Abercrombie & Fitch, which has turned itself around by focusing on 18-to-22-year-olds, is testing a new store -- abercrombie -- that targets Gen Y-ers ages 7 to 14.
Williams-Sonoma, trying to add sizzle to its gourmet cookware business, next year will put out its first catalog targeting the echo set.
Product marketers, hoping to entrench themselves in the minds of these consumers at an early age, even have tied their names to toys. Tommy Hilfiger logos now appear in Nintendo of America's 1080 Degrees snowboarding videogame; other Nintendo games feature Reebok International stadium signs. Mattel's Flip-N-Dive Barbie comes dressed in a Speedo swimsuit.
Echo boomers are one of the fastest growing and most lucrative segments of the U.S. population. The U.S. Census Bureau puts it at more than 55 million, with the group growing at more than twice the rate of the overall U.S. population and expected to hit more than 62 million by 2005.
"Everybody's going after them," said Kurt Barnard, president, Barnard's Retail Trend Report.
NO GRUNGE HERE
Mr. Barnard said these teens are a very distinct generation from their predecessors, Generation Xers with their grunge look.
"They've graduated from that level and have begun to embrace a conservative lifestyle," he said, noting that many are no more affluent than the previous generation, but make money from after-school jobs.
"They are a more clean-cut generation than we've seen in the past," he said, with many embracing a preppie fashion look.
Direct marketers such as Delia's were among the first to capitalize on the potential of the echo boomers. Founded in 1993 and targeting sorority and college girls with on-campus representatives in an Avon-style marketing system, Delia's switched to a catalog and became more teen-oriented, posting sales of $113 million in 1997.
The company this fall will launch a catalog targeting young men.
"We mail more than 50 million catalogs a year," said Evan Guillemin, chief financial officer of the company, which went public in 1996. "We focus on product, but the relationship is a magazine-style relationship that serves as a fashion guide and an entertainment guide."
Since echo boomers are the first generation raised on computers, marketers also are starting to realize the importance of locating their outlets not just in malls but online. Delia's, for example, is linked to www.gurl.com, an online magazine it acquired in December. Both sites sell Delia's merchandise.
A number of other retailers have successfully targeted teens via the Web. Airshop Ltd. got its start selling fashion products online (www.air-shop.com) and thanks to teen demand launched a mail-order catalog in September, positioned as a teen magazine.
"We were getting a thousand requests per week online" for a print version of the online site, said Airshop VP Bonnie Gringer.
Jeans marketer Mudd Jeans also is moving into the teen scene. It launched the 16-page, pocket-size Mudd Zine -- distributed via the back pockets of 1.5 million pairs of jeans sold this fall.
Since teens grow up, marketers at the next product levels are getting ready for them as well.
Fingerhut Cos. recently launched one of the first e-commerce sites targeting young adults ages 18 to 24, both male and female. For sale at www.thehut.com are portable stereos, fitness equipment and appliances sized for dormitory rooms.
The company said it also will offer the Gen Y-ers a little more than furnishings for their first home: Like its adult version, it plans to offer credit.