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Buckle Up


The Buckle likes staying underneath the radar. With 381 stores in 38 states, the Kearny, Neb.-based chain prefers to stay out of the spotlight. But there is no denying its success.

At a time when most apparel retailers are struggling, The Buckle is still flying high.

Its success isn’t readily apparent at first blush. The Buckle is a fairly typical mall store in appearance, and its merchandise lineup of jeans, T-shirts and accessories for teens (boys and girls) isn’t all that different from that of its competitors.

To gain some insight into The Buckle’s allure, Chain Store Age conducted an informal focus group with several teen shoppers who frequent the chain. Ranging in age from 14 to 18, the kids live in Lincoln, Neb., about 150 miles from The Buckle’s headquarters.

Good fit: 17-year-old Holley works hard at standing out. Known among her friends as a muscle car-loving girl who despises anything “preppy,” the long-legged high-school senior shops The Buckle for one reason: the jeans are the longest available anywhere.

“I was always stretching my jeans to make them as long as possible,” she said, “but then a friend recommended I try out The Buckle.” There, she found top-name jeans—Silver and Big Star, among them—in XL, XXL and XXXL (extra long, extra extra long, and extra extra extra long).

“I told my mom that there was no such thing as jeans that were too long, but I was wrong,” Holley laughed. “The XXXL jeans are too long even for me!”

Edgy: Holley and her best friend Angie are as different as night and day. While Holley is attending demolition derbies on Saturday nights, Angie, age 17, can be found at a downtown coffee shop listening to poetry slams. Despite her multiple piercings, she favors what she calls an “edgy classic” style of dress—tailored dresses with leggings and flats, skinny jeans, layered tops.

“I shop The Buckle because it seems to offer more opportunity to look different from everyone else,” said Angie. “I can buy classic pieces and edgy accessories and create my own look.”

Cute salespeople: The Buckle is as much about teen boys as it is about girls. Maverick, a recent high-school graduate, shops The Buckle because, like Angie, “I feel like I can create a distinctive style with their clothes.” True to form for an 18-year-old guy, Maverick added, “Plus, there are no ugly people working there.”

Maverick makes a good point, albeit blunt. The Buckle clearly prides itself on hiring young, energetic, good-looking young people and then trains the heck out of them. These kids know how to sell. One trick they’ve been taught that is particularly effective is to, first and foremost, get a shopper into a fitting room at all costs and then continue to ply that shopper with additional merchandise while he or she is still in the fitting room. Imagine trying on a pair of jeans when, suddenly, four tops and a belt appear over the door?

They make me buy more: Jake, age 14 and a high-school freshman, has succumbed to that sales technique more than once.

“It’s actually kind of irritating, but it works,” he said. “I end up trying on clothes faster and faster, finding more stuff I like, then never even taking the time to look at the prices. I know I buy more because of it.”

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