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Talking shop

Four new magazines aim to help retail-challenged men navigate the choice of everything from shaving creams to fast cars.

March 30, 2004|Adam Tschorn | Special to The Times

It's a myth that men don't shop. If the Y chromosome didn't open his wallet on a regular basis, there would be no Home Depot, no beer commercials featuring Swedish twins and no merchandise counter at Hooters. But buy a magazine that helps him become a better shopper? That's another matter altogether.

It's also the focus of four new magazines hitting the market in the space of a year, glossy titles that publishers hope will have 25- to 45-year-old males (and the advertisers trying to reach them) parting with their dollar bills like conventioneers at a Vegas strip club. Primedia's quarterly technology and gadget magazine Best drew first blood in November; bimonthly Cargo, from Conde Nast, hit newsstands this month; Ziff Davis Media follows this summer with Sync, a quarterly covering digital technology; and Fairchild Publications' Vitals, a luxury shopping magazine (which began as a pullout section in Details) will launch as a stand-alone quarterly in September.

"The traditional view of men as purely mission or destination shoppers -- going to Home Depot or car showrooms -- is quickly disappearing," says Wendy Liebmann, president of WSL Strategic Retail and author of an annual study titled "How America Shops." "Men are increasingly shopping more like women. It's not browsing to the degree women do and not shopping everywhere women do, but it's certainly moving in that direction," she says. Liebmann's 2004 report finds that, compared with a year ago, men increased their purchasing in the fragrance, skin-care product, computer, greeting card and home decorating categories at a higher rate than women did.

The mention of "men" and "shopping" in the same sentence (at least without the word "hate" between them) inevitably causes the term "metrosexual" to rear its tea-tree-oiled head. But shopping analysts, magazine editors -- and most men -- avoid the M-word like an air-kiss of death.

"Guys generally really shy away from [the term]," says Cheryl Swanson, principal at New York-based brand consultancy firm Toniq. Many men "feel stigmatized by the word because the word 'sexual' is in there, and it vaguely sounds gay." (Her suggestion is "gender-blending," which encompasses male and female shopping behavior beyond the moisturizers and the manicures.)

"I understand the link that people make," says Ariel Foxman, Cargo's editor. "Because I think people hear 'shopping' and they think 'clothes' and 'metrosexual.' But the term doesn't really inform our editorial content." He notes that Cargo covers far more than fashion and grooming. "Metrosexual has nothing to do with cars. There's no such thing as a 'metrosexual cellphone.' "

But, as Liebmann's survey indicates, there is such a thing as the male shopper, and whether he's metro-, retro-, homo- or hetero-, he's getting his shop on more than ever. And these mags hope to capitalize on that trend by helping retail-challenged men navigate the racks and shelves of the consumer landscape.

Few titles can boast the purchasing pedigree of Cargo, the baby brother to Lucky, Conde Nast's shopping magazine for women that launched in 2000 and single-handedly defined the editorially light, product-heavy trend in magazines. The men's version comes across as a testosterone-infused Consumer Reports -- a publication that takes the time to try on, taste and test-drive everything on its pages to save readers the time, money and hassle of trial and error.

"The overwhelming availability of choice and options sends a lot of men running from the store," Foxman says. "We help narrow down that choice." Foxman uses an example from Cargo's inaugural issue -- a "medicine cabinet" feature on shaving cream. "Ten, 15 years ago, when you went shopping for shaving cream there was Noxzema and maybe a handful of other brands. Now you go and Edge shaving cream has something like nine different colors; there are hundreds of products at all different pricing. That's where Cargo will step in and say, 'We know you're interested in shopping more and you're interested in the 100 shaving creams, so we broke it down for you by skin type and price point.' That's our full-time job."

Taking the edge off

It's a job Cargo's premier issue tackles with gusto. The cover boasts "425+ Amazing Products," which, judging from the inside pages, includes everything from a 2005 Lotus Elise ($39,985) to a liquor flask hidden in a pair of binoculars (called "barnoculars" and selling for $16.95).

Stripped of any agenda beyond the goal of delivering to men that which men need, the pages of Cargo offer an unvarnished and somewhat unsettling glimpse into the heart of male vanity -- or a version of it imagined by Foxman and company. Featured items include a Clinique redness relief cream ("Just popped a Viagra? Don't let the flushed cheeks give you away"), and a blurb about heavy-duty denim pants starts with the question: "If clothes make the man, shouldn't yours make you well-endowed?"

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