Sunday, May 25, 2003

Prom spending knows no recession

Saving money is not the mission

By Laura Baverman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Hotwheels-M&M Limousine Co. owner Scott Mezger helps Sarah Blevins, 17, out of the Hummerzine as she is met by her date, Brad Faigle, 18. They were heading to dinner and then on to the Oak Hills High School prom at Paul Brown Stadium.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
For teenagers, high school prom equals empty pockets. But for local businesses, the prom equals big dollars.

Across the nation, proms were expected to bring in about $2.7 billion this year for vendors of dresses, tuxedos, shoes, lingerie, cameras, film, flowers, beauty supplies and salon services. Students also rented limousines and hotel rooms, and went out to expensive dinners.

Studies by Conde Nast, publisher of Your Prom and Modern Bride magazines, estimated that an average 17-year-old spent $638 on prom this year. That's more than $1,200 a couple.

Despite the mediocre economy, people are willing to spend money on what is important to them, Ellen Tolley, manager of media industry relations for the National Retail Federation, said.

"We see teenagers putting their paychecks into prom or even going out and getting jobs to pay for it," she said. "I wouldn't be surprised to hear people spending at least $1,000 on prom."

Local retail stores, flower shops, beauty salons, limousine services and restaurants noticed a similar spending trend among kids this prom season, which ran April 19 through Saturday.


Marla Shavin, a spokeswoman for Lazarus, said teens appeared to have more money to spend on dresses this year.

"This year, the young shoppers seemed to have more discretionary income," she said.

Shavin declined to give Lazarus' average prom dress price, but she said a Jessica McClintock design costing $205 was one of the company's best sellers.

Upscale women's clothing boutique Cache saw average dress sales in the $195-$250 range as well, said Steve Hunt, district manager for the Kenwood Towne Centre store.

"We had a great prom season. I can't say enough about prom every year. It continually grows. We see a nice 8-10 percent increase in our prom business every year," he said.


Corsage and boutonniere sales were up 16 percent and 19 percent, respectively, this year at Kerry Durban's four Adrian Durban Florist locations. Teens spent between $4.95 and $39.95 on flowers with an average corsage price of $15 and boutonniere cost of $6.

"It seemed like price is no object. They wanted to get the best to impress," Durban said.

Dave Immerman of Mount Washington Florist saw this trend as well, noting that teens were very willing to upgrade to be unique. Many teens customized their orders, adding rhinestones or pearls. The average corsage price was $20, and the boutonniere price was $7 at his store.


Debbie Selek, owner of three Paragon Salon locations in Cincinnati, found her salons turning away more girls than ever this year. Each salon could accommodate three girls per stylist per day, so many had to make appointments elsewhere. A number of girls also opted for manicures, pedicures or makeovers while getting their hair done at her salons. The average cost for an updo was $50, makeover $25, pedicure $50 and manicure $18-$20. More than half of the girls got at least one of the extras in addition to their hairstyles.


Prom tuxedo rentals were up 7 percent at Skeffington's Formalwear this year, Joe Patrice, president and owner of the 16 area stores, said.

The season usually makes up about 20 percent of business in a five-week period.

The store offers tuxedos ranging from $49 to $199, with most teens renting in the $120 range. The trend this year was toward colored shirts, hats and canes, Patrice said. "The biggest thing you do see is price is not their mission. Their mission is to find a tux that they feel good wearing, that will impress their dates and their friends," he said.


Limousine agencies relied on proms to make up a great deal of their spring business. For Tim Winings, owner of Your Chauffeur Limousine Inc., proms made up 90 percent of spring business.

Prices ranged from $90 to $150 an hour with a six-hour minimum. Most prom-goers spent $800 to $1,200 for the night, Winings said.

"We wish it could happen every three months," he said.


Sales for the prom season brought in an estimated $36,000 this year for the nine area TGI Friday's restaurants, Bob Conway Jr., vice president of Bistro Management and owner of the restaurants, said.

He said two of his restaurants especially did well on the four Saturdays when most area proms occurred: Turkeyfoot and Northgate.

"Proms definitely help us. The season launches most restaurants into their summer season," he said.

He has noticed teenagers spending more in his restaurants for the prom.

"You see them move out of chicken fingers to a nice pasta or a steak or entree chicken dish," he said. Most prom bills totaled $12 a person rather than the normal $7 on any other night.

Prom business made up about 70 percent of the Quality Hotel Riverview restaurant's business during the six-week period through Saturday. About 200-300 teens dined at the Covington restaurant each evening during those weekends, spending an average of $20 a person.

The restaurant offered prom specials at a reduced price, Manager Rene Ramos said.

Although prom is already a big business, experts predict that it will only become more expensive as teens have more disposable income to spend.


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