Collegiate Merchandise Scoring a 4.0 Among Consumers

Collegiate Merchandise

At OFFPRICE Show, we talk a lot about the importance of earning brand loyalty with customers. By offering unique, or competitively-priced products, small store owners can go head-to-head against the major retailers and e-tail giants. Especially in the United States, consumers have a tremendous loyalty to state colleges and universities—which is quickly becoming a huge opportunity for retailers big and small.

“Collaborations with hot designers are often good for short-lived buzz and revenue boosts, but for years-long revenue streams, fashion brands and retailers are turning to partnerships with universities,” says Jill Manoff, Editor-in-Chief of Glossy, a fashion and beauty media brand.

Since 2014, Fanatics Inc. sold merchandise on J.C. Penney’s e-commerce site. But this spring, J.C. Penny announced a new change to their partnership with Fanatics, in which the latter would open up permanent space inside select department stores. “Combining a stunning specialty store environment with the unparalleled power of our online Sports Fan Shop provides J.C. Penney a unique competitive advantage, driving spend and frequency of visits to both stores and,” says James Starke, Senior Vice President and Head of Merchandising at JCP.

Vintage-style collegiate apparel, team color merchandise, and licensed products are hitting the retail landscape hard. “Over the last few years, nostalgia has fueled much of the dominant forces in fashion and retail,” says Alexandra Mondalek, a Contributor for “Along with all things wistful, college-licensed apparel—the crux of which is rooted in sentimentality—has found its way both onto runways and into contemporary tastemakers’ closets.”

Last month, Victoria’s Secret took a different approach to targeting their largely college-aged consumer base who shop the Pink collection through a newly-designed app. “By providing college-related content—survival guides, study advice and dorm move-in tips… Pink could more strongly connect with millennials and Gen Zers who are tuned in to mobile content and may be more receptive than other generations to interacting with games, influencers and other smartphone content,” says Natalie Kolton, an Associate Editor of Marketing Dive.

In 2017, Tommy Bahama graduated to the collegiate category. “We know that more than 90 percent of our customers went to college,” says CEO Doug Wood. “And I saw the parents at the bookstores when I visited my kids at school; they had their arms full of stuff, and they were dressed like me. It felt like we were missing something.”

While the move makes sense for many retailers targeting Gen X, taking the licensed course can be costly. “For starters, licensing agreements with each included school—each of them which came with a price (which many brands offset by lowering apparel quality [according to Wood])—were necessary, and each had different, stringent rules about everything from where the product is made to how it will eventually be marketed,” says Manoff.

But have no fear, small boutiques are getting creative and finding ways to stay top-of-class with their customers. “Retailers in or near college towns where team spirit runs deep should try introducing a school color section into their store,” says Katy Albrecht, Publishing Editor of Off-Price Retailing Magazine. “Headbands, scarves, keychains, can koozies, and other small, last-minute add-ons in college colors are especially great margin-boosters. Embellish team colored flannels with embroidered patches of your local mascot. Or, source vintage-style college clothing online this fall through OFFPRICE365.”

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“For brands, there’s a lot of upside to college [product], “ says Tammy Purves, Senior Director of Communications at IMG Licensing Apparel. “College has really become a lifestyle brand, in and of itself. It’s not just a game-day brand anymore; people are wearing it out socially. Plus, college is year-round—you’ve got football, basketball, baseball, graduation—which sets it apart from [seasonal] pro leagues. And college fans are very loyal to their brand.”

Score major brand loyalty points among your shoppers by sourcing collegiate apparel at the next OFFPRICE Show, February 3-6, 2019 in Las Vegas. Online registration is now open online here.

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