Gordmans is a hit with millennials

DALLAS – Gordmans may be 101 years old, but it recently used some 21st-century techniques to double its denim sales week-over-week during the crucial back-to-school season. 

The Omaha, Nebraska-based chain reached millennial shoppers with an Instagram contest in which people submitted selfies of themselves in denim jeans in the hopes of winning still more jeans, according to Jennifer Bryan, Gordmans' manager of marketing strategy.

Millennials "want everything connected and personalized," Bryan said during an appearance Wednesday at the National Retail Federation's Digital Summit. "They want to feel a deeper connection with the brand."

And, she noted, they also respond to online "influencers," such as "mommy bloggers" or "fashion bloggers," whom they may feel they know personally just by following them in cyberspace.

Gordmans tapped bloggers with whom it has forged working relationships to help build interest in the denim contest, along with clothier YMI.

"When I arrived at Gordmans three years ago, we had only a few blogger partners," Bryan said. Now, the total is more than 100.

The chain got double the number of normal click-throughs on one marketing email by pairing up one popular blogger with a particular style of shirt, she added.

Millennials represent the largest spending block in the consumer market but can be difficult to win as customers, according to Nick Worth, chief marketing officer at Selligent. With dual headquarters in Redwood City, California and Brussels, Selligent provides technology-based services that help get the most out of relationship marketing campaigns.

Millennials are shouldering $1 trillion in student loan debt, helping make them the poorest generation ever at that age, according to Worth, who introduced Bryan's appearance and counts her company as a customer.

"Millennials care about convenience, value and relevance," Worth told attendees.

They lean toward renting rather than buying, demand speedy responses from retailers, and are unmoved when companies, say, have trouble ensuring their online presences sync up with their brick-and-mortar locations, Worth said.

Sales of breakfast cereal are plummeting because millennials consider it "a big hassle" to consume in the morning, he added. Ground coffee outstrips beans as their means of choice for delivering caffeine.

Where members of previous generations might have been hit with 500 marketing messages a day, millennials are inundated with 5,000 apiece, Worth noted.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a favorite millennial acronym is "tl;dr" – "too long; didn't read."

Though Bryan conceded that millennials can be tough to reach, Gordmans has found ways by tapping into their enthusiasm for buying stuff.

One of the company's contests invited people to submit via Twitter their "shopping hauls," or videos of themselves displaying products they had picked up at stores.

A pair of girls were so jazzed about their purchasing bounty that their video lasted 10 minutes, Bryan said.

So-called user generated content like that conveys the passion customers feel about their Gordmans experiences without feeling like an ad, Bryan said.

Bryan has even gotten the company's staff into the act.

On business trips, Gordmans product buyers give customers peeks via social media at particular items they're excited about, and also solicit opinions on, say, the merits of a specific jacket.

At the company's headquarters, Bryan started a Google Docs file to get input from millennial staffers on which products work and which don't.

"For millennials, it's about authenticity and authentic content," she said.