The Tween Scene:

An Untapped and Formidable Consumer Force

By

By Deirdre Carroll
Associate Editor

NEW YORK--Over the past 40 years, the Baby Boomers have been the consumer force to be reckoned with. Their sheer numbers meant they could often determine the success or failure of a brand or company.

Now, however, it is the children of the late-blooming Boomers and the grandchildren of the first wave of Boomers, the “tweens,” between the ages of 8 and 12 years old, who are the drivers of the new economy. Vision Monday spoke with several eyewear retailers to determine how to address the unique vision needs of this huge and still largely untapped segment of the children’s eyewear market to learn how to best reach them.

Today’s “tweens,” children “in between” being little kids and being teenagers, are the last offspring of a large and powerful generation. They are large in number, consumer savvy and young, all of which make them the new group that will determine the winners and losers in the marketplace for years to come.

They are not only a consumer force to be reckoned with today but, given their age, will continue to be prime consumers for years to come. In fact, according to 20/20 Magazine’s Kid’s Eyewear 2007 Marketpulse Survey of independent ECPs, children from infancy to 14 years old now represent 15 percent of respondents’ customer base and 12 percent of their total dollar sales.

Developing Eyes
Generally accepted to be an age between 8 and 12 years old, the tween years are also an important time in eyesight development. Katheryn Dabbs Schramm, FNAO, CEO and pediatric optician of four A Child’s View shops in Mission Viejo, Calif. said “Children’s vision matures between 8 and 10 so there are lots of kids who get glasses at this age.” 

She means a lot of kids. During the last census taken in 2000, the U.S. tween market was determined to be over 20 million strong and their influence accounted for roughly $261 billion in spending. “Awareness of their vision needs has increased and so has the number of children in this age demographic, so as their characteristics have become more recognizable and this market has become more and more of a force,” explained Schramm.

And they are a force that has begun to find its voice. “Generally, between ages 9 and 10 we begin to notice children exerting their own style and brand preferences over that of their parents,” said Renee Smith, group administrator at Mitchell Eye Center in Goldsboro, N.C.

“Before then their opinions are manipulated. At an earlier age, they want to blend in but around age 10 it starts to change,” added Schramm. “For a tween, the worst thing a parent can do is express an opinion, unless it is to suggest something an older teen is interested in. They definitely should not suggest something that would make them look like their parents.” But it seems to be getting earlier and earlier for a lot of tweens, according to Schramm. “Now we are starting to lose them around 10 or earlier.”

Brand Consciousness
It is also the age at which branding begins to take effect. Once you bridge that gap from childhood to pre-adolescence they become very brand conscious and won’t even consider anything else. “Kids are growing up faster and faster and becoming brand conscious with a character that they are familiar with, [such as] Barbie, Power Rangers, Sponge Bob,” said Schramm. “Nike was very savvy and put the swoosh on their tween frames. It has been very successful because it is a brand that the kids recognize but it doesn’t scream a logo. Prestige brands also do very well, like Juicy.”

For Robert Silva, frames buyer for all four A Child’s Views, said lines like Guess, Thalia, Tommy Hilfiger, Blink, BCBG, Cover Girl, Cynthia Rowley, Chaps, Nike, and Vera Wang, hold the most sway over their tween customers. He added, “Tweens are still finding themselves but they are very brand loyal.”

For Mitchell Eye Center it’s Thalia Girls, TMX, Hush Puppies, Silhouette, Ray Ban, Disney, Candies, Vera Bradley, Tommy Hilfiger and J.Lo that the tweens respond to.  “Kids this age are looking for something they can look cool in without ridicule from their friends,” said Smith. “They want to find styles that they feel comfortable in without getting negative comments.”

“For an insecure tween, brands impart a level of security with their choice,” concluded Schramm.   

Making the Sale
Since it is a market segment that is distinct from kids and teens, tweens comes with their own set of characteristics and marketing needs. “From a selling standpoint, when we isolate it to the tween market, we illustrate general cosmetics,” said Schramm. “The shape of the face, the distance between the eyes, the length of the nose, tweens are obsessed with their noses and they all want a different one. We show them how the glasses can lengthen the nose or change the shape of the brow; these are the things they really care about.”

“We’ve found the most effective means of marketing to this market is to make them feel unique, even though they want what they see their friends wearing and what they see in magazines,” added Mitchell’s Smith. “It is important to listen to what they are saying when they’re looking for a frame and to keep up with current trends and fashion.”

Silva said this group is into “color and heavier plastic shapes, crystals and flowers, animal prints on the inside and stone work.”

Schramm agreed with him and Smith. “They appreciate more color on the frames and can really be swayed if they think it is something that will appeal to their older peers. To sell to them it is also important that you are in touch with the fashion magazines and the celebrity identifications that are significant to them.”

The Parent Factor
Parents, however, haven’t totally been removed from this equation. “Finding something that the children will wear and meets the parent’s standards of durability and budget is the biggest challenge retailers face when dealing with this demographic,” stated Smith.

There is a much faster turnaround time and the buying cycle is much shorter in general for children’s eyewear--every year--as compared to a little more than two on average for adults, because they are growing so quickly and often lose or break their eyewear, these retailers said.

In addition, consider that a brand conscious tween may “lose” or “break” their glasses in order to switch it out for a new style and the cycle is shortened even more. “These kids have an incredible amount of influence on their parents and if the parents want the glasses worn then they often just have to acquiesce to these tactics,” said Schramm. “It really still is an untapped market.” Silva’s advice to parents is the same: “Just give into the kid if you want the glasses worn.”