Targeting Trendy Tweens
Kenneth Nisch will tell you that marketing to tweens is a study in contradictions. Tweens want to be treated as older, but they still giggle and jump up and down on the bed. They want to be fashionable, but they don’t want to look like everyone else. They want to be unique, but they want to fit in. “It’s a big challenge and it’s high maintenance, but there are big rewards when you get it right,” says Nisch, chairman of JGA Inc., a retail design, brand strategy and architectural firm in Southfield, MI.
New York-based Alloy Media + Marketing, a provider of targeted media programs, predicts sales of products for tweens will exceed $200 billion this year. “Today’s kids are the most pampered generation yet, by any standard,” notes Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, in its report “Teen and Tween Grooming Products: The U.S. Market,” released in December.
Exactly how old is a tween? While the age range varies a bit depending on whom you talk to, the consensus is that tweens are between the ages of 8 and 12. It can be argued that the range for tween ages seems to be getting lower very quickly. For example, Nisch says, children as young as 7 and 8-the crowd following “High School Musical” and Hannah Montana-are now part of the tween demographic.
Bree Altman agrees that children are becoming tweens younger. “We’re exposed to so much more information. [Tweens] know about stuff so much earlier,” says Altman, president of Mugwaz, a wholesaler of craft kits.
Tweens might be “older” at younger ages, able to make their own purchasing decisions, but parents are still involved, especially when it comes to footing the bill. This is an important point for retailers, who often do best when they cater to both parent and tween.
Bobbie Carlton, director of marketing for B*tween Products, in Lexington, MA, wholesaler of the Beacon Street Girls book series and accompanying gifts, says successful products for tweens promote strong values while maintaining a high “cool” aspect. Products that might be visually appealing to tweens while carrying strong messages (empowerment, respecting others) are ones that appeal to tweens and parents alike.
For example, products that cater to such tween rites of passage as sleepovers, strong friendships and growth can successfully translate into tween bestsellers. Pillows, journals (that encourage writing) and sleepover bags all do well in the tweens category.
Karito Kids, in Los Angeles, sells dolls and books with the theme of children around the world. Owner Laura Rangel says the company partners with Plan USA, a children’s charity, to teach kids about other kids around the world, and about charitable giving. Children enter product codes online and select one of four causes to support: food, home, health or school. While the product targets girls ages 6 to 12, it particularly appeals to the older tweens, says Rangel, because they understand the importance of charity and get to have a voice in deciding where their donation goes.
The crafty tween
Crafts are another way to target parent and child. “Crafts are huge. Tweens want to make things for themselves. It’s twofold for a parent, because it’s an activity and it’s something [the children] can wear, all for a $15 retail,” says Altman, referring to her flip-flop kits, which come with four tubes of glitter. Mugwaz also sells “Beltz” and “Bagz” kits, which allow tweens to use flowers and beads to give their accessories that one-of-a-kind appeal.
Retailer Kid Concoctions Company, in Strongsville, OH, has an assortment of projects that tweens can complete in store: slime, bubble bath, lip gloss and body lotion. For a general gift shop, a make-your-own station can be as simple as a necklace-and-charm display on top of one of your display cases. Girls can create necklaces as their mothers shop in other areas of the store.
In the tween world, it’s not just about creating; it’s about saying “me.”
“Personalization is the most important thing,” says Valia Glytsis, vice president of sales and marketing at High IntenCity, in Fair Lawn, NJ. In the company’s Charm It line, tweens are able to choose their own necklaces, bracelets and cell-phone dangles, and personalize them with pictures of Hannah Montana, Mickey Mouse or rhinestone-studded Popsicles, to name a few options.
Maureen Lorr agrees that personalization is a surefire way to success in tween products. “Girls love to mark their territory,” says Lorr, vice president of Room It Up, in Stuart, FL. The company is a wholesaler of coordinated lifestyle and room products. All products at Room It Up are designed with monogramming in mind, from travel cases to school accessories to room decor. Retailers themselves are responsible for the monogramming.
Products that can be autographed are also popular among tweens. Three Cheers for Girls, a vendor in Florida, NY, sells pillows that can be autographed in all sorts of shapes and sizes, including birthday cakes, cell phones, nail-polish bottles, surfboards and camp tents. And all include permanent marker for friends and family to personalize.
In addition to monogramming and autographing, magnetic letters from Stephen Joseph Gifts in Lubbock, TX, make popular personalized gifts, says Alix Buckley, owner. Tweens can spell out—well, everything, with colorful magnetic letters that attach to lockers, metal furniture and Stephen Joseph’s line of coordinated metal memo boards. (Letters also come in sticker form.)
Even without initials or names, tweens can personalize their rooms by choosing their own room decor. “Their room is their space. It becomes really important to make it their own place,” says Molly Davis, product development manager of Molly ‘N Me, a division of Ms. Dee Inc., in Minnetonka, MN. At Molly ‘N Me, top-selling Snuggle Chairs come in soft fabrics and bright colors such as fuchsia, lime green and purple. Retailers will also find lamps, chandeliers, bulletin boards, locker boards, black dry-erase boards and a flashing disco ball that hooks up to an MP3 player. Yes, the lights flash to the beat.
Artist Rebekah Rowe from Heart of Glass Studios in Dover, DE, has also just launched two new lines of products for kids and tweens. A variety of products such as funky and whimsical clocks, shelves, bookends, mirrors and more are made by hand by Rowe, her husband and their children.
Glossy lips and glow-in-the-dark nail polish
The market for tween grooming products is booming. According to Packaged Facts, the teen/tween grooming market is projected to grow from $6.9 billion in 2007 to $8.4 billion in 2012. Skincare totaled $3.2 billion in 2007, followed by hair care at $2.4 billion and color cosmetics at $1.3 billion. Tweens’ parents generally don’t allow the full range of cosmetics, especially at one time, “but they are often allowed lip color (mainly lip gloss) and/or nail polish,” states the report.
Molly ‘N Me sells lip gloss in many shapes: a cell phone (with an antenna serving as brush), an iPod or a funky oversized ring, for example. Other bestsellers include glitter body jewels, glow-in-the-dark nail polish and a flower bath wand in six bright colors with refillable scented shower gel.
Three Cheers for Girls pampers tweens with its recently expanded spa line “Time 4 Me.” Jason Butt, the national sales manager for the company, says the line gives tweens the opportunity to do things that older girls and women are doing, in a fun and safe fashion.
Carrying the right products is, of course, only half the battle. “You want to merchandise these products where both [parent and tween] customers feel comfortable shopping,” says Nisch. Tweens don’t want to shop in a section with little kid products, they want to be in a section where they feel “grown up.”
Whether it’s your product assortment, your display, or how you treat tweens when they come in your store, “This is a market you need to tend and cultivate and stay on top of,” says Nisch, the chairman of JGA Inc. “When you miss, you miss all the way,” he says, but “when you hit it, you hit it big.”