College Stores
Advice to Sell More T-shirts and Hoodies

T-shirts and hoodies are staples at college stores across the country, and selling more of these items depends on a wide range of sales techniques from customer service to special promotions. Sales success also depends on selecting the right merchandise to appeal to school shoppers, as well. School store staffs offer their tips and reveal what items are best-sellers for their shops.

Eddie of the Wildcat shop, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Wash., pictured with merchandise.

Eddie of the Wildcat shop, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Wash., pictured with merchandise.

At the University of Alaska, in Anchorage, Alaska, Clothing and Gift Buyer Galina Ryabova-Houston said that selling either T-shirts or hoodies is easy to do at her shop. “I think the items really sell themselves compared to any other items in our store. I think selling more of them has to do with the graphic and the color of the garment, and giving shoppers items that appeal to them.” She noted that her best-sellers currently are graphite or oxford color and feature both the full school logo and school name. She said the reason for the appeal of these particular items is their neutral color and the fact that they feature both the logo and full school name. “That combination works the best for us in terms of sales. Students and alumni want to represent their school, and they choose these types of shirts and hoodies for souvenirs as well,” Ryabova-Houston reported. “We don’t really display or promote them in any significant way, they’re just off by themselves, yet these are the items I keep re-ordering. I really don’t have to do any specific merchandizing with them.” However, Ryabova-Houston does do promotions for other T-shirt styles. “We’ll do inexpensive T-shirt promotions such as ‘buy one, get one free’ or ‘under $10 T-shirts,” she related. “Promotions on many T-shirt styles really work for us overall. Hoodies also sell great when we have a special deal such as a $25 hoodie. In January and in the spring are the busiest times for us in regard to selling hoodies of all kinds.” Additionally, store placement is important for these types of items. “I bring in new graphics twice a year and keep them in the front of the store right where people walk in,” she explained.

On the campus of University of Hawaii, Manoa in Honolulu, Hawaii, school logos also add up to excellent sales for hoodies and T-shirts. Raina Fujitani, bookstore marketing manager and business development manager, described her best-selling T-shirts and hoodies. “Our best selling items feature one of two logos. We use both the University of Hawaii seal and the letter ‘H’ logo which has a Hawaiian-style tattoo print around it. The shirt and hoodies that come in green, which is the color of our school, are very popular.” To improve T-shirt and hoodie sales, Fujitani offers coupons year-round, and online and in-store promotions to draw students to the store. “For example, we participate in National Student Day through the National Association of College Stores, and we invite students in, and provide them activities, prizes, and gifts. That helps to familiarize the students with what we have available.” She said the store does not rely on suggestive selling techniques, but does use seasonal displays and cross-merchandising techniques to boost sales. “The most successful displays we’ve done for clothing items are created to show off the designs on items such as T-shirts and hoodies. When we get new items in stock with new designs, we’ll feature them on mannequins in the store.”

Beth Okuna, customer service associate, with D-anne Uyeda, general merchandise buyer, in the store at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Selling T-shirts and hoodies is easy for the shop, according to the clothing and gift buyer.

Beth Okuna, customer service associate, with D-anne Uyeda, general merchandise buyer, in the store at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Selling T-shirts and hoodies is easy for the shop, according to the clothing and gift buyer.

At Reed College Bookstore in Portland, Ore., General Merchandise Buyer Liz Rutledge said hoodies are not the most popular cover-up item in her store.“We do better with crew sweatshirts,” she explained. “But the hoodies we carry that sell the best for us are plain maroon, which is the school color, and they say ‘Reed’ in simple block letters.” When it comes to T-shirts, Rutledge has two styles that do very well. “One is our plain maroon shirt with plain block letters, the other is an unofficial logo that relates a joke about the school. It reads ‘Communism, athesim, free love’ around the logo. It’s a joke based on some community perception of the school,” she explained.

Along with the maroon color, other popular shades at the private liberal arts college include a variety of greys, blacks, and red with black. “Basic solid colors are the key to our most popular shirts.”

As to selling more of these items, Rutledge related that, “We do promotions, but honestly it’s all about what people want to buy. If we did nothing at all, our T-shirts would still sell. Mostly it’s just about keeping them in stock, and maintaining the classic look that appeals across the board both to older alums and to current students.” She said that within the store they don’t typically cross-merchandise or create any elaborate displays for these standard clothing items.

“We will do promos, however. For example we might pair sweatpants with $5 T-shirts, or other items that we can get a good margin on and sell at a low price once or twice a year.”

In Los Angeles, Calif., the University of California Los Angeles bookstore’s Student Supervisor Miriam Gonzalez focuses on customer service to sell more T-shirts and hoodies. “That helps a lot. Usually people will ask us for our opinion, and we’ll show the best-sellers, or if they ask for our personal opinion, we’ll try to help there. It’s important that everyone’s questions are answered.” Gonzalez also relies on appealing displays to sell more of these items. “We display seasonally, and I think it’s mostly the visuals we have in the store that improve sales.” The store also offers a quarterly sale of 25 percent off. “Those sales work well because they’re good for college students’ budgets,” she laughed. “About 60 percent to 70 percent of our business targets buyers who are students, so it’s good to aim promotions at them.” As for her best-selling items, Gonzalez said, “Our most popular are our Tackle Twill hoodies. They’re a single blue color and have UCLA printed on them in block letters. For both men and women, our league shirts are popular, they’re a vintage style which a lot of people like.”

At Miami University Bookstore in Oxford, Ohio, Sales Associate Emily Patton uses a variety of techniques to improve sales of T-shirts and hoodies. When it comes to T-shirts, Patton said the shop offers discounts during college tours or special events, and that the shop routinely displays T-shirts by the register, where they’ll be most easily seen. “We will also deck out our displays for every holiday,” she related. “And we try to be helpful and point people in the right direction when they’re looking for something such as a gift for their parents. With hoodies, we’ll especially push them during the winter time. We’ll direct people towards them, and we’ll also keep them towards the front of the store so that people will notice them.” When it comes to her most popular T-shirt and hoodie styles, the college name is important, Patton related. “The items that say specifically Miami University over Oxford, Ohio tend to be more popular than others that simply say Miami University, generally. However we have one style that is super soft on the inside that simply says Miami University, and those are very popular. I think the thing that people really like about that one is that it looks quite vintage.”

In short, keeping hoodie and T-shirt sales strong at college bookstores means savvy stocking of items that appeal to store customers as well as the use of promotions both online and in the store, and display techniques.

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