Midwest Teens Are Big Spenders

It’s no wonder that Chicago-area discounters and drugstores devote considerable space to attracting teenaged customers, considering that in recent interviews with several local teenagers, each estimated she buys a new cosmetics product once every other week and almost exclusively on impulse.

Ulta 3, the suburban Romeoville-based discount cosmetic chain and salon with 18 stores in the Chicago area, has strategies for attracting both teens aged 12 to 18 years old and “tweens,” girls between the ages of nine and 12, said Julie Staggs, cosmetics buyer for Ulta 3.

While national names Cover Girl and Maybelline cap the two aisles of cosmetics for teenagers in Ulta 3′s suburban Norridge store, Staggs said several newcomers are dominating the market. Brooklyn-based Sweet Georgia Brown and Fetish, which is based in Garden Grove, Calif., were among the bestsellers for the first months of 1998.

A repositioning of the Sweet Georgia Brown line, from adult ethnic to across-the-board teen, has resulted in high-volume sales for its nail enamel, body glitter, and La La Lips and La La Lashes products, Staggs said. In particular, teens have been drawn to small vials of the line’s colored mascara because they allow trial without commitment.

“I tried some of those colored mascaras, but I thought it looked weird on me,” said Jennie Thomas, a 14-year-old Evanston, Ill., teen. “I don’t usually get in on weird stuff like that.”

In Ulta 3, Sweet Georgia Brown displays are still relatively small and conservative, nestling the brand into seven-foot-high aisles next to perennial category leaders like Wet `n’ Wild and Bonnie Bell, as well as other newcomers like Fetish and Hollywood-based Professional Makeup Co.

At one of Jewel/Osco’s flagship stores on the city’s North Side, Sweet Georgia Brown received more shelf space in an open, three-foot-high cosmetics area. In addition to the line’s fun moniker La La products, Osco’s Sweet Georgia Brown displays included brochures with the “411″ on makeup application and an entry form to receive free samples and beauty advice.

When queried about the brochures, most of the teenagers who were shopping the store said they did not even notice them, much less take them home and read them. On the other hand, at Ulta 3, Staggs said the bins for similar brochures from the Jane brand constantly need to be refilled.

“Since the brochures don’t scan, it is a little bit hard to say, but they do have to be refilled pretty often,” she said. “I think the brochures stem from everyone’s research that teens want and need more information.”

In addition to the series of informational brochures, Jane is also “getting into more fun cosmetic items,” Staggs said. This initiative follows on the heels of strong sales by other brands that focus on more avant-garde products, she added.

Jane was acquired by the Estee Lauder Cos. late last year. There have been no major changes to the brand as a result of this development, but many buyers feel the brand will benefit from Lauder’s marketing savvy.

The best sales in the Fetish line are coming from novelty items, including body charms, body stamps and body glitter, Staggs said. Eye-catching packaging, in steel metal containers, especially for mini tube-shaped lip gloss, help enforce the brand’s cutting-edge image, she added, as do product names like Two Timer and Flip Your Lid, which are both multicolored eye shadows.

Other brands vaguely grouped together in a teen section at Osco also focused on fun, including Pop Rocks body glitter, Smart Mouth Unpetroleum all-natural lip treatment and Yum-Flavored Crazy Coffeez flavored lipsticks.

Staggs said the flavored lipstick category is increasing in popularity these days, especially with tweens and younger teens. Brands that have not traditionally emphasized trendy colors were losing part of the teenager market, Staggs said, because teenagers are much more likely than adults to try a new lipstick or nail enamel even if the color is sure to be out-of-date quickly.

“I think in teen cosmetics there is a little more fad then trend,” Staggs said. “It might be a six-month thing, versus a year or two years for an adult line.”

Ulta 3 is currently featuring a new display unit from Professional Makeup Co. The merchandising effort attempts to deliver more eye-appeal for the upstart brand and more focus on new items, which despite low price points, are packaged to resemble upscale, salon brands. Staggs said the brand’s sales have “skyrocketed” with the new display and new colors of nail enamel, including Passionate and Drive Me Wild.

A recent Professional Makeup Co. promotion featured a shirtless male model walking through Ulta 3 stores, urging customers to test new colors on his chest. The approach, Staggs said, is indicative of the brand’s “radical attitude” and garnered a lot of in-store attention.

While Professional Makeup Co.’s value price point — nail enamel is priced at less than $2.00 per bottle — positions it next to traditional economy brands like Wet `n’ Wild and Bonnie Bell, teenaged shoppers said cost is not a factor in their purchasing decisions.

“I really don’t pay that much attention to price,” said Clare Thompson, a 14-year-old Park Ridge resident. “If I see something new out, I’ll try it.”

Thompson shops at Ulta 3 for its selection, not its discount status, and only when she and her mom are out doing something else. Otherwise, she’ll stop in Osco or Walgreens to get what she needs. One recent impulse trip netted a silver eyeliner.

“I guess I am just a shimmery type of person,” Thompson said.

Thompson did not remember the brand she recently purchased, the usual response from the teenaged shoppers interviewed.

Jennie Thomas said she considers herself a Clinique girl, but will buy mass market cosmetics when she’s walking through Walgreens or Osco drugstores, if she sees something she likes.

In an effort to up brand recognition among teenagers, one Osco featured a freestanding cardboard Fetish display that included the brand’s Spicemania Sweepstakes, which was a four-month contest that allowed teens to try to win products and tried to tie in with the Spice Girls mania among teenaged girls.

In contrast to the exciting images of Fetish’s Spice Girls tie-in and the Professional Makeup Co.’s shirtless wonder, Cover Girl’s supermodel Tyra Banks promoted both the brand and her new book with more conservative in-store appearances and book signings at Ulta 3 in April, Staggs said.

The dichotomy between approaches to the teenage market is fairly typical, said one teen marketing guru, because teens are fickle and want different approaches on different days.

“What turns teens on? Reality and fantasy, but no hype,” said Marian Salzman, director of Brand Futures Group, which is a division of New York-based Young & Rubicam. She is also the author of “Next: The Flow of the Future,” a youth marketing book to be published by Harper Collins next year. “Teens think older, although it’s manic — some days they are juvenile and seek slapstick, and the next day they seek high concept,” said Salzman.

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