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ATTRACTIVE LATINA STYLE COSMETICS, FASHION CATER TO DAMAS.

Byline: Candice Choi Staff Writer

Faux-fur jackets, mesh tops and sequined camisoles are washing over Sears stores this fall, signaling the company's splashy courtship of Latina shoppers.

The launch of Latina Life, an exclusive clothing line, is just the latest venture in an industrywide scramble to romance the burgeoning Hispanic population.

It's also one of biggest apparel launches for Sears in recent times. While the company's new Parallel line debuted in only 150 stores, Latina Life will be rolled out in 425 - nearly half of the Sears stores nationwide.

``It shows the confidence we have in this market,'' said Lee Antonio, spokeswoman for Sears.

For the first time, sizes 2 through 20 will be grouped together in deference to in-house research that found Latinas prefer shopping as a family unit. Typically, sizes had been separated into sections with labels such as ``Petite'' and ``Plus.''

The launch follows on the heels of the Illinois-based company's announcement in the winter that it will revamp 97 of its 870 stores into ``multicultural'' destinations. Changes are already surfacing at locations in Canoga Park and Northridge, where bilingual signs and employees have been deployed to greet Hispanic shoppers.

Sears isn't the only retailer in hot pursuit of the Latino market. Competitors including Target, Wal-Mart and even department stores are fighting to stake a claim.

Marking a first for Target, the Minneapolis-based retailer recently began airing Spanish-language ads on network TV. It's also waging ad campaigns on Telemundo and Univision.

Kmart teamed up with Telemundo TV stars to publicize new designer lines, and select Robinsons-May stores launched Zalia, a cosmetic line tailored for Hispanic skin tones.

What makes the Hispanic market especially attractive to marketers is that it is so identifiable and geographically concentrated, said Khalen Haram, chief executive of Zalia cosmetics.

``You can focus your advertising and marketing in a really cost-effective way,'' he said.

The Hispanic market represents about 13 percent of the U.S. population, with a growth rate of 39 percent every 10 years.

This year, the Hispanic market's spending power is estimated at $686 billion by the Selig Center for Economic Growth. That figure is set to explode to $926 billion by 2007, representing 9 percent of total U.S. buying power.

By 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates one out of every six people in the country will be of Hispanic background.

Among discounters, Wal-Mart is a leader, with a 37 percent market share in the top 50 Hispanic markets, according to a report by Chain Store Guide.

About 25 percent of Sears customers are Hispanic, Antoni said. Target and Wal-Mart executives declined to provide demographic information on their customer bases.

``We try to reach out to all our guests in a variety of ways,'' said Lena Michaud, spokeswoman for Target.

Wal-Mart and Target stock stores to reflect their communities. Those in areas with a heavy Hispanic population might have more ethnic dolls and food products.

For example, select Wal-Mart stores carry the elaborate quinceanera dresses Hispanic girls wear for their coming-of-age party, said Karen

Burke, spokeswoman for Wal-Mart.

As department stores lose traffic to increasingly popular discounters, they're also keeping a sharp eye on the Hispanic market.

Zalia was brought into Robinsons-May stores after the department store completed an in-house study on the importance of providing catered products to the Hispanic community, Haram said.

Haram said Zalia officials are in talks with another major department store that just completed a similar study.

``(Hispanics) want to be recognized with catered products, but not segmented. A good retailer is going to offer a suite of services that cater to their specific needs,'' he said.

Over the past two years, corporations have showed a sharp interest in advertising in Spanish-language media, said Howard Buford, chief executive of Prime Access, a New York City multicultural marketing firm.

``The census results are old, but it takes awhile for big companies to react to trends,'' Haram said.

``There are some solid success stories coming out in the industry, and now you're retail is really starting to jump on board,'' Buford said.

Depending on how Latina Life takes off, Sears executives are considering a shop concept, where the brand clothing would be clustered in a ministore conept.

The expanding line is already set to include accessories in spring 2006.

Candice Choi, (818) 713-3634

candice.choi(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Latina shoppers browse at the Sears store in the Baldwin Hills Plaza. The store features signs in Spanish as well as English in recognition of growing Hispanic buying power.

(2 -- color) Signs in Spanish as well as English are just one way stores such as this Sears cater to Hispanic shoppers.

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 26, 2005
Words:785
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