CEO Summit: Journeys & the Teen Market

When the lead singer of the rock band Deadsun fainted, fell off stage and cracked his skull during a live concert at last year’s Journeys Backyard BBQ in Nashville, Tenn., it could have been tragic. Instead, the performer bandaged his head, belted out a few songs and became a fan favorite.

Ironically, the singer’s collapse became one of the hottest Internet videos after a spectator captured the incident on a cell phone. For Deadsun and event sponsor Journeys, it turned into marketing gold. Journeys’ Backyard BBQ tour — a mix of skate demonstrations, food and live music — garnered more than 37 million media impressions last year.

For Jim Estepa, president and CEO of the Genesco retail group, which owns the Journeys chain, the family-friendly event is an authentic way to target customers. “Everything you do has got to be relevant to your core customer, no matter what kind of business you’re in,” Estepa said in a presentation on the second day of the summit.

That aggressive pursuit of young shoppers has helped the retailer grow over the years. In 1986, the first Journeys door opened. Now there are more than 1,000 locations in every state in the U.S. And with that real estate expansion came a handful of brand extensions, such as a direct-to-consumer business, catalogs, Journeys Kidz and Shi by Journeys.

Estepa said the company has been successful because it focuses on “culture, celebration, recognition, partnerships with our vendors and giving back to the community. The Journeys culture is what really sets us apart from other retailers.”

Of course, having edgy product also helps.

“No matter how good of a marketer you are, product development is everything,” Estepa said. “We work diligently with every one of our partners to develop product that is unique and relevant to the teen customer.”

To get a feel for what consumers want, Journeys relies on hundreds of employees, from store managers to district managers, to offer insight and feedback on product.

Estepa said the company stores are designed to be basic and let the product speak for itself. “There are no radical shifts here,” he said. “Everything we do is an evolution; it’s not a revolution.”

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