Rocking the Racks at Abercrombie & Fitch's Hollister

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SAN FRANCISCO -- In a field where the pairing of retail companies and musical acts is now common, Abercrombie & Fitch's Hollister division stands out for its decision to
Howie Day has played in Hollister concerts and is currently a headliner on the clothing company's Web site.

morph into a full-fledged company as well as a clothing chain.

Instead of spending money to attach its brand to someone else's concert events, the company turned its stores into performance venues halls for its "Lounge 22" concert series, which now hosts mainstream performances hot enough to demand coverage by TV outlets such as Entertainment Tonight and MTV.

The latest of the more than 30 concerts the company has put together in the past 30 months occurred Saturday at the epicenter of California's surf culture, Huntington Beach, where indie artist Rooney performed to some 2,000 screaming teens.

'Control freaks'

"We're self-admitted control freaks," said Tom Lennox, the director of corporate communications for Abercrombie & Fitch who oversees Hollister's relationship with Hollywood talent agency Creative Artists Agency and co-manages the live performance series, part of Hollister's Club Cali shoppers loyalty program.

Hollister, which sells clothing for "dudes" and "bettys," has 243 stores nationwide that target 14 to 18 year olds. Its shops, primarily located in suburban malls, feature a surf shack decor. Each location includes a central lounge area normally filled with clothing and chairs, and two big-screen TVs projecting live, round-the-clock live visuals from the Huntington Pier.

For the concerts, a Hollister production crew goes into the designated store right after closing, transforms the lounge into a concert venue, works security and rearranges the store overnight for business by morning's opening time.

Howie Day has played in Hollister concerts and is currently a headliner on the clothing company's Web site.

Major TV coverage

This holiday season, the concerts were held in public venues in order to generate larger crowds, media coverage and other buzz, and were a key element in the chain's strategy for the year's most important selling season. At a concert held in New Jersey's Garden State Plaza, 2,500 Hollister customers attended a Yan Cabrera concert which, like the Huntington Beach concert, was covered on Entertainment Tonight and MTV.

The 2-and-a-half-year-old program has produced shows with groups such as Maroon 5, All American Rejects and Howie Day. Hollister's customers can sign up without making any purchases for a red "Club Cali" card. With $500 of cumulative spending, they receive a gold card. They are upped to a platinum card when they spend $1,000 or more. Their seating at concerts is arranged by the level of card, with the platinum sitting up front and scoring coveted backstage passes.

The concert series is paying off for Hollister.

20% higher sales

Mr. Lennox said Club Cali, with 3 million members, has become a key factor in the chain's marketing success. Its members account for over 40% of the store's transactions, and members' purchases are 20% higher than the average Hollister ticket.

"Fashion retailing has become so predictable and boring," said Irma Zandl, president of the Zandl Group, an expert on youth marketing. "Most teens don't have the opportunity to see music live so it seems to be a win-win all around -- for the retailer, for the musicians and for the teen shopper," she said.

For the music artists, the private concert series is
Howie Day has played in Hollister concerts and is currently a headliner on the clothing company's Web site.

a potential marketing bonanza.

Store CD album sales

"It's perfect for us," said Julie Greenwald, president of Atlantic Records, who said the crowd usually includes teen tastemakers. Additionally, the concerts generate publicity not just on MTV but often in smaller markets, where they can make local newscasts. And, in an important distribution piece, Hollister stocks 7,000 copies of the artists' CDs in it stores for a month around the event. "It's really important for the future of our company," Ms. Greenwald said.

But is a concert series necessarily a guaranteed win-win for everyone? Not necessarily.

Another marketer, Mitsubishi, used indie performers in its commercials, producing a flurry of success for the musicians, but not necessarily for the automotive marketer.

Mr. Lennox, however, said that doesn't concern him. "We're in the business of building a brand," he said. "Anyone can throw a free concert. We want our loyal, repeat customers to come to a concert. We want to reward them and to continue to be closer to them."
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