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The Male Shopper

Men assume an active role in buying for their homes

Retailers, meet the male shopper. We aren't talking the ubiquitous metrosexual shopper, a term coined more than 10 years ago and used incessantly throughout men's magazines, but about the average guy who lives down the street, either by himself or with a partner, who's become more interested in how his home looks.

 


 Masculine images are appearing more and more in ads for products and services once viewed as female-only.

 


 Publications, like Cargo, increasingly are featuring home furnishings products as well as style and design information, further fueling the inspiration for male shoppers.

This guy wants to express his sense of style, and not with an oversized, gadget-laden leather recliner, throw pillows emblazoned with his favorite sports team logo or that gaudy leg lamp made infamous in The Christmas Story. He's progressed from the stereotypical dorm room/bachelor pad look and is more interested in having an inviting home, nice furniture, luxury linens and even a few pieces of art.

What happened? What brought this about?

Pundits list several reasons; one being that the Gen Xers, for the most part, were the first generation to grow up with working moms. Since Mom worked and time was scarce, these guys shopped more for themselves, whether for clothes or miscellaneous items requested by Mom; they were more exposed to shopping.

The other reason is, men, like women, are getting married later in life and are making more money earlier. The abundance of home shows and shelter magazines has influenced consumers in general, including men. There also are more gender-specific magazines mirroring their female counterparts, like Lucky's mirror Cargo and even the more recently launched Men's Vogue. These specific titles focus on styles, designs and trends, albeit mostly in apparel, but as we know the home industry follows fashion.

Men's Journal recognized men are interested in what has traditionally been viewed as a woman's world and now devotes its September issue to design; it's become one of its hottest issues. The monthly also has added a home furnishings page to its regular lineup.

Maxim, another male title, may reach for a different market segment, but the company realized its potential and brought out the Maxim Living brand. Under this umbrella, Maxim has debuted a line of bedding at Macy's, a line of RTA home office, entertainment furniture at Circuit City and Staples and even a line of barware.

Esquire and the L.A. Mart teamed in February to present a seminar on the making of Esquire House/Los Angeles, the ultimate bachelor pad as seen from the magazine's point of view. The magazine worked with architect Richard Landry and a panel of select designers to create a $12 million, 11,000-sq.-ft. Mediterranean style home for a successful, worldly, fictitious L.A. bachelor. The lifestyle concept had a metropolitan, masculine aesthetic with an infusion of style attitude and just enough testosterone.

Retailers also have noted more men are shopping for their homes and are marketing to them. Ads from Baker, Armstrong and even Yves Delorme reach out to this market segment, either by showing men with their product or showing more masculine designs. Restoration Hardware, though it's been around for a while, certainly brought a more masculine aesthetic to home furnishings shopping; even its name, Hardware, has a masculine connotation.

Numbers: Men becoming shoppers

 


 Maxim has leveraged its brand to include a line of home furnishings like bedding, ready-to-assemble furniture and barware for its target audience.

 


 Home furnishings companies not only are showing more male models in their ads, they're also tailoring copy and visuals as these ads from Armstrong (above), Baker Furniture and even Kmart (below) illustrate.

 

 

Studies show men are more confident, independent, willing to shop alone and no longer reliant on the women in their lives to influence their purchases. Research from the International Council of Shopping Centers found in 2003, men who shop at malls actually visit slightly more often than women, and that balance began to shift in 2000. American Online reports men are shopping online more than women: they purchase 20% more than women and 42% of them shop for luxury goods.

Though female shoppers still dominate the home furnishings industry, the male shopper is making inroads here as well, and savvy designers and retailers are responding.

Wendy Liebmann, founder and president of WSL Strategic Retail, conducts a biannual How America Shops study. In her 2004 Mega Trends survey she found men actually shop more than women for home decorating products.

"We asked the question, 'are you spending more, the same or less for home decorating than a year ago?' and 34% of the men said they were shopping more, compared to 24% of women," Liebmann said. "Men are a big opportunity for retailers."

The survey also noted where men shop most often: 24% shop at mass merchants (Wal-mart, Target, etc.); 23% at specialty stores (Crate & Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc.); 20% at department stores and 16% at home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot.

Designers: Men seek comfort, casual style

For the most part, designers don't conceptualize product with a man or woman in mind; instead they most often think of telling their product stories through various lifestyles.

The increase in the number of men shopping for the home hasn't necessarily changed the way companies and designers approach product development, but it may change the way home furnishings are marketed in the future.

Robert Idol, vice president of corporate design for Lane Furniture, said for the most part he doesn't start designs based on gender. Aside from his eponymous collection with Lane, he also has lighting with Currey & Company and wall decor with CAS.

"One thing that comes into play when designing for men is the craftsmanship and comfort of a product," Idol said. "Women on the other hand like the way a product makes them feel. As we continue to see the growth of men purchasing furniture, it will shape how we market to them."

Idol's personal, urban style guides his designs as well, whether it's in furniture, lighting or wall decor, and this prevents his designs from becoming cliché.

As for how the male shopper influences trends, Idol said, "I do think that men desire a more relaxed approach to finishes and fabrics. Again they want to be comfortable and their influence is also driving the return to men's suiting materials, rich textures and quality leathers."

Luxury bedding company Anali debuted a collection this summer in New York that designer Lynn Goldstein said was created specifically with the male shopper in mind.

"I wish I could say we did that often, but typically designs come from ideas or things we see that we get attracted to," Goldstein said. "But with Feathers, it really was about men and we were captivated once we started working on it."

Goldstein said Anali's retailers, whether they're luxe bedding boutiques or high-end catalogs, confirm that most of their shoppers are female, but this new collection certainly has a masculine appeal.

Anali's needlework linens are not ultra-feminine to begin with, but Goldstein said if an interest in more masculine bedding grows, she'd be excited to follow that design aesthetic.

"There are so many things that you'd love to do with a more masculine look," Goldstein said. "I often wonder how comfortable some men are in an ultra-feminine bedroom, or if they even care."

There are a few brands out there one would assume are targeted to the male shopper, but though tied to very masculine names, the Ernest Hemingway and Dick Idol collections strive for consumer appeal regardless of gender.

The challenge for these brands is to break out of the masculine mold and not become cliché with their designs and themes.

"The look and feel of the Ernest Hemingway Collection is very masculine," said David Stickles, brand manager. "It's big, oversized. The colors are strong. There's nothing delicate about it, yet, it's not so overtly masculine that it drives female consumers away."

 


 Though Anali's Feathers collection, top,  was designed with men in mind and rugs from the Ernest Hemingway collection and art from Robert Idol's line at CAS were designed for a specific lifestyle rather than gender, they all have a neutral palette, something that appeals to the male shopper.
 

This cross-gender appeal is a key to the success of the brand, which can be found in furniture, lamps, rugs, permanent botanicals, wall decor and more. The collection's furnishings and accessories reflect Hemingway's interests and his tastes, which were worldly and tied to his love of the outdoors and hobbies like hunting and fishing.

Stickles said the collection avoids the clichés because it is about lifestyle and recreating Hemingway's style and not designed to fill a masculine niche.

Dick Idol, well-known outdoorsman, artist and wildlife enthusiast, has licensed home furnishings across several categories. While he thinks about the retailer and the end consumer, his main focus is finding a story to tell with the product.

"Before we even begin product development with our licensees, we go out in the market, look at trends, and look for 'stories' that we can tell with the product that will be compelling to the consumer," Dick Idol said.

He thinks of the consumer more as an outdoor enthusiast rather than being male or female; people who love the outdoors and appreciate nature, art and antiquities.

"We are targeting the whole family rather than one specific member and we think about that when designing the products," Idol said. "Our products are much more geared to an aspirational lifestyle versus gender."

Though in theory we know outdoor enthusiasts cross genders, there is a stereotype surrounding the aesthetic, one Dick Idol has always worked hard not to fall into.

"We've worked very hard to keep from being locked into the rustic or lodge or western categories," he said. "We try to avoid designing our core products to be too niche oriented. Rather, we feel like we've created a line of good basic products that can be dressed up or down very easily with a wide variety of accessories."

Retail: Men speaking out about home

Daniel Cuellar is the store director for Area, a Houston hot spot that carries everything from lamps, lighting and candles to furniture, pillows, books, jewelry and more. Cuellar noticed the trend of more men shopping in the last five years, something he attributes to the Internet and the exposure it has given to products.

"The Internet has its positives and negatives," Cuellar said. "Customers now think they know everything. I think more men are shopping because they too realize the home is a nest."

The plethora of shelter magazines also contributes to a more informed customer, male or female. Cuellar noted even most men's magazines have sections devoted to cool, hot or new items, further strengthening the male consumer's shopping IQ.

Area's shoppers also are getting older and its demographic is changing. When the store opened 10 years ago, the employees themselves were younger, in their 20s and 30s, as was the clientele.

"I guess we are all slowing down a little, appreciating that new pace and spending more time at home," Cuellar said. "This leads to shopping for more home goods and personal items."

Male shoppers at Area typically pick up everything from candles, books and CDs to upholstery, and Cuellar said men shop much differently for this product than do women.

Men are more concerned with the comfort of their furniture, they make decisions quicker and they are more readily willing to "pull out the wallet," and not be as worried about price.

"It's kind of like woman will wear pricey shoes that kill their feet but look good," Cuellar said. "Men don't do that. Women will pay a grand for a handbag and balk at a pair of lamps for the same price."

For the most part, Area always has been unisex and the buying has reflected that. Cuellar said they "don't have a sitting room with a widescreen TV for men" to watch while the women shop. When couples shop together he's noticed the female doesn't need the male's approval to make purchases and the men don't seem overly involved with the purchase unless it's a chair or piece of furniture being bought for them specifically.

Matt Falcone, personal shopper for ABC Carpet & Home in New York, also lists the accessibility to design through cable programs and men's publications as a reason for the increasing interest men seem to have in home and fashion.

"Men are realizing it's not an innately feminine thing," Falcone said. "We've noticed a huge trend toward men shopping more, both alone and with their spouses. It's funny to see a Wall Street type discussing things like aubergine, ultrasuede and taupe with his wife."

Falcone's responsibilities as a personal shopper are basically to give that extra level of service people expect when shopping ABC Carpet & Home, whether it's design or style suggestions, working with celebrities and high-profile clients or serving as a liaison between the store and the decorating community.

As an intermediary, Falcone has noticed men gravitating toward one of ABC's newer offerings, the Grounded Collection. The furniture and accessories in this line are crafted from sustainable hardwoods and reclaimed timber and give a new interpretation to the modern looks many male shoppers admire.

The store itself, all six floors, conveys a feeling of adventure and wanderlust, something that appeals to the male shopper. Falcone sees men as often as women walking through the store with an awestruck look on their face, excited by the experience and merchandise that has a one-of-a-kind flair.

Chandeliers seem to be a common ground for male and female shoppers; it's a product they can both look at and buy with that we-have-arrived attitude. Guys do look for gadgets as well. Cruiser chairs, like those from William Allen and Mitchell Gold, are today's compromise between the overlarge recliners a man might buy and the dainty antiques a woman might buy. They're perfect for urban spaces, comfortable (a top requirement for the male shopper) and they're tasteful, Falcone said.

He says men certainly look for comfort in their furniture but they also look for low-maintenance furnishings that look good, like farm tables with rough-hewn looks.

"When they come in shopping for upholstery, I try to give them more options than black leather," Falcone said. "I don't have anything against black leather, but I remind them they aren't bachelors anymore or that ultrasuede looks good and you can just wipe spills off."

 

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