It's been almost a year since I praised the Washington Post's lengthy takedown of Club Libby Lu, the "experience-driven retail business" which sells glittery makeovers, Paris Hilton-style toy chihuahuas in handbags, and girl band birthday parties to 8-year-olds in 85 mall stores, basically turning tweens and their younger sisters into spangly little pole dancers for the day.
So I was surprised to see a comment posted by someone named Jessica. It was timestamped around 3AM on a Friday, but her computer was in Seattle, so it was really only midnight. How she found my blog is unclear: it doesn't show up in the top 100 Google results for either "Club Libby Lu" or "Club Libby Lu + skank." But whatever, she had some corrections for me, and after she was done, she threw in some frank advice on my parenting. Never one to ignore an expert, insider's perspective, I thought I'd share her comment here:
As a libby lu employee, I am still shocked when I hear people say things like "they sell thongs to little girls" which of course is NOT true. There is nothing wrong with a store where girls can play dress up (you didn't mention that our #1 selling item is a PRINCESS dress). That Club libby Lu donated an insane amount to St. Jude's cancer research hospital, or that we have been supporting Girl scouts of America for years now. Your the type of parent who doesn't let his daughters play with barbie because she isn't realistic. It's a doll! Blame yourself when your children hate you for being so over protective. Times are changing grandpa.Fascinating points, all. Let's take them one by one:
The Thong Thing
While that would make me mad, it wasn't what I said. What I was complaining about was selling kids an oversexualized "rural middle school drill team instructor's vision of glamour." It's selling lip gloss to 3-year-olds and spangled tube tops to 6-year-olds, who then walk the runway in the middle of the store.
The Princess Thing
Yeah, CLL is rocking the princess thing. Forgive me for not noticing. When I read last year in Peggy Orenstein's Times Magazine piece that Disney Princesses moved $3 billion of merchandise, I guess I was too freaked out to notice her mention of Club Libby Lu [2005 revenue: $46 million]. If Jasmine and Cinderella are the Princess Diana of tween marketing, Libby Lu's not even Princess Stephanie. It's more like those made-up-sounding aristos whose names clog the invitations for watch boutique openings on the Upper East Side. For Libby's sake, I hope Disney never starts a skank collection.
The Donation Thing
By "insane amount," Jess--can I call you Jess?--do you mean "insane amount of makeovers" to patients at St. Jude's hospital itself, or do you mean an "insane amount" of $1 donations made by your 7-year-old customerswhen they joined Club Libby Lu's Very Important Princesses affinity program/marketing database during yout St. Jude's promotion last December, the VIP program used for promotions and product development which a CLL executive described in a trade magazine as an interactive "extension" of the store?
And by "supporting Girl Scouts," did you mean creating an unofficial merit badge patch to encourage Girl Scout troops to hold makeover parties in the store? Or did you mean sponsoring free makeover booths at Girl Scout events? What other well-established, experience-driven groups of your target demographic does your company--which prides itself on word of mouth promotion instead of expensive ad buys--support?
The Barbie Thing
You're right, Barbie's not realistic, but the reason the kid doesn't play with Barbie is because she's two. The feminist criticisms of Barbie are well-documented, but irrelevant to someone who becomes a parent in the 21st century. [Times are changing!] Barbie's role as a communicator of unhealthy self-image, exhibitionist sexuality, retrograde pursuit of male approval, and unrestrained corporate consumerism has been taken over by Bratz. As for the princess thing, we already discussed that. Please inform your marketing partner Mattel that their services in this regard will no longer be needed.
The Grandpa Thing
Your Baby Boomer parents should be very proud of you. The next time you take your laundry home, ask them if they know who Jack Weinberg is.
While researching Jessica's comment, I found some more fun facts about Club Libby Lu:
In 2004, Shopping Centers Today reported that CLL's sales/square foot, a standard retail industry metric, were about $600. For the average 1,500sf location, that translates to about $1 million/year. Using another rule of thumb for valuing retailers at 1-2x revenue, that jibes with what Saks paid for the company in 2003.
And yet, in 2005, 87 locations only produced $46 million revenue, not $87 million. Assuming the stores are the same size, that's $352/sf. Either new stores are doing less business, or, as is more likely in a fickle, trend-chasing retail market, sales are declining at the more established stores.
In 2004, the talk was to open 20 stores/year, plus 15 in-store boutiques. CLL's site now says "10 to 15 annually." Considered alongside the parent company's own strategic shift, I'd guess Saks considers the Club Libby Lu concept played-out, and the company's being prepped for sale to a bigger fool.
As a parent, this is useful, even vital, information: by the time the kid hits kindergarten in a few years, and her little peers seize control of her cultural influences, Club Libby Lu will be no more of a tacky threat than the racy black light posters at Spenser's Gifts. In the mean time, all I need to do is avoid a few malls, which was already on my to-do list. And some day soon, Jessica, you will learn a valuable lesson about the vicissitudes of the retail business. I hope you'll take the opportunity to enhance your employability by enrolling in beauty college. Times are changing kid. Now turn down that music.
Previously: Finally, a takedown of Club Libby Lu