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LA CHARLA DE LA MANANA: Retailers Often Overlook the Spanish-Speaking Market

27 Mar, 2002 By: Joan Villa

The Spanish-speaking market is attracting fresh interest from suppliers and retailers, and for good reason. There are now 35.3 million Hispanics in the U.S., according to the 2000 census, and they pack an annual purchasing power estimated by Hispanic Business magazine at $499 billion.

"If the U.S. Hispanic group was taken as a country it would probably be the 5th or 6th largest country in the world," explains Frank Chow, chief economist and director of research for Hispanic Business Inc. in Santa Barbara, Calif.

While most of the major studios have offered subtitled or dubbed VHS versions of their films for years, Spanish-language tracks are relatively new to DVD and to suppliers such as York Entertainment, which launched York En Espanol in February. The new line "has already hit the street running and we expect it to surpass our successful urban line," reports Tanya York, president and CEO. The supplier just completed production on its first film with an all-Latino cast, Barrio Wars, set for fall release.

"The U.S. Spanish language market has been overlooked," she contends. "Retailers have a whole new market to tap into, by just looking in their own backyards."

Spanish-speaking growth centers on areas where Hispanics have typically resided in the past, Chow says: Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, San Antonio, Tucson, San Diego and San Jose. But the 10 fastest-growing Hispanic states comprise some unexpected areas such as South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. where new immigrants can find jobs, he adds. Chow is compiling a 50-page special report on the Hispanic economy that will be available to purchase next month at HispanicBusiness.com.

By some accounts, Spanish-speakers spend more discretionary dollars on entertainment than any other group, but like other consumers they would prefer to find all their entertainment in one superstore location, says Tim Ford, CEO of 41-store Video City, based in Bakersfield, Calif. After "dabbling" in the Hispanic market, Ford recently plunged in with his first 5,000-square-foot store containing all Spanish-language videos that "has gone gangbusters," he says. He hopes to follow up with two more locations by year-end. The key is to make sure everything in the store caters to the market, beginning with bilingual employees and a different line of products.

"The things that are the biggest sellers in the U.S. are not necessarily the biggest sellers in the Hispanic market," explains Ford, who has adopted new venders for everything from beverages and concessions to accessories and of course, movies. Customers want both Hollywood films and theatrical movies playing in Mexico as well as popular prime-time shows, and "they expect us to carry the products they're looking for," he adds.

Chains like nine-store Video Depot have stocked Spanish titles in five of its Coachella Valley stores for years, which total about 10 percent of those stores' business. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has added subtitles and Spanish tracks to a new line of hit DVDs, and New Line's Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring will hop on the bandwagon with a VHS Spanish-dubbed version.

In an increasingly consolidated and competitive business climate, this is one overlooked market that deserves a second look.

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