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Jennifer Marks

Refining retail

Urban marketing for many years has been more of an urban legend than anything else. But last week offered up signs suggesting that might be changing for the better.

Kmart tacked directly into classic urban territory with the kick-off of new radio campaigns aimed at African-American and Hispanic consumers. It's part of the retailer's plan to leverage its base of stores in urban neighborhoods — areas Wal-Mart won't go because of the higher real estate costs and Target probably won't get around to visiting until it has saturated its suburban environments.

Rolling out into national television commercials in coming weeks, the Kmart spots feature original music performed by funk & soul diva Chaka Khan, Christian music artist BeBe Winans and Hispanic singer/songwriter Jose Feliciano. You probably won't find these artists at the top of FUBU's hit parade, but they're on target for the Kmart-age customer. More to the point, the choices suggest that Kmart is refining its vague "we're for mom" formula to pinpoint some identifiable groups of moms — and that's a step in the right direction.

Home Depot went urban last week, too, with the soft opening of its urban prototype in the Mill Basin neighborhood of Brooklyn. At 61,000 sq. ft., it's roughly half the size of the company's typical mega-box and located within same-day delivery range of a full-sized Home Depot that can fulfill requests for goods the smaller store doesn't carry.

What's interesting here is not merely the idea of a smaller box for a more densely populated market; Staples, The Sports Authority and Best Buy have been doing it for years. What's intriguing is how a hardware-oriented store saw opportunities to respond to true neighborhood issues — in this case, the fact that many households in the area's substantial Jewish community require a second sink for kosher use only.

That's the kind of targeted execution that truly represents the future.

Speaking of which …

Absolutely one of the freshest ideas to come down the pike for home is the rapidly expanding FUBU empire, which recently struck a deal with Haywin Textile Products to produce bed, bath and beach products tapping FUBU's distinctive hip-hop influenced designs.

A hot label for young adults, the FUBU concept has spawned licenses in shoes, accessories and apparel that ranges from casual street looks to contemporary formal wear. More importantly, it's one of the few true examples of a license for Gen Y arriving at retail with a core audience already established.

FUBU execs don't want their brand classified as "urban," a word that's become the marketing euphemism for anything addressing a largely African-American audience. It's a smart move, too, because in reality what's urban today in terms of fashion, language and music is suburban tomorrow and pan-American the day after. And anyone who thinks urban-generated totems of style are strictly a black thing hasn't brushed up against any white college kids for at least 15 years.

Do all these moves collectively point toward a day when retailers will treat their store base as a series of chains within chains — and ask suppliers to tailor merchandise accordingly? We can only hope so.

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