Plus-size business has big potential

An overweight woman walks down the street

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: The USA is a big country, both the nation itself and increasingly, its Americans. A new study released this week by the CDC and other agencies says more than a quarter of all Americans are obese. The study says that's an estimated $150 billion problem for the health care system. But some businesses see it as an opportunity. From Long Beach, Calif., Rico Gagliano reports.


Rico Gagliano: It's a typical Friday night at a Long Beach nightclub. DJs spin sexy R&B, guys try to be cool, and lots of the ladies are dressed to expose maximum flesh. But at this club, there's a little more flesh than usual.

Darcy: Guys like bigger girls here, and they think we're hot. And it's nice!

That's Darcy, a regular here at "Club Bounce." It's the brainchild of promoter Lisa-Marie Garbo.

Lisa-Marie Garbo: Club Bounce is a nightclub for plus-size people and those who desire us.

"Plus-size." That's how Garbo describes herself and the overweight clientele who flock to this, the only weekly club night of its kind in the area. She says she gets around a thousand folks a weekend at $15 bucks a pop. And she says that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Garbo: There is a great market for plus-size people in clothing, clubs. All kinds of areas. You can have a business for plus-size people and make a great living.

Surprisingly, though, very few businesses are tapping that market.

Marshal Cohen is chief retail analyst with the NPD Group:

Marshal Cohen: We're talking about almost 30 percent of the population. But when you look at the fashion business, which is one of the few places you can quantify it, it represents less than 18 percent of the total apparel business. This is a very underserved market.

Why? Marshal says obesity carries a daunting social stigma. So retailers tend to devote very little store space to the overweight crowd. And when a recession hits -- like, say, the one we're in now -- the plus-size department is the first to go.

Cohen: You know, much like somebody who's on a diet, it rollercoasters -- it goes up and it goes down. The retailer goes in the business, out of the business.

But there are signs businesses are more willing to stay in. Torrid, a new offshoot of punky fashion chain Hot Topic, peddles trendy clothing exclusively to overweight teens and young adults. Target followed suit in April with its own line of oversized styles for juniors.

Meanwhile, promoter Lisa-Marie Garbo just launched a second Club Bounce in Phoenix. And she's not stopping there.

Garbo: I personally would love to go to Texas for my third club, because Texas is known for "Bigger is better." Haha!

In Los Angeles, I'm Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.

About the author

Rico Gagliano is the host of Dinner Party Download.

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