Selling to kids isn't exactly child's play.
Just ask Brian Lipman, whose newly opened Kids Collection in Tarzana (housed within the simulated facade of a pink Cadillac) is based on some painful retail observations:
"Big boys, 10- to 13-year-olds, don't want to shop in a kid's store. And big girls don't want to go where there are infants, or where their little sisters get their clothes."
The solution, devised by Lipman and his brother Mark, is 5,000 square feet of space divided into five departments--each with its own name and its own identification--where fun is a way of selling trendy merchandise.
The store's maze-like construction combines high-tech metal trusses, colorful rag-doll mannequins and unique touches, such as a bleacher section with a 60-inch television screen and videos running all day throughout the store.
Preteen boys are encouraged to "hang out" in Neon Wave with its stylish wardrobe components and a full-service skateboard shop. A short but discreet distance from the infants department is Melrose Style, dedicated to girls with a penchant for adult-inspired clothing--from Europe, Japan and America--with prices to match: $30 to $50 for what Lipman calls "school dresses," $200 for the best party dress in the house.
Centrally located on neutral ground are a good-size shoe department and a large wall display area where Lipman features his "strong items."
Recently, he was feeling bullish about Esprit separates. They spanned the wall like a pastel rainbow, an appropriate backdrop to the sound of busy cash registers.
Watching a young mother pay for a stack of clothes, Lipman remarked: "Before we opened, I expected an average sale would run around $100, but it's turned out to be $300 to $400."
Although Kids Collection offers standard items like a $6 pair of leggings, it caters to the affluent looking for the unusual: personalized high-top crib shoes ($20), a pint-size leather bomber jacket ($152) or a miniature sweater dress (Sizes 4 to 6X, $68) trimmed with rhinestones and a feather boa. As Lipman puts it: "We try to avoid the basic, everyday look you can get in basic, everyday stores."
He keeps fresh merchandise in Kids Collection--and in his Kids Plus discount stores in Northridge and Huntington Beach--by scouring New York three times a year, Europe twice a year and downtown Los Angeles three days a week.
To make sure the store's arrival didn't go unnoticed, the owners staged a grand opening to benefit the Starlight Foundation and invited 10 young celebrities to put their handprints in the cement outside. Keeping up the Hollywood royal treatment, they publish a monthly newsletter filled with timely topics and keep two parking attendants on duty "to help mothers with their kids, so it's a pleasurable experience from the time they arrive," says Brian.
In turn, he feels Kids Collection has become " the store to be seen in, to shop in." At least in the Valley, where he says, "People are trying so hard to be different. They don't worry about price. If their children look good in something, they want them to have it."