By Dave Henry
When marketing consultant Judy Hopelain conducted qualitative research for a client seeking to understand men's ideal shoe shopping experience, the results could have been lifted from a Jerry Seinfeld routine. Men, she discovered, craved a bar-like setting with young, attractive cocktail waitresses in short outfits, and plasma screen TVs on the walls showing sports. Her findings showed that if you offer up most any product or service in a Hooters-like environment, men will show up.
Could it really be that simple, she wondered? Is "Hooters plus product" the only formula for engaging male shoppers in the retail experience? That was back in 2005. After factoring in a few variables for the emergence of guy-pleasing technologies such as smartphone apps and QR Codes, successful efforts by retailers both large and small have offered little to contradict Hopelain's conclusion.
The Knockouts Haircuts for Men franchise, founded in 2007, now boasts more than 450 full-service, boxing-themed salons staffed by attractive female hairstylists in trade-marked Knockouts Girls boxing uniforms who pamper their customers in comfy leather chairs equipped with individual flat screen TVs and complimentary beer.
Typically, men view apparel shopping as a chore, and have to be dragged by their wives or girlfriends to the mall, says Patrick Groenendaal, creative director at Hampshire Group. "But we are seeing more men shopping alone or with their buddies." Some are even starting to view shopping the way women always have: as a form of recreation.
When J. Crew opened its first men's shop in New York City's Tribeca in former bar The Liquor Store, the retailer kept most of the original fixtures, creating a men's-only club vibe. Customers can even pour themselves drinks while browsing.
J. Crew may well have drawn inspiration from John Varvatos' New York store, which opened just three months earlier in what was formerly the underground music club CBGB. Staying true to the rock 'n' roll attitude expressed in much of his menswear collection, Varvatos kept the 3,300-square-foot space largely intact, including original wall graffiti, concert posters, and band fliers. The shop also features an extensive collection of memorabilia and vinyl records, and a stage for hosting performances by up-and-coming artists.
Research has identified clear gender differences in the way men and women use digital channels to shop, with women leaning more towards social and men more towards mobile. Shopper research agency Shoppercentric finds that 38 percent of men own a smartphone (compared to 29 percent of women) and 60 percent of women use Facebook (compared to 52 percent of men).
These findings, coupled with a general slowdown in mall traffic, have inspired some innovative ideas for luring customers and stimulate sales. One of the more interesting programs is Oak Brook, IL-based Inland Western's partnership with Smart Choice to launch a mobile personal shopping assistant app for its Shops at Legacy retail center in Plano, Texas. The smartphone app features a "Men's Corner," customizing the male shopping experience to include drink specials, sports game listings and gift ideas.
"While shopping is typically all about the women, the 'Men's Corner' was created to target our male customer," said Andrea Taylor, marketing director for The Shops. As the app continues to develop, Men's Corner is expected to add content such as promotions for male-oriented events, special sales, and other offers designed with men in mind.
Male-only shopping domains and gender-specific products represent a major growth area for start-up retailers according to Dr Gary Mortimer from the School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations at Queensland University of Technology. Research has shown that some male shoppers have a "fear of the feminine" that makes them reluctant to shop for health products in high traffic areas or "next to feminine-inspired products such as tampons, waxing strips, pink razors and body scrubs."
Therefore it makes sense for retailers to consider the influence of gender, rather than categories, when devising store layouts. Retailers that have adopted the concept of a "men's zone" store-within-a-store model have seen an increase in sales. A gender-specific aisle provides relief to men, says Mortimer, "inspiring them to explore and discover new products."
Texas-based grocery retailer H-E-B is targeting male shoppers with its Men's Zone, a man cave showcasing over 534 male personal care products alongside flat-screen TVs that broadcast sporting events and blue floor lighting to lure men down the aisle. The floorplan concept, first pitched to H-E-B by Proctor & Gamble, also features small touch-screens with grooming tips and product advice positioned at eye-level.
"Men are likely to purchase a product if they see how it works and if it is prominent with messages such as here's stuff for your morning routine, your afternoon routine and your going-out routine," said Anne Westbrook, a P&G spokeswoman in Cincinnati, where the idea was developed. "Guys like a little bit of direction."
"Convincing women to shop usually isn't all that difficult," said Jeanine Poggi, fashion and style reporter writing at Forbes.com. "All a store needs is trendy apparel hanging on the racks. Convincing men to shop, however, requires making them feel like they're not really shopping in the first place."
This past April, J.C. Penney Co. Inc. introduced The Foundry Big & Tall Supply Co., a new retail concept that will pit it directly against the other major players in the men's industry, all of whom have identified this niche as one ripe for expansion.
"This is a men's specialty store, not a family department store," said Steve Lossing, president of The Foundry and a 20-year men's wear retail veteran. "It has a whole different look and feel. It's very masculine."
The stores are designed to replicate a microbrewery and feature an urban, industrial feel with concrete and wood floors, brick walls, steel and wood fixtures, and modern lighting. There are flat-screen TVs with comfortable leather in the lounge area, as well as an oversize poker table. An unusual component of the design is the fitting area, or "tank room," which replicates the cylindrical copper tanks in a brewpub. And, in markets without restrictions, The Foundry even hosts happy hours where customers can stop in for a beer at designated times.
Marketing efforts for The Foundry will be "very unique," Lossing said, featuring "tongue-in-cheek" with ads running the tag line: "You know what they say about a man with big hands? He shops at The Foundry Big & Tall Supply Co." And at grand opening events for Dallas-area stores this past May, Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders were on hand to sign autographs.
(Photo by Michael Kooiman.)