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  • Men find their shopping gene at town centers

    --by Susan Strother Clarke, March 28, 2004

    It's a weekday afternoon at Winter Park Village, and there's no way to explain what I'm doing except to just spit it out.

    I'm looking for men.

    I'm strolling past the Hallmark store and Brio Tuscan Grille with retail consultant Britt Beemer, and he's explaining recent research that flies in the face of every bit of data he's collected during the past 20 years.

    At Winter Park Village, Beemer tells me, male shoppers outnumber women by a full 10 percentage points. And the same thing is happening across the country at similar shopping areas that Beemer has studied.

    "I have never seen this before," he says. "I was ecstatic when I found it."

    Now, to mere mortals, this trend may not sound like stunning stuff. But to people like Beemer who make their living studying consumer behavior -- specifically, shopping behavior -- this is akin to finding another planet.

    Men, you see, have never been the dominant sex when it comes to the exchange of money for goods -- be it at malls, strip centers or groceries. Much as it sounds like a stereotype, it is actually true: Women do most of the shopping and they, rather than their XY counterparts, keep the nation's retail engine humming.

    "I would normally find women 10 or 20 [points] above the men," Beemer tells me. "I knew this research was big."

    But there's a small problem: As Beemer and I meander, I see little evidence to support his theory. The few people at Winter Park Village seem to be women -- girlfriends at the movies, a solo shopper at Ann Taylor Loft, and what looks like a mom and daughter eating at the health-food store.

    I don't even see men outside the Apollo Hair Loss Clinic.

    But Beemer is insistent, so I keep listening. He tells me that the secret of Winter Park Village -- indeed, of all town centers -- is convenience. That's part of what's drawing the men.

    These town centers tend to be small, with wide sidewalks and easy parking near stores. There's none of that exhausted, death-march feeling you get at a mall trying to reach the one store you need.

    Then there's the mix. Town centers have movie theaters and restaurants, thus providing entertainment and sustenance -- the two things that can get men to shop when all else fails.

    Beemer appears to be the first to quantify this male-female research -- and the implications could be huge. In recent years, shopping by both sexes has decreased, so finding any place where the numbers are strong is promising for the retail industry.

    Knowing that men favor one type of retail development makes Beemer think of stores that should move there -- such as electronics boutiques or a high-end hardware store.

    Later, after Beemer and I separate, I hang out at the Village awhile longer -- and then it happens, just like he said it would.

    I see men. Everywhere.

    They're dining al fresco at Brio. They're walking with their wives into the Borders bookstore. One even got a pedicure at the Signature Strawberry salon.

    Beemer was right after all -- and when I call him later to tell him, he chuckles.

    "It's not Einstein's E=mc2," he tells me, "but it really is a shift in consumer behavior."

    Susan Strother Clarke can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5414.