By Barbara Thau
NEW YORK–It’s that time of year again: As Jerry Lewis warms up for his Labor Day telethon next month, retailers have outfitted their home floors for back to school, the biggest selling season after Christmas.
This year, merchants are playing to teens’ well-heeled design sense with a variety of lifestyle-oriented collections—from green, earthy looks to contemporary fare.
Retailers are reaching out to the back-to-school crowd at their virtual hangouts by marketing on hot social networking Web sites MySpace and Facebook.
J.C. Penney is getting the word out about Dorm Life, its first-ever, comprehensive back-to-college home program, on Facebook. Students visiting jcp.com can find a link to a Dorm Life Facebook page featuring the line, decorating tips and checklists.
Dorm Life, with a modern, hip aesthetic, includes bedding and bath, lighting, decorative accessories, area rugs and furniture—such as ottomans with hidden storage—as well as home organization products. The line reflects the input of students from different college campuses.
“We want to create a lifestyle idea around dorm-relevant product” so that shoppers can put their “unique personal style” on their living space, Jeffrey Allison, executive vice president of home and custom decorating, told HFN last month when the line bowed.
Dorm Life targets freshmen going away to college, but is also designed for wider appeal to speak to 15- to 22-year-olds.
“We didn’t want to make it so young that it could not be salable to older customers as well,” including first-apartment dwellers, he said.
Ikea is advertising on Facebook for the first time to reach students, while it’s tapping their moms with ads on iVillage.
On the Facebook site, an Ikea banner pops up with a question like, “Do you have a lamp for your desk?” that links browsers to Ikea’s Web site.
“You have to reach this target in [non-traditional] ways,” said Rich D’Amico, an Ikea spokesman.
The Swedish home furnishings chain is also marketing with a clear glass truck that drives around various neighborhoods. The truck spotlights a dorm room decked out in Ikea home merchandise.
“It’s a way for us to bring the brand to the consumer,” D’Amico said. “All of a sudden, this solution drives by,” prompting shoppers to say, “ ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to Ikea.’ ”
The Container Store’s Dorm: Give Yourself Some Space catalog reflects a new, creative approach, Mona Williams, vice president of buying for the storage emporium, told HFN.
This catalog “is truly the most graphically lifestyle-driven” the retailer has ever put out, she said.
The book features spreads of dorm room vignettes, such as “a natural fit,” with a green design theme, and “high fidelity,” which depicts a dorm room furnished in high-tech, modern looks.
“This is an incredibly sophisticated student that’s going away to college today,” Williams said. “They’re really design savvy. … They’re watching design shows, they’re watching ‘Project Runway,’ and they want to make sure their dorm room is an expression of their personal style.”
Eco-friendly merchandise is key to the retailer’s back-to-school mix this year, such as Eco-fabric storage bins made from recycled water bottles and cotton fibers.
The Container Store is testing a new marketing tact in 10 urban markets. The retailer has opted not to hold its signature college night shopping events in its Northern California, Manhattan, Miami and Chicago stores, and instead mailed students in those areas 25 percent-off coupons on dorm merchandise.
Students “shop differently in those markets,” Williams said. “They are so busy.”
ShopKo has worked to make its back-to-school home assortment more fashion-forward.
In soft home, “We’ve gone after a polka dot strategy that seems very trend-right, a striped look for boys and a unisex look in storage,” said Rod Ghormley, senior vice president of home for ShopKo. The Midwestern discounter is carrying those looks across product categories such as storage and lighting.
“Our ads are more lifestyle-oriented,” Ghormley said.
Target has launched Sami Hayek for Target, an exclusive limited-edition collection that includes bedding, decorative accessories, furniture and stationery for students from the Mexican designer.
The collection, with a contemporary feel, features products in bold colors and designs that reflect Hayek’s Mexican culture. The line was also designed with sustainability in mind. The Sami Hayek line “provides our guests with vibrant decor and furnishing options that add a hint of surprise,” said Gina Sprenger, senior vice president of merchandising of Target, in a statement. “Anyone who values function and practicality housed in great design will gravitate toward Hayek’s product.”
In its Back to Cool catalog, Crate & Barrel spinoff CB2 is playing up what it calls “honest modern” looks with “a fun attitude, without a price attitude,” for the season.
These include items such as comic pop art, Roy Lichtenstein-like appetizer plates, and Me and My Shadow people-shaped bookends.