Summer 2012
Girl Power By Regina Molaro

What's hot now for teens and tweens?

  • Neon colors: pink, green and orange
  • Animal prints
  • Text message expressions: "OMG" and "LOL"
  • Anything that can be worn in multiples, stacked or collected
  • Magnets and chic hair accessories
  • Funky peace sign necklaces
  • Zebra and leopard print iPod cases
  • Cupcake designs for tweens
  • Celebrity-inspired designs for teens
  • Butterfly designs for both groups

Savvy tween and teen consumers hold a lot of purchasing power and they’re fueling sales in the lucrative gift category.

On Saturday afternoons, many moms across America set out for leisurely days of shopping with their tween or teen daughters in tow. Years ago these young consumers were relatively unrecognized by marketers, but today this savvy group is one that manufacturers and retailers are catering to. One of the fastest growing segments in America, tweens and teens represent a powerful group with lots of purchasing power. Gregg Witt, a partner at San Diego, CA-based Premise Immersive Youth Marketing says this group influences family spending on everything from food to entertainment, travel and even cars. Catering to these educated consumers is paramount especially when you consider the “kidfluence” they have on their parents’ purchases, as well as cool stuff that’s bought for them.

According to 2010 insight provided by Premise, the teen population represents a group that is 23 million strong and growing rapidly, and they have an annual spend of $51 billion. Editor’s Note: These numbers embrace the market for both boys and girls. The youth-focused marketing agency also cites that $170 billion was spent by parents and family members directly for the tween market.

Beyond purchasing fun, funky stuff for themselves, this group fuels sales by purchasing birthday gifts for their pals. Since sharing and connecting is a key motivator, capturing their hearts means increased opportunity for future sales. “The gift category is a great segment and there’s not a lot of product out there that speaks to them,” says JoAnn Brewer, co-founder of Plano, Texas-based LockerLookz, a locker decorating company that targets tweens. “Tweens are very selective and their merchandise must have a lot of ‘wow’ factor. Much of the product that targets them is trendy—here today and gone tomorrow. Tweens really need product that can evolve with them.” Some clever marketers have already tapped into teen and tween wants and needs, and as a result sales are soaring.

“Business has been fantastic,” says Amy Hughes, owner of Amy Catherine Designs, a whimsical jewelry collection in Bastrop, Texas. “In just one year, I’m really surprised at where my business has gone.” The jewelry company originally targeted women, but within the last few years it has evolved into the lucrative tween and teen market. “Now that’s all I do. It’s difficult to find jewelry out there for this demographic.” Brewer, the mom-turned-entrepreneur at LockerLookz, says that the company expects to double its sales this year due to the popularity of its products and a massive amount of media coverage. Another success story is Kirbyville, MO-based Bella Taylor by VHC, which creates quilted handbags, travel bags and accessories for tweens and teens. The company reports that business is up 70% in unit volume from first quarter 2011 to 2012.

Tween and teen trendsetters

The tween and teen segments certainly offer vast potential, but identifying each demographic group and understanding their core values is vital to targeting them. Kali Sharp, founder of Atlanta-based cosmetics brand EyeDoll Chatter identifies tweens as those between the ages of 8 and 12. “Although they’re influenced by their peers, their parents are still their gatekeepers,” says Sharp. “Teens are very brand-aware and highly impressionable, and use their favorite brands to define themselves.” Music, fashion, entertainment, toys and games are top spending categories for teens, generally defined as those between 13 and 18. Also influenced by their peers, teens’ parents tend to play less of a gatekeeper role.

Fun, freedom, power and a feeling of belonging is what motivates tweens. “Our big mantra is self expression,” says LockerLookz’s Brewer. Since tweens are trying to gain their own independence, they yearn for creative products that enable them to “self-express” and make their own choices. Core values for both groups include fantasy, mastery, love, fear, stability and humor. EyeDoll’s Sharp mentions the overwhelming success of the Harry Potter and American Idol brands with tweens, and Twilight for teens. “These brands embody some, if not all, of these core values,” believes Sharp.

Beyond having their own wish lists of jewelry, cosmetics and fun, funky accessories, spending power differs from group to group. “Tweens are just starting to get into fashion, colors and jewelry, but they don’t have their own money while teen girls are working and getting cash as gifts,” says Katherine Swift, designing artist of the Gainesville, FL-based contemporary jewelry line that bears her name. Keshia Baxter, marketing manager of Bella Taylor agrees. “Teens have higher spending power because many have part-time jobs. Most teens want to choose items on their own, but stuff for tweens is still being provided by parents, grandparents and others.”

Impulse buying drives a lot of sales since moms often shop with their daughters. Amy Catherine’s cool, colorful jewelry is affordably priced below $15. “This makes the difference between an impulse buy and a ‘think-about-it’ purchase,” says Amy Catherine’s Hughes. Paige Clark, CEO of Seattle-based Mogo Design markets accessories for tweens. “Mogo is sold at Nordstrom, but also at floral and garden shops. Although those aren’t places that tweens spend money, their moms and aunts shop there.” There’s also opportunity to grow up with them. In addition to floral creations, Angela Heimberger, owner of Loudonville, Ohio-based Four Seasons Flowers, Gifts & Collectibles offers trendy jewelry, which is ideal for prom season. “Teens are my future clients,” says Heimberger. They’re an important group to cater to because one day they’ll need flowers for weddings and other occasions.”

Gotta have it!

There’s certainly potential to capture tween and teen dollars, but marketers must first understand what they truly want. EyeDoll’s Sharp says tweens respond to mass personalization and mass customization. “They want to take something and make it their own.” She notes the popularity of magnetic jewelry, which girls can interchange by easily switching out charms. EyeDoll Chatter’s cosmetic kits enable girls to mix scents and colors to personalize eye shadow, blush and lip glosses. Also tapping into the customization craze is Mogo, which offers linkable charm band bracelets and other accessories embellished with magnetic charms. “It’s a cute, modern take on the charm bracelet, but expands into all accessories and girls collect them,” says Clark.

Beyond customization and creativity, girls enjoy
spotlighting their hobbies. “Tweens like designs that highlight the event that they’re doing,” says Amy Catherine’s Hughes. The company markets charms, stretch bracelets, necklaces, chokers and rings emblazoned with sports designs such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, dance and cheer. Packaged in “darling boxes,” the accessories are ready for gifting. Hughes also notes the popularity of “spirit” charms (custom charms highlighting schools or camps) for kids and moms. “That’s half of my business.”

Staying connected

Since sparking a trend among groups of girls can really impact profitability, marketers must determine how to create buzz. “Word-of-mouth marketing is a hallmark of this demographic. Over 60% of tweens and teens find out about new products from friends either inside or outside of school,” says EyeDoll’s Sharp. “They also like to collect and share,” adds Amy Catherine’s Hughes. “If one girl gets something—everyone wants it.

These groups also crave novelty and embrace fashion, so remaining ahead of trends is a must. To forecast what young fashionistas will yearn for in seasons to come, manufacturers scout trends at major shows, including AmericasMart Atlanta, Dallas Market Center, NYIGF and Toy Fair. “The media is also a great source for staying abreast of shifting trends. “We had no idea we were creating a trend, but we were mentioned in the media and started a buzz,” says LockerLookz’s Brewer. Checking out magazines such as Seventeen and Teen Vogue is also a way of staying in-the-know.

Since girls love communicating and engaging in social media, keeping an open dialogue with them certainly won’t be challenging and information gained can cleverly be used to drive product development. Marketing/social media strategist Lisa Kanda of Long Branch, NJ-based Elkay Corporate Advisors suggests that retailers use social media, location-based social networks and online communities to capture them. “Tweens and teens are wired for interacting on these platforms and they use their friends’ opinions when making buying decisions. To reach them using social tools, do your research first to understand their needs and how to engage them. If you do it wrong, the backlash can be damaging. If you do it right, the rewards can be dramatic,” says Kanda. Drusilla Rogers, owner of Sugar Shack, a candy and gift shop in Bastrop, Texas credits the power of Facebook for reaching teens. When her teen workers come in for a shift, Rogers immediately has them sign on to Facebook to post where they are and what’s in store at Sugar Shack. The teens began these work Facebook sessions in December 2001, so when Rogers attends market this summer, she’ll know just what they’re seeking thanks to the open dialogue she’s developed with her customers.

Email blasts offer another touch point for Mogo’s Clark who sends retailers fliers that can easily be distributed to customers. Retailers can also use technology to survey girls about what they want and then let them know their shops offer it via blogs or texts. Polling them on their favorite brands or items is another way of determining what teens want. “Retailers should obtain a tween/teen Facebook and Twitter following and keep conversations active about their likes and dislikes,” says EyeDoll’s Sharp, who explains that Facebook “Likes” customer contacts can be quite targeted. “Facebook ads can be as affordable as 30 cents per click and retailers can target girls ages 13 to 18 in their specific zip codes. It’s likely a retailer can spend $400 to $500 to obtain 2,000 targeted customers by using Facebook ads. Once the ad is purchased, retailers should keep Facebook content exciting and customers engaged.”

Other innovative ways to entice them include offering online scavenger hunts, web information formatted for mobility (iPhone apps) and creating enticing YouTube videos that announce new products. Everything is very viral at this age, says LockerLookz’s Brewer who mentions that some retailers have hosted locker decorating parties, which draw large groups of tweens. “They feed off and influence one another and then they buy more,” says Brewer.

Once the girls are in the shop, retailers can continue to lure them by offering hip, on-trend merchandise and a fun shopping experience. Sugar Shack’s Rogers often visits stores that cater to teens. “Many stores are like museums. I don’t think they’re ‘happy’ and ‘carefree’ enough,” says Rogers, who is constantly updating displays and bringing in new merchandise. Creating a cute cubby or shelf full of bright colors—even a display on the counter will speak to them. Colorful peace signs and other cool tchotchkes can be used to adorn these areas. Creating on-trend displays that highlight the hot hue of the season, or doing tie-ins with musicians or celebrities that hail from pop culture is another way of marketing to teens. Other ways of driving traffic include hosting trunk shows or promotional events that offer discounts, or using in-store signage or Facebook messaging to remind consumers of upcoming buying occasions.

Beyond the girls and their moms, Boomer grandparents are another big demographic to target since they spend on these segments as well. “Grandparents are not educated on what their granddaughters like, so it really helps to have prepackaged items,” says LockerLookz’s Brewer, who suggests keeping prices under $10 or $20. Mogo’s Clark suggests that retailers group best-selling items on a table with a sign that says, “Hot gifts for girls ages 8 to 12.” Items that aren’t sized are also easy Boomer buys. “Overall, retailers can’t be afraid to take chances,” concludes LockerLookz’s Brewer. “These customers need to be on their radar and can be a new source for those willing to buy items that are truly unique.”

Mouse over images below to view.

Regina Molaro

Regina Molaro is a freelance writer who covers art and design, fashion,beauty, and home décor. She can be reached at

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