robinsons-May spokeswoman Jennifer Patterson. Salesclerks will be re-made, as well, with younger, hipper workers shifted from other departments into the juniors and young men’s areas. These clerks will be encouraged to wear clothing from the racks of the new department. “The employees will be from that age group, instead of a 60-year-old ‘floater’ who wears pantyhose,” said Patterson. (“Floater” is department-store slang for a worker who isn’t assigned to a particular department, but who roams from department to department.) The new look is being tested in 14 of Robinsons-May’s Los Angeles-area stores, including Laurel Plaza in North Hollywood.

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