Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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The business of prom season

May 4, 2017

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Some teens spend hundreds of dollars on elaborate “promposals.” (Photo by ivabalk via Pexels, CC0)

As prom season approaches and teens across the country primp for a night on the town, businesses such as hair and nail salons, makeup artists, tailors, restaurants, photographers and florists vie for their money. TV shows and teen rom-coms over the past decades have glamorized this rite of passage and created sky-high expectations—often with a price tag to match.

Here’s a look at business story angles to consider.

Personal finances of prom and promposals

For a consumer money story, look at who pays for prom—and how—in your local community. Do teens use funds from a part-time job or side hustle to get dolled up? Do parents foot the bill? Or some combination of the two?

Visa has conducted surveys on predicted prom spending for several years. Its most recent survey in 2015 found that the average U.S. family planned to fork over a total of $919 on prom, with $324 going towards a “promposal,” in which teens ask each other to the dance using such elaborate methods as flash mobs. What are the hot promposal trends in your area and what do they cost?

Business that benefit from prom

Check in with the local businesses that cash in on prom and graduation season. How has this changed over time? Traditionally, teens rented a limo to arrive in style and girls purchased dresses hoping no one else would wear the same thing. (In fact, the WJS reported in 2015 that formalwear shops now use dress registries to avoid this potential catastrophe.) Are they instead using rideshare apps to hail a limo on demand? Ordering gowns through newer services like Rent the Runway or Facebook groups that allow them to buy and swap formalwear? If so, how have local retailers or service businesses adapted? What are they doing to promote their products or services to local high schoolers?

Nonprofits providing prom dresses

Nonprofits such as Operation Prom, Becca’s Closet and Cinderella’s Gowns are helping young girls unable to afford a new prom dress by distributing donated gowns. What organizations are operating in your area? How do they attract donations and distribute dresses? Are local dry cleaner’s or tailors involved by providing pro bono services? A look at who started these efforts, and why, could make an interesting local business profile and a welcome balance to stories focusing on heavy prom spending.

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