ETHNIC OPPORTUNITY FOR RETAILERS

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How retailers market to growing ethnic groups makes futurist Watts Wacker think of eggs and bacon, and hens and pigs.

The difference between eggs and bacon is that the hen is involved, but the pig is committed.

Unfortunately, Mr. Wacker says retailers are hens.

"Commitment means not just advertising, but store locations, product selection and pricing strategy," said Mr. Wacker, resident futurist and managing partner at Yankelovich Partners, Westport, Conn. "I have not seen that integrated approach from retail."

Many analysts and ethnic researchers agree that retailers are failing to adequately address the growing ethnic population, even as retailers struggle to grow against heavy competition.

Sophisticated players from industries such as automobiles, package goods and toys have already integrated ethnic groups into their marketing plans.

This decade, ethnic minorities will account for nearly 70% of the total U.S. population growth. By the year 2020, white, non-Hispanics should represent only 64% of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Ethnic minorities generate nearly $600 billion in annual buying power, according to Market Segment Research, Coral Gables, Fla. The ethnic consumer research company added that only about $500 million is spent on minority marketing in the U.S.

"Welcome to the age of diversity," said Gary Berman, president of Market Segment Research. "Retailers need to start marketing to new segments, and I believe that will start accelerating in the next 12 to 18 months."

Targeting minority groups could be the ticket to grow business for some retailers.

"There is an opportunity of 36% to 42% additional sales in many of these markets if a retailer marketed properly to the ethnic community," said Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group, a retail research company in Charleston, S.C. "I think there is a huge opportunity."

Some of the biggest names in retailing, like Sears, Roebuck & Co.; Kmart Corp.; and J.C. Penney Co. are starting to form integrated ethnic marketing efforts.

Sears Merchandise Group was the first major department store to formally target the Asian-American market, a population that's expected to grow more than 60% by the year 2000. Last fall, Sears tapped Amko Advertising, New York, to develop a retail strategy for that population. Sears has been targeting Hispanic and African-American groups as well.

"One of [Chairman-CEO] Arthur Martinez's major initiatives is local market focus," said Angel Lopez, director of ethnic marketing at Sears Merchandise Group. "It's more than just advertising. You have to have the right merchandise, the right sizes and colors and the right personnel."

With the Asian population, Sears is staying away from TV advertising.

"The difficulty with TV in the Asian market is there is no set station that talks to Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese," Mr. Lopez said.

Instead, the No. 3 retailer will use newspapers and event marketing.

"We want to be a part of the New Year festivities in Los Angeles," Mr. Lopez said. "Also, one of our store managers set up a booth in a Vietnamese neighborhood to solicit credit card applications."

Kmart has been advertising to both Hispanics and African-American groups. In February, the company introduced an exclusive line of private-label African-American health and beauty-care products called Golden Imani. The product line will be carried in select Kmart stores and includes body lotions, shampoos, leave-in conditioners, conditioning gels and pomade.

The retailer uses Burrell Communications Group, Chicago, for advertising aimed at African-Americans and Castor Advertising Corp., New York, to reach Hispanics.

In part, retailers have failed to reach ethnic groups by abandoning urban locations and moving out to the suburbs or to malls. For example, No. 1 retailer Wal-Mart Stores has adopted a primarily suburban strategy.

"The absence of any strong retailing outlets in a location convenient to the ethnic population groups is the No. 1 deficiency in marketing to ethnic consumers," Mr. Beemer said. "Retailers are making these consumers go outside their normal driving patterns to buy their products."

Ethnic groups are extremely dissatisfied with the shopping experience and by moving away from high-density ethnic areas, retailers are alienating the group even more, Mr. Wacker said.

But some analysts believe it's not too late for retailers.

"Retailers are really in a unique position to take advantage of marketing to ethnic groups," said Brian Kardon, director at Braxton Associates, a Boston consultancy. "I do think retailers are a little asleep at the wheel, but they are catching up very quickly."

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