They are loud, annoying and rich. Teenagers, flush with cash from allowances and part-time jobs, spend more than $120 billion dollars a year on clothes, electronics, music and all kinds of other goodies. They are such an important spending bloc and have become impossible for small companies to ignore.

JoeDriver.com, Planet Gruv and Heeling Sports Ltd. are three entrepreneurial companies devoted to serving the teen market. Although teens share the same big concerns as they did 10 years ago (getting a date for the prom, obtaining a driver's license, and wearing the coolest shoes and clothes), marketing experts say today's teens are smarter and more tech-savvy than those in the past. While many teen-oriented Web sites tanked, JoeDriver.com is apparently going strong.

"To teens, getting a driver's license is one of the single most important days in their lives," says Scott Deutsch, president and CEO of JoeDriver.com a teen-oriented Web site based in Miami, Fla.

Like many small companies, JoeDriver.com has flourished by partnering with larger corporations. It claims to be the first and only comprehensive Web site designed to put teens behind the wheel safely. Joe Driver's tag line reads, "Life begins with your license."

The company aggressively targets teens through innovative brand-marketing and membership-retention strategies. By partnering with automotive manufacturers, car dealerships and insurance companies, JoeDriver.com offers teenagers affordable rates on products and services. In addition, the Web site is involved in partnerships with over 3,000 high school driver's-education programs.

Outlet for a driver's license

JoeDriver.com provides teens with information about cars, driving and large companies, such as Allstate Insurance, with a direct outlet to one of the most momentous occasions in a teen's life getting a license.

Companies like Allstate actively market products to teens, because experts say teens that start using a product or service when they are young often continue using it the rest of their lives.

Marketing directly to teens at high school events has worked well for the Nouveau Group, an Orlando, Fla.-based production company. The company created a high school marketing program called "Planet Gruv." Planet Gruv brings state-of-the-art concert sound and lighting, video jockeys and video screens to local high school dances. The catch: The event is sponsored by national advertisers who want to reach teens.

Teen People magazine recently renewed its sponsorship contract with Planet Gruv. The relationship allows the magazine to give its national advertisers an opportunity to sponsor the high school tour.

"The reason we bought in to the tour is because it is literally a turnkey (project) for us," said Dawn Baxter, entertainment marketing associate for Teen People. "It is already established, and it has untapped access to the high school audience."

Baxter said if a national advertiser buys four pages in Teen People, "we can offer the tour as added value to the advertiser."

"They can pick the markets and literally put their products in the hands of teens," explains Baxter.

Schools more receptive

"Hundreds of high schools that were once closed to the idea of on-campus promotion are now opening their doors for the very first time," says Ty Wilson, president of the Nouveau Group.

John Youngman, school marketing director for the Nouveau Group, said schools pay about $1,299, for the event. "The Teen People sponsorship allows schools who could not normally hold a dance or party to do so," he said.

Like JoeDriver.com, Planet Gruv's success is a result of accessing a captive and receptive teen audience during a memorable event.

"The students are not blitzed by the advertising. It is much more subtle," said Youngman. "The kids are used to it. The commercial aspect does not take away from the event."

Teen People's Baxter adds, "The opposition from high schools has not been a factor because it is really just a party. The corporate sponsorships do not compromise the integrity of the event, be it a pep rally, prom or homecoming. The main focus remains on the kids."

Clothing and shoe manufacturers focus on the teen market because teens are trendsetters, not only for one another, but for the population at large. Younger children look up to teens to identify and adopt the latest fashion.

Teens are trend setters

The marketing strategy adopted by Carrollton, Texas-based Heeling Sports Ltd. seems to capitalize on the trend-setting ability of teens.

Heeling Sports Ltd., which produces "Heelys," sneaker-like shoes that roll like skates, took a different tactic in advertising its product to teens. The company limited access to the shoes to a select group of teenagers.

Initially, Heelys were hard to find because they were distributed through a few stores. The limited number of skating shoes made them even more desirable and created a sort of jealousy and buzz surrounding the shoes.

Heelys have been available in selected retail outlets since December 2000. That limited release was followed by major retail distribution in spring 2001. In a regional retail-test introduction for Christmas 2000, participating retailers report Heelys flying off the shelves as quickly as they were stocked.

When Heelys "riders" visited various cities across the United States before Heelys were widely available, bystanders clamored to buy them right off the riders' feet. By making them hard to buy, the company generated a lot of publicity and increased the frenzy around buying a pair.

Reporting by Liz Murphy. Jane Applegate is the author of "201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business," and is CEO of SBTV.com, a multimedia site providing small-business resources. She can be contacted via e-mail at , or by mail at P.O. Box 768, Pelham, NY 10803.

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