Let the rollout begin.
On Thursday, the second Tailgate store will open its doors at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Tailgate is the little-known collegiate campus retail concept that was started by designer Todd Snyder and his father in 1991. It’s also the primary reason that American Eagle Outfitters purchased the Todd Snyder business for $11 million last November.
There is also a Tailgate store in Iowa City, Iowa, near the Iowa State campus that has been open for two years.
The Wisconsin Tailgate unit is one of three that will open this year. The other two will be at the University of Georgia in Athens, and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Chad Kessler, global brand president for American Eagle Outfitters, said the company views these Tailgate store openings as a test to ensure the concept is viable for its intended rollout. “Our goal is to open more stores in the back half of next year,” he said, without providing a projection for 2017. “And down the road, if it works, we expect there can be a couple hundred stores.”
Jimmy Olsson, president of Tailgate, added: “We’re calling it the test-and-roll model. We’ll get these open and explore adding more for next year. We’ve thrown around ideas for different locations but the challenge is finding the right locations at the right schools.”
Snyder said the location has to be “unique and close to campus. We have licenses for over 150 universities, but trying to find the right location is tough. They can’t be cookie-cutter.”
The Iowa store is located in an old bank, for example, and the new Madison unit includes a coffee shop. “It reinvents what the bookstore used to be,” Snyder said. “People aren’t buying books anymore, so where do you go to hang out?” The ancillary product is all sourced locally, Olsson noted, and chosen especially for each location.
Snyder said he travels to every potential campus to determine the right mix and will include T-shirts featuring local hot spots as well as just the traditional college references. “We want to be relevant to the students and the alumni. Each store has its own flavor. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun.”
In terms of merchandise, the mainstay will be vintage-inspired graphic T-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts and baseball caps for men and women, but for the first time, there is also an assortment of American Eagle denim. “We’re really excited to see how the Tailgate product works with American Eagle jeans,” Kessler said.
Snyder said the denim is merchandised in an organic way so it complements the other merchandise. “Millennials don’t necessarily want to go to the mall. They want something smaller and more curated.”
Overall, the aesthetic of the store is “collegiate with a modern twist,” Snyder said. He said he has thousands of T-shirts, old programs and yearbooks from college football games that he uses for inspiration.
Tailgate now has a staff of around 25 and is operating separate from the Todd Snyder designer business. Olsson, who also holds the title of president of Todd Snyder, is running the day-to-day Tailgate business. “And I get to come in and play,” Snyder said, noting that Tailgate has added designers he had worked with earlier in his career to help with the design of the line.
Olsson and Snyder said the association with American Eagle is working well and there’s no pressure to expand quickly. “It’s a great partnership for us,” Snyder said. “We’re doing it strategically and want to do it right,” Olsson added.
Kessler agreed, noting that in addition to Tailgate, the designer “brings so much to the business with his creativity and eye. We’re also utilizing him as a sounding board for American Eagle.”