Respect Your Juniors, Don't Use Crystal Ball

Catalogers today who choose to market to juniors have both a unique opportunity that did not previously exist and a unique set of problems that are specific to their market.

The first step is to identify exactly who you are trying to reach. Let's say within the market — which is tagged with many names such as Generation Y or the dot com generation — you cater to teen and pre-teen girls from a lifestyle approach.

Starting out with the general parameters of a potential customer base of 30 million girls in the 10-22 year old age range, it is then necessary to find out what they want and to present it in a format that they perceive as cool. This is done in several ways such as focus groups, letters and e-mails from customers, testing, and of course, spending a lot of time immersing yourself in the culture of whatever market you are covering.

If your instincts are good and you truly understand your customer, you may eventually find that you can dictate trend and fashion to some extent — even tell them what is cool. If you're a newcomer to this particular catalog world, you'll will find out right away if you have such abilities, which are instantly reflected in sales or the lack of them. This is probably the most essential element to a successful venture in this particular market, knowing how to follow, blend with and eventually lead your consumer. If you don't already have this capability, or believe you can learn it quickly, maybe you should consider commemorative plates and mugs.

After identifying and selling to this market, you may find a particular segment of the group that is producing the strongest results — something you want to focus on. Let's say most of your business comes from the 11-15 year olds, with a substantial drop off after 16. This helps refine your focus to a much narrower point of view by being able to address the interest of a such a clear-cut majority in your customer base.

Along with mail order, there also is a huge potential for e-commerce with these customers, who grew up with a computer and are the first generation to do so from early childhood. The group behind them (Generation Z?) will be even more computer savvy.

A Web site is the natural companion to a catalog, and they can work both independently and together to grow your business. Hyper links, banners and product placement in magazines help drive traffic to your site, and having a catalog to offer on your site brings in new subscribers.

The competition is strong in this market, but there are only a few players who will make the grade. Predicting the whims of teenage girls can be a risky business, and trying to shape those whims even more so. But if you learn and respect their interests and then meet their demands, you're already on your way.

A wise man once said: He who uses crystal ball to predict tomorrow will have broken glass for breakfast.

With the millennium approaching, I had mine made out of Lucite.

Mike Burwasser is the creator and merchandiser of the Brat catalog, New York.

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