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Retailers failing at Back-to-School

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, August 5, 2002

It's just amazing how few retailers really understand the potential of the Back-to-School crowd.

This is a crowd that starts with the kids in K through 6 and moves up through high school and then into college. That's a big chunk of the population, and each segment comes with significant variables. And little is being done to woo and win them.

So then we look at what is being done at retail this season, and the pickins are slim.

The two most obvious standouts for Back-to-School are the Target/Todd Oldham program that brings the apparel designer into the home arena for the first time and the Joe Boxer collection at Kmart that crosses lines from home to apparel.

The interesting part of these efforts is that, but for furniture, they are across-the-board home efforts — sheets, towels, dishes, mirrors, pillows, and a whole lot of other stuff that kids need.

Both the Target and Kmart programs present a definite design, color and product statement from the design teams that created the programs.

In contrast, there are other programs, typically those from such retailers as Wal-Mart, JCPenney, Sears, Bed Bath & Beyond and Linens 'n Things, that merely pull stuff together, with few exceptions for items that are proprietary.

The biggest void seems to be in the world of department stores. These are the folks that are trying to appeal to a customer base significantly younger than their core customers.

And what do we see? Essentially nothing in terms of how these retailers are addressing a huge number of customers — parents and kids alike — as they pursue coupons off and hourly sales and all the other gizmos they have embraced over the last few years.

Give a kid a sheet that fits an extra-long bed, a towel that blots the water and pillows and lounge stuff that makes life feel good — and you could well have a customer for life.

It's too late for this season. But these kids have lives 12 months a year, and next year's Back-to-School is just around the corner.

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