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  • Cecile Corral

Suppliers eye hip Hispanic market

New York — Recognizing Hispanics as a lucrative consumer base worth courting, suppliers and retailers are stepping up efforts to address the needs and tastes of these bilingual, bicultural shoppers.

"We're starting to see Hispanics as an emerging target customer," said Ivan Kelley, buyer, bath textiles and table linens, Atlanta-based Rich's Lazarus Goldsmith's Macy's. "In Atlanta, we're seeing this happen more and more."

At its Gwinnett-based store, located in Atlanta, Rich's Lazarus Goldsmith's Macy's has started initiatives aimed at addressing its growing Hispanic customer base — which company research showed to be predominately Mexican.

The Gwinnett store now offers credit applications and telephone customer service in Spanish, along with gift cards for birthdays and several holidays. It features some bilingual directional signage and has several bilingual sales associates, said Gail Nutt, senior vice president, diversity, community affairs and urban business development.

"We realize that this customer responds very strongly to Tommy Hilfiger, in apparel as well as home, so we've aggressively exploited that brand throughout the store," Nutt added. "We also have a better balance of color versus pattern, especially traditional looks like florals. We see a good response to geometric designs and to more vibrant and brighter colors, and our buyers are responding to these shifts."

The retailers that have already begun implementing special Latino-friendly programs include: Troy, Mich.-based Kmart, which last summer launched its line with Mexican songstress and actress Thalia Sodi for young miss apparel and home goods; Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl's, which recently debuted its apparel line with Cuban-American celebrity Daisy Fuentes; Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears and its launch last summer of the women's apparel Lucy Pereda Collection, designed by the Cuban-born Latin television personality; and Hayward, Calif.-based Mervyn's, which offers a cookware line with renowned Mexican chef Aarón Sanchez.

"We have Daisy Fuentes for apparel, and it is something that probably will eventually lead us into other categories and something we'll be looking at getting more into," said Gary Nickolie, buyer, Kohl's.

One retailer that has historically catered to Hispanic customers is Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Anna's Linens. "I've been selling to Hispanics my whole career, 30 years," said Alan Gladstone, president.

The 130-store national chain is entering the heavily Hispanic South Florida market with five new stores — four of which are opening later this month. "We understand Hispanics big-time," Gladstone said. "We understand their tastes, desires, and preferences, and how they like product merchandised."

Gladstone said he noticed more and more suppliers trying to "capitalize on the Hispanic trend" with products featuring special patterns and brighter colorways.

Sugar Valley, Ga.-based Mohawk Home partnered with Puerto Rican designer Rosabel Paraliticci to create a colorful and highly embellished collection of decorative pillows and throws targeting specialty and department stores.

"With this collection, we're not looking to be ethnic, but to offer something that has more of a Hispanic influence and interprets the spirit of that culture while still appealing to the general U.S. market," said Merle Johnson, vice president, marketing, Mohawk Home. "The product we were seeing out there for Hispanics tended to have chili peppers. But there is a far more sophisticated Hispanic customer out there looking for a far more sophisticated way to decorate her home."

Added Paraliticci: "Hispanic women have the first and last word when it comes to home décor. We are colorful, expressive, warm and romantic, and we want our surroundings to reflect who we are."

Decorative pillow and top-of-bed supplier Ashford Court, based in Richmond, Va., brought to market an expanded collection of decorative pillows in bright pastel colorways with fringed borders. The collection originally debuted last year, and hit the store shelves of a major mass merchant about six months ago, with the hope of drawing the attention of Hispanic shoppers.

"It's been extremely successful for us," Neil Zuber, president, Ashford Court, said. "The Hispanic influence has become huge in the last year or two. That being the case, we're creating product that is specifically designed for areas and communities that have high Hispanic populations."

Lakewood, N.J.-based Town & Country Living made a statement this market with the launch of its licensed program for table linens and bath products with Mexican chef and New York City restaurateur Zarela Martinez — who also happens to be the mother of Mexican chef Aarón Sanchez. His cookware line sells at Mervyn's.

Titled Zarela, the Town & Country-made collection is inspired by Mexican arts and crafts objects and Mexican motifs, like la loteria (the lottery).

"My whole passion is the Mexican culture, and I want to bring it to the United States in a way that honors our traditions," said Martinez, who is also the author of several cookbooks and is the host of her own 13-part cooking series, called "Zarela! La Cocina Veracruzana," on PBS.

"Some people interpret our culture offensively in a way that is stereotypical, using sombreros and cacti and men on donkeys, which is not what our culture is about. So what I'm trying to do is come to el rescate — the rescue, so to speak — and bring back traditional looks that are chic and fun and affordable, but honor our traditions," she said.

Karsten America's Director of Design Carolina Feinstein drew inspiration from the Spanish shawl she bought herself during a trip to Barcelona to create a high-end cotton viscose bath towel collection, called Flamenco, which features a one-and-a-half-inch fringe.

"When I designed it, I had women in general in mind. I was looking to create something feminine, sophisticated and classic, like Spanish shawls," she said. "But Hispanics will no doubt probably be more receptive to this kind of design."

Arlee Home Fashions, based in New York, is exploring ways to expand its product offerings of "brighter colors, more tropical looks, shinier and more embellished fabrications" — looks that, it says, are preferred by Hispanic shoppers.

Robert Panko, vice president, product development, said Arlee is targeting Hispanics "because we see Hispanics as an emerging customer base for our retail partners. In fact, the tropical looks that have become so popular in all markets, I think, originally stem from the Latin explosion in pop culture. Hispanic culture here is influencing mainstream looks — not the other way around."

So, as the Hispanic population continues to rise and influence new designs in home décor, how do retailers and suppliers best address the needs of the marketplace?

Aida Levitan, president, the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, and vice chairperson of Bromley Communications in Miami, said retailers and suppliers need to "culturally connect at the deepest level with Hispanics" to win their business.

"Advertising is not the only way to reach out to Hispanics," Levitan said. "There is a lot of relationship building involved in targeting Hispanics."

She said the relationship involves improved service — including hiring bilingual personnel, providing bilingual in-store signage and providing merchandise that is relevant to that customer.

"For example, in apparel it's important for the retailer to offer sizes that are appropriate for typical Hispanic sizes, and in other areas (like home) it's important to offer merchandise in bright colors that is more appealing to the Hispanic consumer, like fashion-conscious products for areas like Miami, which is a very fashion-forward region," Levitan explained.

As previously noted, many retailers have partnered with a Latin celebrity to draw in Hispanic shoppers.

"There are celebrities who cross cultural boundaries and have greater mass appeal," said Carlos Ordónez, director of business development of the Latino market for Cheskin, a consulting firm for all markets, specializing in ethnic marketing. "(Partnering with a) celebrity is an easy thing to do, but costs a lot of money. Many smart retailers are doing their research and making inventory and brand decisions now. Most big retailers recognize the need to do something."

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