OMAHA, Neb. - Mike Galaska does not like to shop. He doesn't like the crowds or spending money. It's for women, he says.
But pizza and beer? He can handle that.
Galaska, 48, of Bellevue, Neb., was among the hundreds of men who came out for a recent men's night at Omaha jewelry store Borsheim's, which uses free pizza and beer to counteract the otherwise intimidating notion of buying jewelry.
High-end retailers such as Borsheim's - part of billionaire Warren Buffett's empire - are changing the way they market themselves and their products to attract male shoppers. Men are shopping more and can be freer with their wallets under the right circumstances, as retailers have found.
Men will buy an estimated $49 billion in apparel this year, a 5 percent rise from last year, said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group Inc., a market research company based in Port Washington, N.Y. Men now buy 70 percent of their own clothing, up from 25 percent in 1985, so stores are doing what they can to attract these often reluctant shoppers, he said.
That is especially evident around the holidays. Stores hold functions tailored specifically to men and increasingly women, who are often encouraged to fill out wishlists to make shopping easier for men. Saks Fifth Avenue brought in Playboy centerfolds to act as men's personal shoppers earlier this month in New York. Centerfolds aside, men's night outs are also being held at shopping malls around the country, such as at King of Prussia Mall in King of Prussia, Pa., and Fox River Mall in Appleton, Wis.
Galaska's wife filled out her wishlist the previous week at Borsheim's ladies' night. All Galaska had to do this week was say her name, and clerks began to bring out what his wife wanted.
"Whatever she brings, I'm going to buy," Galaska said of the sales clerk.
And buy he did - a silver chain necklace - before getting more pizza and beer.
For five years now, men have been attending the night geared exclusively to them at Borsheim's. After the success of the first year, organizers decided to hold a ladies' night the previous week so women could make their lists, said Susan Jacques, CEO of the company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway.
On a recent weeknight, about 1,200 women filled the 45,000-square-foot Borsheim's to drink wine and Perrier, eat pastries and fill out their wishlists.
Men typically wait until the second week of December to begin their holiday shopping, which creates a strain on businesses, said Jacques. She likened the tradition of Dec. 24 shopping to the opening of hunting season.
So the store decided to draw in those customers and create a party atmosphere which lowers the intimidation factor for men, she said. This year, men sat in leather lounge chairs and registered to win a Berkshire Hathaway Monopoly set autographed by Buffett.
"We like to give them the chance to relax, unwind, do more at the last minute and make them comfortable," Jacques said.
This trend is found among high-end retailers because they can afford to create shopping experiences for their customers, said Jean-Pierre DubÃ©, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.
"A kind of store that's competing on prices doesn't invest on creating experience anyhow, except for creating the deal," DubÃ© said.
Tailoring shopping experiences for men isn't just on the holidays, he said. The Alfred Dunhill store in London features classic motorcycles, model planes and a humidor, while an Armani store in Milan has video games in the basement.
"It's painful to shop for feminine things," DubÃ© said. "It's embarrassing. Anything you can do to make it easier and more comfortable will increase the likelihood they'll do more impulse buying."
High-end stores have realized they'd rather have less traffic and higher-priced sales than more volume, Cohen said. Men are much more likely to be upsold when they do decide to buy, so the extra attention pays off, he said.
By putting so much effort into making shopping fun again - which can be as simple as adding more chairs to a shopping area or leaving a football game on television - retailers are hoping to convince men, and even women, that shopping isn't so bad, Cohen said. That all serves to create loyal customers, he said.
"That's what they thrive on," Cohen said of high-end retailers. "They thrive on turning a nonbeliever into a believer."
Designer Nicole Miller's 18 boutiques across the country have been holding their own men's nights for years, featuring cocktails and modelesque saleswomen in evening wear who often know the men's wives and what they want. It originally borrowed the idea from jewelry stores, said Bud Konheim, CEO of Nicole Miller Ltd.
Sales can increase as much as tenfold when a men's night is held and morale among salespeople stays high for weeks afterward, Konheim said.
"It's a very easy atmosphere for a guy to get lulled into having a good time and spending a lot of dough," he said.
Jim Suchy spent his dough at Borsheim's, after waiting outside for his fiancee during women's night. He bought her something earlier in the week, but came back just to indulge in men's night, he said.
Nestled in a leather lounge chair and watching a movie, the 62-year-old from Omaha couldn't have been happier with his holiday shopping experience.
"This is my idea of shopping right here, watching TV, drinking beer and eating pizza," Suchy said.