At college stores, apparel and jewelry items are available to shoppers right alongside textbooks and lined notebooks. Regardless of the college location nationwide, it seems that classic styles are the most popular overall.
At California Polytechnic University in Pomona, Calif, Director Clint Aase definitely agreed. “Traditional college sweatshirts and T-shirts are by far the best-sellers for us. They all feature the name of the college or college emblem.” In the jewelry category, the selection is limited. “We only sell class rings. While they do okay, that’s a declining category.” To sell more apparel items, Aase relies on endcap displays highlighting the items in-store, as well as email blasts to students and alumni, and social media posts that display new arrivals and announce sales. “We usually have big sales on clothing items during finals week,” he said. Speaking as to the demographic that the 15,000-square-foot store serves, he said, “It’s overwhelmingly students who shop here, and primarily female students. The styles we offer are not cut for men or women specifically however, the kinds of traditional garments we do so well with, like hooded sweatshirts, are unisex.”
In Laramie, Wyo., at the University of Wyoming bookstore, Jessica Lindmier, the shop’s gift and clothing buyer, has several big-selling retro styles. “Right now, the best-selling items are anything related to throwback-style graphics. We went through our old catalogs and brought back 80s and 90s looks to our apparel. Anything we put those throwback graphics on, sells like crazy. So, we are expanding this line more and more, and we are really thrilled with sales.” Everything from short-sleeved to long-sleeved T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies do well. “But what does the best of all for us is a white crew and a reverse style weave that did phenomenally.”
Jewelry, however, has been slow. “We usually do well with simple sterling silver jewelry with our logo on necklaces and earrings, as well as with watches, but all three have been slow lately.”
To sell more apparel or jewelry, Lindmier relies a great deal on social media. “It’s been a big hit for us to improve sales. We get our students wearing our clothes and take pictures of them, as well as having them wear items and show them off on campus. We also put our throwback line on our catalog. Both are great ways to advertise this fashion program.” She noted, “It is our 100th anniversary too, and so that was behind our idea in bringing back the throwback items.”
She described her main demographic for apparel and jewelry as “a mix of everyone. We serve not only students but our whole community.” This is especially true on game days, she said. “We get lots of traffic on those days, and we have quite a lot of it this year with football season coming back [post-pandemic restrictions]. Lots of sports fans and community members come into the store and buy apparel items.”
Erin Jones, manager of apparel and clothing at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt., related that her best-selling apparel items are basics all the way. “We do the best with our reversible, hooded Champion sweatshirt in silver with ‘Middlebury’ across the chest; we also do great with a sweatshirt from Gear that comes in navy blue, and it also has our name on the chest. The kids up here really enjoy the core basic items. The fashion-skewed items just don’t sell as well or as consistently and quickly.” That said, Jones related that “We try to bring in some of the fashion- forward silhouettes you’d see in regular retail, however. A couple of years ago, when the exposed shoulder tops were popular you saw a lot of that here. Right now, we are seeing cropped T-shirts onboard for women.”
Most jewelry items are drop-shipped through the college store website, Jones said. “We don’t have it physically in the store. Online, we do well with our cufflinks for men and a pendant for women that features the Middlebury shield.”
Selling more of either apparel or jewelry in the 1,000-square-foot shop and online depends on “social media first,” she said. “The second-best hook is having strong displays for apparel in the store. We sometimes cross-merchandise with other items from throughout the store.” Jones explained that “We have a couple display areas in the front of the store where I will have a mix of merchandise. You’ll see right off the bat when you come in everything we have, for example, I’ll place clothing items as an outfit with winterwear, with notebooks, and a backpack so you see it all. We also display within the clothing section.”
Jones’ primary shopping demographic for apparel and jewelry is “mainly students, but parents come in second and alumni third. We try to have the gamut of different logos and styles available to reach all these audiences, but other than that, we don’t do anything special.”
At Seattle University in Seattle, Wash., store Manager Marc Parrish said his store also does strong sales on traditional clothing items. “Hoodies are number one for us. Seattle is perfect hoodie weather all year long,” he laughed. Overall, “anything soft and cozy” does well in the campus store.
“Beyond that, I’d say T-shirts with our school logo on them.” While the school’s colors are red, black, white, and grey, “Not everyone can pull of red, and the logo looks great on grey, which is overwhelmingly our best-seller in color,” he said.
Echoing Jones in Middlebury, Parrish also doesn’t carry jewelry in the store. “It’s offered online- only on our website. We don’t carry jewelry inventory in the store, we have individual orders drop shipped here instead. The jewelry doesn’t get made until a customer places an order.” The jewelry items on offer through this system have the school logo or initials on them.
Selling more apparel and jewelry results from a variety of techniques for Parrish. “We use email blasts, social media, and in-store displays. We also have a robust, fully integrated website that is extremely accurate and up to date. It keeps track of what is available here in the store plus thousands of online-only items that add to our selling potential.” In the store, he explained, “It’s merchandising and customer service that work best. We also have a variety of price points to appeal to many different customers and encourage impulse buying.” Lower price point items include crew neck sweatshirts that are mass produced for $15 versus smaller run crews that cost $35; they all feature the school logo. “We don’t sell anything without our school’s name or logo,” Parrish said.
Additionally, he maintains a mailing list for potential customers. “Anyone who purchases from us or has a Seattle University email address gets marketing from us if there are new items, clearances, or sales. I also utilize coupons, and I work with the different school departments and offices to distribute them to new student groups at open houses and orientation.”
The store’s primary demographic for apparel and jewelry are students, alumni, staff, parents, and extended family members. “They all are big for us. Sports fans are the only demographic that is relatively small, because they mostly fall into one of those other categories.” To appeal to older customers, he offers items such as polo shirts, while for students, the sweats and T-shirts are the most appealing apparel items in the 10,000-square-foot store. Parrish’s online offerings “supplement the options in-store. I would say that overall, 90% of the things we offer both in the store and online, appeal to all our shoppers across the board, while 10% are more like niche audience items that sell enough to still be worth carrying.”
Summing up, at college stores throughout the U.S., tradition rules.