BOSTON — WHILE the majority of brides still register their wedding-gift wish lists at department stores, the tastes of today's newlyweds are tending toward power tools and camping equipment rather than porcelain and cutlery.
To capitalize on this trend, a wave of new merchandisers - ranging from hardware stores and travel agencies to book stores, music stores, and even home-mortgage companies - is now providing bridal registry services.
The bridal market represents nearly $35 billion a year in retail sales in the United States, according to a 1993 Bridal Market Retail Spending study for Modern Bride magazine. Although newlyweds account for just 2.6 percent of US households, they represent a disproportionate share of retail sales.
Last year, 93 percent of brides registered at department stores, 25 percent also registered at specialty stores, 5 percent at discount department stores, and 4 percent at hardware/housewares stores, the magazine found.
``Everybody sees the bride as a potential customer, and regardless of what you sell, she needs it for her home,'' says Doris Nixon, vice president of the National Bridal Service, an organization in Richmond, Va., that provides consulting services to more than 400 member stores. Guests usually spend $70 to $100 on wedding gifts.
The Home Depot, the Atlanta-based home improvement store, launched its own bridal registry service in January a 1992. Brides can register for anything from mailboxes and front doors to lawn and garden items, says spokeswoman Jenifer Swearingen.
``One of the first brides who registered in our south Florida store wanted cow manure for her garden.'' Ms. Swearingen says. Currently, the registration service is available in about 80 percent of the Home Depot stores.
L.L. Bean Inc., the outdoor catalog company in Freeport, Maine, launched a computerized registry service in February, and business is booming. So far, 550 registries are on file, says spokeswoman Enid Stepner. Brides can select traditional items, such as towels and sheets, but camping supplies, canoes, kayaks, fishing equipment, and his and her Bean boots, have been particularly popular, Ms. Stepner says.
While most stores say they don't track registry spending as a percentage of annual sales, they maintain that the number of brides registering and the associated sales are increasing.
But why this trend in less conventional wedding gifts? While china, crystal, and silver still are the most popular items on bridal registries, registry directors say more people are getting married for a second time and already have the basics.
``Couples today are very practical in nature,'' says Laura Walther, director of gift registry services for Service Merchandise, based in Nashville. She claims the country's largest computerized gift registry service with 90,000 registrants in 1993.
``Tradition is being modified,'' she says. ``Years ago ... bridal showers were strictly for the female; they were either kitchen showers, lingerie showers, or teas, and men were not invited.
``Now ... the types of showers that are being offered are so diverse ... and the showers are given for the bride and the groom in many instances,'' she says.