Targeting John and Susie Coed

The car is weighed down with milk crates full of CDs and trash bags full of clothes for Junior’s big trip to college. But once in his dorm room, Junior feels that it’s lacking that homey touch. Where is he to turn for lava lamps and bean bags?

Happily for him, more print and online catalogers are going after the college market – and little wonder, considering its growth. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), while 14 million students were in college last year, by 2007 that figure is expected to have grown 13%, to 16 million.

“We decided a year ago that this was a rapidly growing market,” says Graham Weihmiller, president of New York-based DormNow.com, which operates TheDormStore.com. “So we launched the site in July, and response has been fantastic.” While he won’t give overall sales figures, Weihmiller says the average order size is about $100; prices range from $2 for a candle to $380 for a TV/VCR.

For his part, Alex Buck, president/founder of Monterey, CA-based catalog The Fledgling, is “very happy” with response to the debut edition of his book, which mailed to the rented names of 100,000 college-bound seniors this July. “I sold out of most of our items,” he says. The average order size is $150-$350; products range in price from $5 to $400.

Buck plans to launch a Website this fall, but he still intends to publish a print book for requesters. “A print catalog is expensive, but people like to have it in hand and flip through it, even if they place their order online.”

New, improved access

The rapid growth of the collegiate demographic isn’t the only reason the market is suddenly hot. “The 18- to 24-year-old college market traditionally has been difficult to reach, since students’ lives are often contained within the campus,” says Bill Townsend, vice president of corporate strategy for the New York-based YouthStream Media Networks, a college-market-focused marketing and media company. But students’ presence online – Townsend says they make up 20%-25% of all Internet traffic – has made them more accessible to marketers.

And marketers “have always tried to reach the college market, because this is the time students form their lifetime brand loyalties,” says Brin Bell, vice president of business development for Westport, CT-based market research firm Greenfield Online. “Plus, more than ever before, college kids are working while in school, so they have an increased ability to make decisions about how they spend money.”

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