| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Aug 6 Those beer-crate nightstands and
makeshift curtains are starting to disappear from U.S. colleges
as retailers push more-upscale dorm furnishings for the
Dozens of retailers, from Target Corp and
Williams-Sonoma Inc's Pottery Barn to boutique website
Dormify.com, are marketing aggressively to the college crowd
Using oversized catalogs, social media and temporary stores
set up near colleges, they are offering everything for the
picture-perfect dorm room, including monogrammed towels,
state-of-the art storage containers and color-coordinated
curtains and pillows.
"There are fewer products purchased, but when shoppers do
buy things, they want them to be a bit better in quality," says
NPD home industry analyst Debra Mednick. As a result, retailers
are emphasizing slightly pricier items, she adds.
Retailers need to be aggressive because competition is tough
and families plan to spend less than last year on school
The National Retail Federation expects back-to-college
spending to average $836.83, down from about $900 last year. But
dorm rooms were a bright spot in the group's study earlier this
summer: Almost half of families plan to spend $104.76 on them,
up from $100.27 last year and $96.84 in 2011.
The NRF does not break shopping down by gender, but
retailers say decorating is a girls' market, with mothers of
boys often taking an interest.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Students are becoming fussier about their dorms, and
affluent "helicopter" parents, who have spent years deeply
involved in their children's lives, want to ensure that the
rooms are comfortable, or at least do not resemble a scene from
the cult college movie "Animal House."
"Before, the mindset was, 'What's the bare minimum I need to
get by?'" says Jeff Gawronski, founder of online dorm goods
retailer Dormco.com. "Now it's, 'Do I want the 300- or
400-thread count cotton sheets? Do I want a nice extra-thick
Popular TV shows about home decorating, like "MTV Cribs" and
"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," are motivating many students
to design their own projects for dorms, Gawronski says.
Dormco has benefited from these trends. Gawronski says he
expects sales of about $4 million in 2013, up from $800,000 in
And industry experts say dorm décor is becoming a new medium
for self-expression as students flock to image-oriented social
networking sites to show off their furnishings.
"For my generation, all parts of our life are online, so
dorms are not only visible to our hall mates, but they're also
on display to our greater social network," says Amanda
Zuckerman, Dormify's 22-year-old co-founder.
The cornerstone of dorm retail is known as the "bed in a
box," a package of twin sheets, comforters and pillowcases made
to fit the long, narrow beds in U.S. dorms. Traditionally sold
through mail-order catalogs, the sets were typically simple,
inexpensive and not intended to last beyond college.
Today, similar products are available from designers like
Lilly Pulitzer, whose twin-XL floral-print comforter covers
retail at $128, and Jonathan Adler, who teamed up with J.C.
Penney Co Inc to make bedding sets that sell for around
Stores are making one-stop shopping easy by creating
exhaustive dorm checklists and building separate college-focused
websites to show off their products. Bed, Bath & Beyond Inc
and other retailers also hold special sales for
students in some locations, and Walmart says it sells
university-branded products tailored to local stores near
In mid-July, Target ran an online publicity stunt called
Bullseye University, a pop-up dorm-in-a-box installation in Los
Angeles with a live webcam that captured college-age YouTube
celebrities living there 24 hours a day.
On a recent morning, remote viewers watched as Jenn Im, a
college student who runs YouTube fashion channel Clothes
Encounters, chatted with a friend in the makeshift room. Almost
everything in it - curtains, baubles, a mirror, and chairs - was
available on Target.com.
Dormify and Dormco also rely heavily on social media to
reach shoppers during the critical summer months. Pinterest, for
example, is wildly popular among college-aged girls and their
mothers, prompting the retailers to make virtual "pinboards" to
give visitors decorating ideas.
Even colleges are helping. Some, like the University of
Washington, have Pinterest boards displaying furnishings in a
The University of Ohio has room dimensions and virtual tours
on its website, said Housing Director Pete Trentacoste.
"We get a lot of questions about individual rooms from
freshmen," he said. "There's a lot more festivity behind move-in
day, and people are much more involved than they used to be."