Too cool to fool

ULI conference explores best ways to reach Generation Y with retail and urban entertainment projects

Generation Y, the population group aged between 6 and 25 years, is the market segment with the most influence on the development of retail and urban entertainment projects, according to industry experts at a retail and urban entertainment conference recently sponsored by the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

Trends shaping destination development – which is based on a variety of uses related to retail, recreation and relaxation – were examined throughout the conference, attended by leading developers, architects, urban designers and municipal officials nationwide.

Participants agreed that to ensure success with a retail and entertainment development, “the market segment to reach” is Generation Y -- which consists of about 75 million children of baby boomers. According to industry data, this group spends $155 billion a year – much of it on apparel, shoes and accessories. Some 40 million are teens who spend an average of $138 a month.

The vast age gap within Generation Y poses challenges for those who are attempting to appeal to children, teens and young adults with retail and “experience” developments they will find intriguing enough for a repeat visit, noted Barbara Ashley, president of Retail Ventures in New York City. However, aside from differences within the group, the entire generation has a different attitude about shopping and entertainment from that of the baby-boomers – a difference stark enough to justify products and facilities tailored to their non-traditional preferences, she said.

“Generation Y wants its own environment. These kids don’t want to shop in their parents’ stores,” Ashley said, citing retailers such as Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie as examples of those who have the right mix of content and atmosphere for the younger crowd. “It’s about making the store experience a fun experience, one that is always changing,” she said. She cautioned conference attendees not to make the same marketing mistakes retailers made when the baby boomers were young. “Retailers of the fifties and sixties did not address the needs of boomers, and a lot of them failed. Our industry is facing the same thing today with Generation Y,” Ashley said.

According to Todd Cunningham, senior vice president of brand strategy and planning at MTV: Music Television in New York City, Generation Y in general tends to be less flighty and more decisive than most older people presume the “younger generation” to be. Surveys and focus groups conducted by MTV indicate that the teens and young adults of Generation Y place a high priority on products and places they perceive as being authentic and which represent a sense of community. “They have a fascination with things that are known, grounded, more vintage. They want something to believe in,” he said.

Christopher Edgar, vice chairman of Delia’s in New York City, noted that while the parents continue to foot the bill for younger members of Generation Y, the kids tend to have the upper hand in what is ultimately purchased. “Boomers are so open, the children are directing the parents’ buying patterns in many cases,” he said. “These kids are sophisticated consumers, and product quality does matter to them. If they want a specific product, they will do what it takes to get it, rather than settle for something else.”

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point (a book that analyzes causes for trends and epidemics), told attendees that to effectively reach Generation Y, it is critical to persuade the influencers within the group that a product, service or activity is worthy of their time and money. These individuals, whom he labeled as “connectors” and “mavens,” are trendsetters who can be far more effective in reaching the market than promotional efforts such as mass advertising, Gladwell said.

Connectors, those with unusually large social circles who thrive on cultivating friends and acquaintances, know enough people to sta

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