Lids has set its sights on the collegiate market.
The headwear and apparel retailer is launching a new retail concept called Lids University, or Lids U, dedicated to apparel and sports products for the college market.
The first three stores opened Friday at Gurnee Mills in Chicago, the Mall of Georgia in Buford, Ga., and the San Marcos Premium Outlets in San Marcos, Texas, and the plan is to open an additional eight units by the end of the year. Lids operates more than 1,200 stores around the U.S.
Britten Maughan, president of Lids, said the idea of launching this new concept came about because the typical Lids store is heavily focused on product for professional leagues and only measures around 1,000 square feet. “The customer is coming in looking for collegiate product,” he said, a category that is one of the largest in licensed sports. But this customer is not being served in a regular Lids store, so Lids U was born.
Maughan said Lids University stores will be around 2,500 square feet. “They will carry largely apparel while the Lids stores are largely headwear,” he said. In addition to hats, the stores will offer fleece, tanks, jerseys and novelty items such as beer mugs and face tattoos.
The assortment will be for men, women and children and will include product from companies such as Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Mitchell & Ness, Cutter & Buck, Champion and Antigua, along with headwear brands New Era and Zephyr. The stores will also feature Custom Zones, an area where shoppers can custom-embroider a product of their choice in-store.
Maughan said the stores are not seen as competitors to the college bookstores, which will “always be the epicenter” of product for that market, “but they’re hard to get to for a lot of fans.” By putting Lids U stores into malls, they are expected to appeal to the suburban fan whose family has grown up with the local team and still follows the action on the field. “We don’t see this as competing with the bookstore, but as incremental.”
Lids is partners with Barnes & Noble at more than 800 bookstores around the U.S., Maughan said, so it has a lock on that end of the market. And Lids U will address the “off-campus representation to get walk-by traffic in the malls.”
Top sellers are expected to be different in each market since the stores will concentrate on the home teams. But they will also offer product from nationally popular franchises such as Duke and North Carolina as well as the Big Ten conference teams. At the Gurnee Mills store, for example, the mix includes Illinois Fighting Illini, Illinois State Redbirds, Loyola Chicago Ramblers, DePaul Blue Demons, Northwestern Wildcats, Southern Illinois Salukis, University of Chicago Maroons, Alabama Crimson Tide, Duke Blue Devils, Michiagan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State Buckeyes and others.
He said beyond the first three, the sites for the other stores will be in “great college markets” such as Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas and will include Castleton Square in Indianapolis, Mall of Lousiana in Baton Rouge, La., Tanger Outlets in Gonzales, La., Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and Mebane, N.C., among others.
So how big can Lids U ultimately be? Maughan said: “This is a new venture, but we believe it’s a several hundred store concept if it does well.”