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Jennifer Marks

More than a few good men

My husband walked in with a surprise the other night. He'd stopped off on his way home from work and picked up a couple of new sleep pillows.

I knew that we needed spare pillows, but I had no idea he knew — and I certainly didn't expect that he'd think to pop off and take care of it himself. Home textiles stuff, after all, is my professional bailiwick.

However, I shouldn't haven't been all that surprised. Just that day, a study from WSL Strategic Retail arrived in the office that found younger men (age 18 to 34) do considerably more shopping than older members of their gender — and in every retail channel:

Department stores: The younger group's shopping in this channel is up 3 percentage points vs. a year ago. Older men: down 5 points.

Specialty non-clothing stores: Young guys up 31 points. Older guys up 5 points.

Specialty clothing stores: Young guys up 29 points. Older guys flat.

Mass merchandisers: Young guys up 22 points. Older guys up three points.

Supermarkets: Younger guys up 21 pints. Older guys up 3 points.

Supercenters: Younger guys up 17 points. Older guys up 6 points.

Home improvement centers: Younger guys up 36 points. Older guys up 19 points.

Only warehouse clubs did a better job on the gender spectrum, with older guys increasing their shopping by 28 points and younger guys up just 12 points.

Ye gads — could young men be the next great untapped market demographic?

Could be. Obviously, there are retailers and consumer product manufacturers that have a long history of chasing this group — vendors of sneakers, sporting equipment, music, videos and electronic games, beverages and junk food. What the WSL study suggests is that the interests of the Young Guy Demographic may not be quite so narrowly defined. Certainly, the study's most startling discovery was not that young men shop but that their shopping patterns today are not all that dissimilar to those of their female peers.

According to the study, which surveyed a group of 652 men and women between the age of 18 and 70, "Men and women exhibit similar levels of satisfaction with retailers in general (65 for men and 67 for women on a 100-point scale, with 100 as best). In terms of favorite store type, mass merchandisers top the list (39 percent of women vs. 28 percent of men), followed by department stores (20 percent of women vs. 10 percent of men) and supermarkets (6 percent of women vs. 13 percent of men). Men are more likely not to have a favorite store type (41 percent of men vs. 27 percent of women).

The trick will be keeping them shopping as they age. And that's not the only challenge on the guy front.

The tougher nut to crack is the 55-plus male customer — not exactly the man marketers spend much time worrying about. But WSL cautioned, rightly, that as the Baby Boomer population ages, "the decrease in shopping activity will pose important growth and survival issues for retailers and manufacturers."

In the meantime, it seems you can all count on my husband's business (he's at the top end of the young guy bracket). He'd no sooner presented the sleep pillows when a look of concern furrowed his brow.

"Gotta go back out," he said. "I forgot to pick up a mattress pad."

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