Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Last month began by meeting with JanSport in Appleton, Wisconsin, then it was off to a brief visit with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Bookstore, concluding with a week in Lake Las Vegas for the ECRM Electronics Retail Summit. Needless to say I am glad to be back in the office. There is no place like “home”.

JanSport Visit
I had a great meeting with Paul Sline, VP of Sales and Bonnie Mueller, Sales Manager. While touring the JanSport facility, Bonnie commented that they have doubled their production capabilities. JanSport, a division of VF Corp, also does the screen-printing for other VF divisions such as Nautica, Wrangler and Vans in addition to screen-printing for Harley Davidson.

JanSport is known for their graphic execution, which truly sets them apart in the market. They take things over and above a basic print graphic to the next level with the use of sublimated comfort twill, in house sewn, and multi-color print graphics. JanSport’ s pricing is often set to reflect up to six colors in a graphic.

JanSport has recently updated its embroidery equipment. Quarter-zip fleece and 100% polyester fleece are growing in popularity and lend themselves to embroidery, as seen in this example headed to the University of Dayton Bookstore for the fall.

Gaining in popularity is the “geek chic” look and JanSport is ready with their take on this trend. T-shirts printed with faux pockets. You can show off your school colors on the pocket or be creative and print in florals, animal prints, chevrons…anything you can imagine. Even going so far as printing a faux pocket complete with pens and pocket protectors. Perhaps this trend is being driven by the popularity of “The Big Bang Theory” or the success of celebrity geeks such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and more. 

Extending the geek chic look a bit further is JanSport’s take on using the letters from the Periodic Table of Elements in combination to print out words. Take the symbols for Hydrogen, Actinium, Potassium and Erbium and you get “HAcKEr.” The symbols for Gold, Boron, Uranium and Radon spell “AuBURn.” Or, incorporate the symbols to spell “Alumni” with your school name. Let your inner nerdy imagination and anagramming skills run wild.

Finally, look for “Great Nerds in History” from JanSport later this year. These will be graphics which depict the image of great “nerds”—Galileo, Shakespeare, Freud to name a few—with a quote from each that they didn’t actually say, but may have thought it at one point or another.

UW Milwaukee Visit

From Appleton, it was off to Milwaukee to visit with Erik Hemming, Director and Richard Karlinsky, Buyer at the University of Milwaukee Bookstore. I wanted to see how Richard (and Pam Loignon, Merchandise Buyer) have developed their women’s fashion department at their store. Pam and Richard were part of ICBA’s inaugural buying trip to the LA Fashion District during the summer of 2012.

Pam and Richard call their fashion area the “Hashtag Boutique.” The name plays well given how much social media plays in our lives today. As you can see from their signage, nothing in the department retails for over $30.

Items that are doing well for UWM include:

Fashion scarves (seem to be slowing down this year)
Fashion headbands
Bling lanyards(UWM SKU’s them for the boutique not necessarily a boutique item)
Inexpensive skirts, dresses and blouses...anywhere they can find a really good deal. They were selling some skirts for $7.00
Fashion socks for both men and women
Outdoor jackets but only if they are inexpensive (under $30 retail)
Winter wear—fashion hats and gloves
Bowties, ties, suspenders

Interested in opening a fashion department in your store? 
Below is good advice from Pam.

“It can be hit or miss. Choosing the right items is sometimes a hit, sometimes a miss. You have to be right on trend and know what others (retailers) are selling them for.”

Pricing is critical for this department. With vendors like ICBA partner ApparelOffPrice.com, they offer great off-price fashions that allow you to take a larger initial mark up. Don’t be afraid to mark it up 2-3 times cost. This will build in some extra margin for marking down those items that are a “miss”, yet still allow you to maintain your department markup goals. Look at the item and know what area retailers are selling that style for. You know mainstream retailers (Forever 21, H&M, etc.) are not keystoning fashion items. Why should you?

ECRM Electronics Retail Summit

Concluding August was the ECRM Electronics Retail Summit. This event brings together Personal and Mobile Electronics, and Computer Products and Accessories manufacturers to present and review new programs, marketing initiatives and promotional opportunities to retailers across all channels.

Bluetooth/streaming audio continues to be a strong category. One of the coolest new products I saw was the AwoX StriimLIGHT ™, an energy-saving LED light-bulb with an integrated Bluetooth speaker. You simply place the light in any standard electrical lamp and sync your mobile device to hear music wherever you want. Other Bluetooth speakers, such as those from Ematic offer full Siri controls. Ematic currently works with D&H Distributing. Earbuds with Bluetooth capabilities were also shown by several vendors including Jabra. Perfect for the active lifestyle of the college student.

Portable power was also well represented during the meeting. With the myriad of devices each of us own, keeping them charged while away from home can be a challenge. These portable battery packs are an essential items in your assortment. ICBA partner Battery On The Go offers a 2600 mAh and 2000 mAh power stick at a great price and small enough to fit in your pocket, purse or backpack.

Look for these and other technology products as I develop programs moving forward with the vendors I met at ECRM Electronics Retail Summit. More details on each program will be announced during the fall.

In Closing...
Finally, when I returned back to the office, I saw this quote in an article highlighted in a recent NRF SmartBrief. While the article is about Food Lion grocery stores, substitute that name with any college store and it is good advice to follow:

“There's an imperative to set us apart,” Beth Newlands Campbell, Food Lion CEO, told the Observer last week. “You can't be middle of the road.” “Staying the same is not an option.”

When she talks about Food Lion's issues, she fastidiously avoids the word “problem,” instead referring to “opportunities.”

“We just have to get better. And we have to do it every day,” she said. “This is about fixing Food Lion by being a better Food Lion.”

This is the challenge we all face today. Be better by maximizing your partnerships with vendors, such as JanSport. Be better by exploring new sales opportunities like women’s fashion merchandise. Be better by focusing on new product and trends in the technology products category. 

Staying the same is not an option.

Written by Marty Duncan, ICBA Program Manager