Will Men Be The Luxury Market's Secret Weapon?

man in tuxThese days, it's not hard to figure out where the boys aren't. They're not fixing up the house or working in the yard-both the Home Depot and Lowe's both reporting dismal drops in sales and earnings this week, with mass consumer home spending hamstrung by the slow real estate market. And it doesn't look like they're going car shopping either.

But the ones with money do seem to be sprucing up their wardrobe. Saks just posted results that bucked the bad-news-for-retailers trend, posting an 8.8% sales gain for the quarter, to $862.4 million, and, on a comparable store basis, sales gained 8.4%. And earnings at the company hit $18.3 million, compared with $11 million in the same quarter a year ago. And it turns out that men's apparel, shoes, and accessories were some of its strongest-performing categories.



Overall, men's clothing seems to be a little more recession proof than women's. NPD Group reports that men's share of the $195.6 billion U.S. apparel market grew 4% in 2007 to $57.2 billion, while women's gained just 1% to $103 billion.

But in tougher times, it turns out that marketing luxury goods to men requires an even more deft touch than usual. "Everyone's conscious that we're in a tightened time," says Scott Mires, partner and creative director at Mires + Ball, a San Diego-based ad agency, working for such clients as Taylor Guitars, Shure Audio, and Vulcan Motor Club. "Men are going to take their time sifting and choosing, making the wisest decisions possible."

For higher-end clients, he says, that means "you have to tell a pretty smart story, but then back it up with something tangible, and performance driven. Anything that looks like frivolous excess-visuals that show a house with eight cars in the driveway, for instance-just doesn't play."

While affluent men are still spending, he says, all the dour economic headlines have also meant that they're likely to be far pickier, using higher standards to justify splurges. "Men will scrimp and save on everyday things, so that they can make that one big purchase that's really meaningful -whether it's a surfboard, a guitar, a wristwatch or a car."

And they're extending that selectivity to entertainment, as well. For example, one Mires + Ball client is an arena in Washington D.C., and this year, men aren't hurrying to buy season packages. "They want to buy the one or two that are going to be hits," he says. "We're seeing a heightening of that whole iTunes-driven 'I don't want the whole meal, I want it à la carte' mindset."

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