Colours, labels, apps - Kirks targets Gen Y

Kirkcaldie & Stains has started its shift towards the younger market, but appealing to youth while keeping longtime customers happy will not be easy.

Managing director John Milford said its ladies fashion currently targeted 35-plus, but it wanted younger shoppers in store. He was in Sydney yesterday negotiating terms for exclusive rights to an Australian fashion label and was securing a youthful UK brand not sold anywhere else in Wellington.

The 150-year-old department store's typical customer varied, Milford said. "If you look at the cosmetics area, the profile is from very young to very old and across the economic spectrum."

Kirks is selling make-up and perfume online and has a mobile app in development. It was marketing itself on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter and looking at relaunching regular fashion shows.

Auckland's answer to the department store, Smith & Caughey's, was further ahead in targeting the younger market, stocking Karen Walker.

Kirkcaldie & Stains has been pushing younger brands by product placement. This week, it featured brightly coloured silicon purses from Australian label Charlie Brown at the entrance to its fashion section near Auckland designer Hailwood and Sabatini, a brand also stocked at Smith & Caughey's.

Designer Adrian Hailwood, whose clothing was described at "sexy street style", said Kirkcaldie & Stains was now one of his biggest stockists, taking about 70 per cent of the range. Sales were going well, he said. "They've changed focus. They're putting a lot of younger sort of stuff in there."

Fashion conscious former Miss Universe Lorraine Downes, 48, loved shopping at Kirks. She was supportive of its move to a younger market, believing women liked to go to one place with a selection of local and international labels.

"Shopping is all about an experience and that is why women love to shop in stores like Kirks. The environment feels special and so therefore that makes them feel special."

Wellington fashion designer Ashley Fogel, who recently stopped making his namesake line, had his clothing stocked in the department store for many years. He doubted the younger generation would value the perceived prestige of the Kirks brand.

"I've always said that every woman in Wellington comes in and buys cosmetics with a Kirks charge account but it's getting them up to the first floor. I don't know why they're running around the world buying Australian and British labels because New Zealanders want to buy local labels."

Twenty-something Kiwi fashion writer Isaac Hindin-Miller, who writes regularly for the New York Times and GQ magazine, was dubious about its shifting of its target market. He said department stores were aspirational, but more so to older shoppers. "New Zealand department stores are very expensive, poorly merchandised and overstocked."

Former mayor Kerry Prendergast, who is on the board of the department store, said it would not be able to create the next generation of loyal Kirks customers if it only continued catering to its existing customer base.