Times are tough for the bangs-'n'-guyliner set.
Leading practitioners Marilyn Manson and My Chemical Romance are feuding, everyone is being labeled "emo" (and subsequently besieged by laughably uninformed nightly news reports), and Pete Wentz is dating Jessica Simpson's sister.
And now, as if things couldn't get any worse, spooky-ooky outlet Hot Topic is ditching "dark and foreboding" for "lighter and brighter" in an attempt to halt a three-year slide in sales.
"The desire is not to make the store 'not gothic-y,' it's merely to reflect what's going on in the music scene. Our store design has always reflected the music environment of the time. In the '90s, when the pop-punk and rave scene blew up, our stores became 'the tunnel,' modeled after an underground club," Darrell Kinsley, Hot Topic's vice president of merchandising, marketing and store design, told MTV News. "And now, with the whole indie movement — the emo, the hardcore — our stores are evolving again."
But evolving into what? Gone are the cramped quarters and black-and-burgundy color scheme, replaced instead with "neutral colors," booming sound systems and flat-screen TVs at each store's entrance. The new HT stores are meant to create a feeling of "being in an old building that's been around for 100 years," Kinsley said.
"We really wanted to wipe the slate clean," he added. "The material of the stores is lighter, so you see the product better, there's more room. It's open, as opposed to feeling closed in."
Speaking earlier this week at a consumer conference in New York, Hot Topic Chief Financial Officer James McGinty told analysts that the redesign was meant to lure mallgoers who previously found the stores "too dark, gothic and intimidating," and added that "our new stores don't scare you away." The move comes as the company recently reported a 6.1 percent drop in sales at stores open at least one year (an important retail indicator known as "same-store sales"), and it hopes that luring customers will reverse a three-year dip in sales, which McGinty attributed to consumers' "preference in alternative wear."
Kinsley sees the redesign a bit differently, saying that luring in new customers is "a byproduct of the design, not the intent of it."
"The intent was to be current with what's going on in the music environment," he added. "You check any teen's iPod, they don't have just punk or metal music on there, and when you walk inside a Hot Topic store, hopefully that's what you'll feel. There's a blurring of music and fashion."
Currently, there are 38 newly redesigned stores open throughout the country, and the company plans to refit between 12 percent and 15 percent of its stores by the end of the year. And while Kinsley said early feedback has been positive, he is aware that Hot Topic's fanbase — who can be, as you might guess, a fairly, uh, cranky bunch — might have a "variety of opinions" about the new look.
"Even when the stores were dark we had SpongeBob, and people were opinionated about that," he said. "Hopefully people will see our commitment to music and realize that we're still the same store."