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To the Editors of American Demographics:

I am a fashion designer working on my business plan, and I haven't been able to find much data on the high-end apparel market. Could you help me obtain information about the demographics, geographics and psychographics of people who buy high-end designer wear (e.g. Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Chanel, Prada, Vera Wang, etc.), specifically evening gowns, wedding gowns and ready-to-wear clothing? Also, could you provide information about the typical customer at such high-end retailers as Saks and Neiman Marcus?

April Reddick

The Lady of the House

Washington, D.C.

Dear April:

You've stumped us this time. After phoning market research firms and fashion analysts in New York, London and Milan, we failed to track down the specific demographics of couture and designer shoppers as well as how much money the industry brings in annually. As those in this elite fashion faction are undoubtedly in the highest income bracket — who else can afford to drop the requisite $800 on a pair of Jimmy Choo boots? — we weren't surprised by the lack of consumer data on the haute couture set. Paola Durante, luxury analyst for Merrill Lynch in Milan, says some small firms track segments of the designer apparel market in Italy and France, but no organization in the United States tracks the entire industry on a regular basis. Even the leader for research on the U.S. fashion industry, Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group, came up short on information about the designer shopper. “The designers themselves are not so well organized as one might assume,� says Durante. “I'm not 100 percent sure they have a clear picture of their customer.� But don't expect designers to stay in the dark for long, she says. “Designers realized, even before Sept. 11, that they needed to be more structured. The crisis should make them act quicker� and get organized.

In the meantime, here's what we do know. While New York City-based market research firm Mediamark Research, Inc. (MRI) does not track sales of designer or ready-to-wear apparel, the firm can tell us, based on a spring 2001 survey of over 30,000 consumers, which customers typically shop at the upscale department stores. Two-thirds (66 percent) of those who shopped at Saks or Neiman Marcus in a given month are female and 46 percent have an annual household income of $75,000 or more (58 percent make $60,000 or more). For obvious reasons of proximity, 97 percent of this set lives in cities or in surrounding suburbs. Americans who live in Mid-Atlantic (New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) and Pacific (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington) regions are the most likely to shop at high-end stores. Those least likely to peruse the racks of luxury retailers live in the East South Central states (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee).

No matter where they live, shoppers at high-end stores are quite the fashionistas. According to the MRI survey, Saks and Neiman Marcus customers are almost twice as likely as the average American (29 percent versus 17 percent) to say they follow the latest trends. But this modish mob doesn't just follow the trends, they also wear them. Nearly one- third (31 percent) of prestige shoppers say they “dress more fashionably than others.� Only 14 percent of all Americans feel they are au courant. But the pressure to stay up-to-date, which is insurmountable for some, is more likely to be seen as retail therapy for this stylish bunch. Compared with only 43 percent of all Americans, 61 percent of high-end shoppers believe “shopping is a great way to relax.� Unless, of course, the shopping trip ends in criminal charges — isn't that right, Winona?

— John Fetto, Research Editor


To the Editors of American Demographics:

I was curious as to whether you have written articles that address two trends: Americans living abroad and the growth of storage space. I am trying to determine if there's any correlation between the two.

Samuel S. Hageman

Banc of America Securities

Syndicated Capital Markets

Charlotte, N.C.

Dear Samuel:

Why just last week I was asking an American friend who lives in London what she did with her belongings that were too large to tote across the pond. Rather than selling them off to the highest bidder, she rented a storage unit from a company near her hometown in Arizona. Certainly there are other expatriates like her who have keys to storage units half a world away. The State Department reports that in 1999, at least 3.8 million American civilians were living abroad, up from 2.6 million in 1993. (The number reported by the State Department includes only those Americans residing abroad who have voluntarily registered with the department or a U.S. Embassy. It does not include military or government personnel serving overseas or their dependents.)

Is the growing number of Americans moving to distant shores the cause of the countless storage facilities popping up across the country? The Self-Storage Association, based in Springfield, Va., estimates that there are between 25,000 and 30,000 storage facilities currently operating in the U.S. But it's unlikely that Americans living in a foreign land are renting many of these units. Poppy Behrens, executive editor at MiniCo Publishing, a trade publisher devoted to the self-storage sector, says that the number of Americans living abroad who are storing their belongings in this country is so minute that it is not even tracked by the industry. According to the 2002 Self-Storage Almanac, published by MiniCo, more than two-thirds of self-storage renters (76 percent) are residential renters looking to supplement the space they have at home; 1 in 5 (19 percent) are commercial renters; 3 percent are students and another 2 percent are military personnel. Where the expats keep their belongings is anyone's guess.

— John Fetto, Research Editor


Annual reported sales of high-end department stores:*

Saks, Inc. (359 stores) $6.5 billion
Neiman Marcus Group, Inc. (35 stores) $681.1 million
Barneys New York (16 stores) $113.2 million
*Sales for the Neiman Marcus Group are for fiscal 2001. At press time, fiscal 2001 sales figures were not available for Saks and Barneys; figures above are for the 52-week period ending Feb. 3, 2001.
Source: The Neiman Marcus Group, Saks, Inc. and Barneys New York.


Commercial clients rent storage units for the longest period of time (about two years), while residential renters store their stuff for just under a year on average.


Northeast 22.8 10.9 10.5 4.2
Southeast 21.0 8.6 9.7 4.7
North Central 24.6 13.0 11.0 4.8
South Central 25.0 12.1 24.8 5.3
West 23.0 11.7 11.5 4.9
Source: 2002 10th Annual Self-Storage Almanac


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New York, NY 10016

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