Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Retail Marketing: Big Opportunity

The Washington Post reports that plus-size apparel sales last year rose 13.2 percent, and teen plus-size rose 14.2 percent, compared with 5.6 percent for all women's clothes. Yet those shoppers feel belittled or ignored by retailers. Tell me you see an opportunity here. Of course you do.

Why is this growing market not getting the attention it deserves? Probably because the people in management positions in any business tend to be tall and fit, and they stock inventory to suit themselves. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the type of people who get promoted in his latest book, Blink.

The big-people market is growing. In 2002, 16 percent of teens were considered overweight, more than triple the figure in 1980. The average woman in her twenties weighs almost 29 pounds more than women did in 1960, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There's a real stigma against fat for the fashion world," said Laurie Henzel, the creative director of Bust magazine, a small-circulation glossy with a feminist bent. It is one of the few magazines to frequently feature plus-size models in fashion shoots.

Asked about H&M's decision to phase out BiB, from which she borrowed samples when she had a plus-size shoot, Henzel said, "I can only imagine [they thought] it wasn't cool enough for them."

One company that has worked hard to make shoppers feel that they belong is Torrid. The four-year-old California chain has made its name catering to trendy women sizes 12 to 26. Torrid operates 91 stores nationwide and plans to open 30 more by the end of this year.

You can be a hero (and make big bucks) by offering stylish clothes for sale to plus-size buyers. It's big niche that's hungry to be served.

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