While $15,000 a year sounds pricey for a subscription to a bimonthly newsletter, many companies with customers aged eight to 24 consider Irma Zandl's Hot Sheet indispensable. Subscribers include Fisher-Price, The Disney Channel and Bath & Body Works.

Zandl predicted the popularity of the I-pod before it became a must-have. Other predictions that have made money for retailers include the rise of gothic chic and the re-emerging popularity of rock among kids who for a long time were listening primarily to rap.

Her latest prognostications: Pregnancy is in for young women, as they emulate Hollywood stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson by becoming moms. And obesity, though a national concern, presents sales opportunities. Retailers serving the youth market should think about size 12 as “the absolute dead center.” Also, she says, developers should recruit more home furnishing tenants, since many young women “are more interested in dressing up their homes than their overweight bodies.”

The Zandl Group surveys 3,000 young people a year. Zandl insists she personally reads each response. Plus, “We're embedded in the youth culture. We spend our time in their homes, at car shows, at the mall, shopping in the same stores they do, listening to their music,” and often videotaping interviews with her subjects.

Zandl herself has trendy life and work styles. German-born but raised in Australia, she followed a boyfriend to America where she worked for L'Oreal, Revlon and then as the marketing vice president of a smaller cosmetics company, Andrea Products.

Now age “40-something,” she lives in a loft just off New York's gritty-but-hip former skid row, the Bowery, and when she isn't videotaping alpha kids, commutes crosstown to her eight-person SoHo research center, another loft.

In fact, her residence in the heart of the Manhattan youth belt, her single and childless marital status, and her involvement with “all aspects” of pop culture and constant contact with younger consumers leads Zandl to insist, “My lifestyle is not radically different from the 20-year-olds who surround me.”

Attests Rich Ross, Disney Channel entertainment president, “She's our truth-ometer.”

What Zandl's Crystal Ball Predicted…

February 2003]

Military clothing designs regarded as cool. Growth of sales in camo/army fatigues.

June 2003

Growing interest in “Luche Libre” (Mexican wrestling) imagery. Wrestling mask imagery beginning to show up on skate boards, T-shirts.