Gap has Old Navy. Coke has Diet Coke. Now, Goodwill has Gina + Will.
No longer content to serve all ages under one roof, Goodwill-Easter Seals of Minnesota developed a store for teens and young adults.
Called Gina + Will, the first location opens Saturday in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota. It’s the nonprofit’s attempt to capture the leading edge of the millennial generation, the group as big as the baby boomers and whose tastes have transformed the nation’s malls in the past few years.
To get their attention, Goodwill is embracing the latest merchandising ideas and marketing tactics. It’s also spending about 30 percent more per square foot on the store than at the typical Goodwill location.
“We’re looking at a new mindset and a different demographic,” said Jason Seifert, chief financial officer at Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota.
“We want them to come and see us for the first time, not just as a store with inexpensive clothing but as a cool, clean place to shop.”
Minneapolis architectural firm HGA outfitted Gina + Will’s walls in grape, lime green and turquoise, added teardrop pendant lights, and included a selfie wall for taking pictures outside the dressing room.
“It’s a long way from the old Goodwills with gray carpet, white walls and a blue stripe near the ceiling,” said Lynne Dahl, Goodwill’s director of store design.
For Goodwill, the step represents an embrace of a strategy known as brand segmentation that other retailers and makers of consumer goods have been using for decades. But there’s also risk because tastes and trends change quickly among teens and young adults.
Goodwill is using social media rather than print and broadcast media to promote the new store. And it enlisted a team of 10 “student ambassadors” from Social Lights, a Minneapolis-based social media agency.
Gina Van Thomme, a university senior from Faribault, Minn., is part of the team and has been promoting the store on social media for several days.
“I’m getting my network involved, asking them to ‘like’ the store,” Van Thomme said. At a preview event earlier this week, she found the clothes fashionable and affordable.
“I used to shop at the by-the-pound store, but here I won’t have to dig. That will be super nice,” she said.
Shop and share
To spread the word, the store comes equipped with Enplug, a big-screen TV that displays posts from customers and the store.
“When people use one of our hashtags on Twitter or Instagram, either #GWFinds or #GinaPlusWill, Enplug runs it through filters and they appear on the screen for a few seconds,” Goodwill spokeswoman Mary Beth Casement said.
Goodwill also plans to track when customers post items using their Twitter or Instagram handle, @GinaPlusWill. On the low-tech side, a shop-n-share chalkboard will have questions such as “What’s your favorite brand?” posted to stimulate and engage shoppers.
“It’s designed this way because our customers want to feel like they own the process,” Dahl said. Goodwill used focus groups to solicit millennials’ opinions throughout the process.
All of the merchandise at the 3,000-square-foot store was selected by one person: 24-year-old Alexis Haeg-Vang, a recent U graduate in retail merchandising. She keeps an eye on what her generation is wearing on the street, in magazines, blogs, Facebook feeds and other store windows.
Instead of stocking in a linear fashion with aisles of jeans and tops, she displays goods by how they look — black and white separates, neon colors, embellished basics, sheer delicates, plaids or florals.
“Most everything sells for $2.99 to $14.99,” she said. “It’s trend-focused, not brand-focused.”
Nothing in the place gives off even a whiff of “thrift store.” That’s a phrase Goodwill wishes could be retired from the lexicon, Seifert said. It’s been trying with its regular stores for the past decade to look more polished with better lighting, colorful signage and, most important, cleaner merchandise.
And with Target Corp. having recently opened its first Target Express store across the street, the pressure for Gina + Will to be at the top of the game is even greater.
Goodwill wasn’t aware of Target’s intentions when it chose the site in Dinkytown’s Venue complex, complete with 150 upscale student apartments, but it got a lucky break when Target chose not to offer clothing in its downsized store.
As U students return for the Sept. 2 start of fall classes, the Gina + Will store doubles the number of clothing retailers in Dinkytown.
Only the venerable Goldy’s Locker Room, which sells Gophers merchandise, has remained in the campus village after Ragstock closed more than 10 years ago and Everyday People Clothing Exchange left in 2010.
“Dinkytown is a great place to come for a meal or entertainment, but most people don’t seek it out as a shopping destination anymore,” said Skott Johnson, former president of the Dinkytown Business Association.
Kitty Van Hofwegan, co-owner of an Everyday People store in St. Paul and former owner of the Dinkytown location that closed, said it’s difficult for retail because the area doesn’t come to life until nighttime. “People think of Dinkytown as a neighborhood for restaurants and bars,” she said. “It’s harder for businesses that close by 9 p.m.,” she said.
Johnson said many students on campus now are more mobile than they were 30 or more years ago when clothing, shoe, music and hardware stores filled the neighborhood. “Now they can drive to the Quarry, Uptown or Mall of America, but it’s all cyclical. The new stores may attract others,” he said.
That’s the way that Seifert sees it. “We know there is little competition now,” he said. “That’s why we picked it.”