Recession Evils: Rumors and Facile Solutions

In a recent newsletter of Red Bank’s RiverCenter, Nancy Adams properly admonished the rumor-mongers who, faster than the recession, can bring down a good business operation. I congratulate Nancy for her spunk. And in contrast to Lou Grant, a lot of us like spunk! I am so glad she told those idiots to shut up!

Let me take up a cudgel against an equal danger – the town leader, manager or guru who thinks they are on to an easy answer for coping with our Great Recession. For instance, since November I have been hearing on and off about how good the student market is for retailers. This flies directly against what I have leaned about student shoppers since I started to study them for a project in Elizabeth, NJ back in the late 1990s. Before the dot,com bubble burst, the teen/tween market was an important growth engine for many downtowns – especially in urban wear. But with the bust, these youths lost their biggest income – what mom and dad gave them. And a lot of shops that targeted this market were badly hurt. Also, this market is notoriously fickle – a shop or chain that is red hot today can be in the crapper tomorrow. Finally, the potential size of this market is limited – the amount that teens and tweens can spend simply pales in comparison to how much retail spending their mothers control!

Then, if you look closely at what is happening today, you have to wonder some more. You can bet your bottom dollar that as this recession deepens, these kids are going to get less and less from their parents. And do you really think these kids are now getting part-time jobs to cover their retail buying habits? Moreover, if you look at some recent data, the story is a mixed one; some retail chains that target the teen/tween market are doing really well, but others, many that were hugely popular with these young shoppers, are not.

Below are some same store sales comparisons for retail chains that like teen/tween customers. The data are from Barbara Farfan at

Same Store Sales –Dec 2008

+13.5% The Buckle, Inc.
+ 12% Aeropostale
+ 10% GameStop
+ 4.3% Hot Topic Inc.

– 1% Urban Outfitters
– 10% Pacific Sunwear
– 12.3% Zumiez
– 12.5% Wet Seal
– 17% American Eagle Outfitters
– 24% Abercrombie & Fitch

Same Store Sales –Jan 2009

+ 14.7% The Buckle Inc.
+ 11.0% Aeropostale
+ 6.0% Hot Topic
+ 2.0% American Apparel

– 11.0% Pacific Sunwear of California
– 14.8% Zumiez
– 20.0% Abercrombie & Fitch
– 22.0% American Eagle Outfitters

Same Store Sales –Feb 2009

+ 21.0% Buckle, Inc.
+ 11.0% Aeropostale
+ 10.8% Hot Topic
+ 4.8% Torrid (Hot Topic)
+ 3.0% Urban Outfitters

– 6.6% Wet Seal
– 9.0% American Apparel
– 13.0% Zumiez
– 23.9% Arden B (Wet Seal)
– 30.0% Abercrombie & Fitch

The Buckle, Hot Topic and Aeropostale are indeed doing well and it would be great to discern a winning formula they share. Hot Topic is hot because it sells the clothing that the vampires or zombies wear in some book series that tween and teen girls now adore. Gamestop is hot because it resells computer games to the avid gamesters. But, Ambercrombie’s, Amercian Eagle, Zumiez, Wet Seal and Pacific Sunwear are not flourishing. And Amercian Apparel and Urban Outfitters – some retail analysts thought they were immune to this recession – are up and down. This market segment still does not sound to me like a rock downtowns now can build their retail upon.