Big challenges but big profits in the Tween Market
They can’t drive, can’t date, can’t set their own rules, but boy can they shop! Tweens, ages roughly 9-13, are “the new power players of consumerism,” according to Greg Smith (“Tweens ‘ᴙ Shoppers: A Look at the Tween Market & Shopping Behavior,” POPAI White Paper).
These 20 million young Americans are responsible for $200 billion in sales a year, of which $43 billion comes from their own pocket money.
“Tween fashion is the fastest growing part of our business,” says Heather Rubino, owner of Teacup Tots. She represents children’s and tween clothing, shoes and accessory lines to stores in the Southeast.
It’s a challenging market, she explains. You have to please the young shopper and her mom, who is still buying most of the clothing. “Tweens want looks that are more sophisticated than their younger siblings, but not as flashy as that of older teens,” she says. “They are experimenting with their own style, yet want to blend with their friends. They don’t want to stand out too much.
“My biggest advice to retailers is to separate their tween section with a different entrance, look and branding. Tweens don’t want to shop in the same store as younger children,” says Rubino.
Present Multiple Personalities
Customers and sales clerks at Young Colors’ store in Denver kept pushing Donna Prescott into making her line of batik-inspired children’s clothing in larger sizes. Three years ago, she turned the loft space in her store into a tween space. “We put in shaggy carpet, book cases filled with knick-knacks, artwork and gift items—things they could buy themselves and for their friends, because this group has lots of birthday parties. They rush up there. It’s a fun and safe place for them to shop.”
Prescott designs her COLORS line of bright, comfortable dresses, separates and accessories around central palettes that can be mixed and matched, just for tweens. “I use comfortable, quality fabrics and aim for designs that make young girls feel stylish, confident and happy, but the pieces are modest and age-appropriate to please mom,” says Prescott. Her tiered maxi dresses, poplin shirt waists, crop pants and puff-sleeved tops are popular. There are accessories to go with every look.
Tweens want fashion that is on trend, chic and cool, but it can’t look too mature. “We track the trends of adults and older teens, knowing that those looks will be coming down the pike for tweens soon,” says agrees Ginka Bridges, Atlanta showroom manager for The Klein Group, which represents tween lines in its iTween room. Some good examples are skinny jeans, leggings, tunics, yoga-inspired clothing, and printed palazzo pants.
Show and Listen, Don’t Tell
Bridges advises children’s retailers who want to expand into tweens to talk to their customers before buying. Focus groups are a good way to find out what they want. “It’s good to bring in higher-margin goods that you can mark down, such as a $15 top that can be sold 2 for $25,” says Bridges. This group loves give-aways (a free headband with a dress) and fashion shows.
Tweens don’t like matching outfits. Stock multiple separates. “They know their way around social media and follow trends, so in store displays, such as posters or mannequins in pulled-together looks are welcome,” says says Janet Hunter Hawkins, owner of The Children’s Clotheshorse.
Hunter Hawkins says the biggest challenge is that tweens are still trying to figure out who they are and how they want to look. Opinions can change on a dime, so having a good selection helps. “They want to feel happy, hip and confident. They like color and easy-wear fabrics—they’re still part kids,” she says. “This is a growing market and stores that get it right are profitable.”
For more information: Klein Group 404.221.0520; Teacup Tots 800.584.3907; Young Colors 719.539.3812; and Janet Hunter Hawkins, Inc. 404.524.8897.