College Apparel Heats Up

College Sports Market Heats Up With Winning Shirts

In recent years, college sports merchandising has become very big business indeed. College products now claim the top spot when it comes to branded apparel, beating out NFL merchandise with nearly 25 percent of overall sales. Major League Baseball finishes in third place with a nearly 23 percent share. A recent MarketWatch report claims that a quarter of goods sold through licensed sports apparel stores last year were college-branded, which is a significant nod to the increased interest in college sports promoted through wider coverage of events like March Madness and Bowl season games. That rise in popularity is an important development for colleges where sports teams merchandising can provide much needed help on two crucial fronts: As more institutions face rising costs and funding shortfalls, sports marketing can provide a significant revenue stream while also helping promote and establish the school brand in an increasingly competitive college market.

A Winning Game Day Shirt

Helping colleges and universities promote their college brand is something Barnes & Noble College has been identified with for a long time. Increasingly, school spirit lines have grown to become an essential part of the bookstore product offerings and branded apparel represents the top-selling items on store websites. “We’re continually looking at ways to help our colleges channel more revenue to the campus and help promote school pride,” notes Barnes & Noble College Consumer & New Media Marketing Manager, Tamara Vostok.

A case in point is one of the initiatives tested this past season, which represents a new concept in college sports merchandising. Working with their general merchandising teams, college bookstores offered Score T-shirts to be made exclusively available for the winning team in big rivalry college football games. “The program tracks a college team for a particular game and, if it wins, we immediately offer the t-shirt for sale on the website,” explains Barnes & Noble College Online Marketing Project Manager, Shannon Albers.

How the program works is particularly impressive. “We’ll have the Score T-shirt image ready to go, along with the marketing, which includes a pre-designed banner image on the college store website, and an email blast ready when the team wins,” Albers explains. As soon as the winning result is known, the Score T-shirt is printed – complete with the score of the game – and launched on the site supported with promotional emails.

Big Money, Big Pride

College sports marketing has certainly emerged as a welcomed bright spot on the academic horizon. A study conducted by research company IBISWorld has projected that total sports revenue could grow to $4.1 billion by 2017, with college sports joining the massive NASCAR phenomenon in seeing the most growth. The Score T-shirt program is another way colleges can benefit and celebrate from their winning team’s victories – and the schools included in the program so far have seen fantastic results. Although the current program is offered in just a handful of schools, it ran through the crucial college Bowl season, and will extend to include the ever popular college basketball season during March Madness.

Students Choose Their Own ‘Dream Classes’

From book signings to academic lectures, events held at campus stores are a common occurrence at many colleges and universities. Today, however, Barnes & Noble College is taking the campus store event to a whole new level through its partnership with Togather, giving students the opportunity to create “dream classes” that speak directly to their interests and goals.

Togather is a powerful social platform that engages student groups and campus departments, and connects them with a wide range of authors and subject matter experts. To determine the topics of interest for these “dream class” events, Togather engaged students at 70 colleges, asking them to offer ideas and to vote on their favorites. Twenty-six schools were then chosen based on the number of votes for each topic idea, which ranged from “profitable passion projects” to “advanced late-night cuisine” and more.

Cristina Krumsick And The ‘No Bake Makery’

At Adelphi University, students used their social media voice and voted for a class on “no-bake late-night munchies.” Those votes were rewarded with a workshop that promised to help amp up their dorm room snacks and offered the opportunity to vote for the workshop’s presenter. Adelphi students chose Cristina Krumsick, author of the blog and now book, No Bake Makery: More Than 80 Two-Bite Treats Made with Lovin’, Not an Oven. A journalist major and publicist for food celebrities such as Rachael Ray, Krumsick began working with food in her small Brooklyn apartment, creating bite-sized, no-bake treats that she tested on her husband.

Students crowded the Adelphi University Bookstore where Krumsick led a hands-on demonstration of how to create one of her favorite recipes: maple pecan bites, a concoction of vanilla sandwich cookies, pecans, cream cheese and maple syrup. Krumsick told the students that her recipes, which include ingredients such as fruity pebbles, marshmallows and pretzels, require only a food processor and a refrigerator to make, so they are perfect for creating on campus. “The students were really excited that they were able to choose the topic and pick something that applied to their lives,” said Adelphi University Bookstore Manager Will Giler. “It was fun to see how the workshop played out and to see that they really enjoyed the experience.”

Getting A Unique Experience Through Togather’s Partnership

With this fun and engaging workshop, Adelphi’s campus bookstore was transformed from a shopping destination to an exciting test-kitchen, where students were able to try out treats, spend time with their peers and gain valuable advice from their chosen expert. It was a highly tailored experience that highlights the value of creating spaces where students can learn and share ideas. “Bookstores have historically been places for people to gather and share new ideas, so it makes sense to have these programs available at campus stores,” said Andrew Kessler, CEO of Togather. “We were able to use digital tools to find out what resonates with students, and then take that directly to them, allowing them to create a real-word experience that provides meaningful connections with their peers.”

As the partnership continues, Togather and Barnes & Noble College plan to expand programs to more schools in the future. These custom events help the campus store become more than simply a place to buy a textbook or a cup of coffee. It’s a place to meet other students who share similar interests, master a new skill and enjoy a targeted, unique experiences. “This is a fantastic idea for college students,” said store manager Giler. “It’s giving them a voice in what they want on campus and connects them to really fun events.” As Adelphi University students recently learned, having a say in campus events doesn’t just feel good—it can taste good, too.

Cosmo Makeovers Takeover Campus

What makes for the ultimate girls’ day? Do you pamper yourself with a manicure? Experiment with the latest make-up products? Try out some new hairstyling tips? If you ask Cosmopolitan Magazine, the answer is: all of the above! Recently, Cosmo partnered with our own, Barnes & Noble College Marketing, to bring all of this and more to ten lucky college campuses as part of its Cosmo on Campus Tour. Not only were these events a huge hit, attracting more than 17,000 people, they also helped to reinforce the bookstore as a true social hub on campus.

Cosmo Makeovers Campus Stores

When Cosmopolitan Magazine, the leading magazine among college-aged women, wanted to reach more female students, they turned to  us to create exclusive events on ten of our campuses. Each event featured Cosmo taking over the campus bookstore for a day of beauty, setting up three different stations offering free manicures, mini-makeovers and hair consultations.

For this program, Cosmo’s goal was to engage female students between the ages of 18 to 24. Therefore, BNCM implemented a strategic approach to marketing the events. Our targeted campaign included: facebook, twitter, dedicated emails, in-store signage, café marketing, and invitations sent to our female millennials.  In addition, Cosmo featured ads for the tour in Cosmopolitan Magazine, which provided national exposure for both the universities and our bookstores. With the help of our store managers, we were able to execute an exciting program for our students and a successful campaign for our partner.

“This campaign was a true collaboration between so many groups,” said Stacey Merkin, Sr. Marketing Specialist for Barnes & Noble College. “From the Home Office to our regional and store managers to Cosmopolitan Magazine, everyone came together to make sure that all girls on these campuses would have the opportunity to enjoy this fabulous event.”


From campus to campus, each one of the ten Cosmo events was a stunning success, with large crowds and near continuous lines throughout the day. Students who visited the manicure station were able to choose from a wide variety of L’Oreal nail polish shades, including “I Pink I’m in Love.” Beauty experts at the hair consultation stations offered advice on what hair colors, styles and products best suited each visitor, while the third station pampered students with a mini-makeover, complete with beauty tips and product information. Attendees also received a “swag bag” filled with free goodies – including L’Oreal Paris hair color and perfume from Justin Bieber’s new fragrance line – as well as the opportunity to win a stylish Ann Taylor wardrobe sweepstakes prize and a $1,000 scholarship.

“We had lines throughout the entire day,” said Kathy Hayman, store manager at Barnes & Noble at Southern Mississippi. “The store was overflowing with people and it was a great way for new students to become acquainted with the bookstore right from the start.”


At George Mason University, Store Manager Barb Headley was pleasantly surprised by the incredible turnout for the event. “Cosmo did an amazing job of turning our bookstore into a mini-salon,” she said. “The feedback from the students was absolutely fantastic. It was a great way to welcome the students back to campus and offer them a really fun event – one that was absolutely free.”

Overall, the success of the Cosmo on Campus events was off the charts. The Barnes & Noble at IUPUI Bookstore at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, for example, saw a six percent increase in sales that day, while other schools, like the University of Southern Mississippi, experienced a significant increase in bookstore traffic. Yet the real success of these events was in their ability to continue to portray the campus bookstore as a true social hub on campus – not just a place to purchase textbooks and merchandise.

“It was really exciting to be able to showcase how the bookstore is so much more than a bookstore – it’s about the experience that we offer,” said Michele Gretch Carter, store manager at Barnes & Noble at IUPUI. “Working with a brand like Cosmo, that is so relevant to that age demographic, gave us the opportunity to really engage students and show them what the bookstore can do. We definitely took it to the next level.”

Building Bookstore Relevancy

‘Stack ‘em high and let it fly,’ used to be the mantra of retailers helping to usher in the golden age of consumerism. Those were simpler days, when a well-lit store and convenient parking kept the cash registers ringing, but today, things are very different. Catering to the needs of more savvy consumers, with changed expectations and the challenges of competitive technology, retailers are facing a perfect storm of changes to the way business used to be conducted. Those changes have never been more pronounced than within the college community, where the way a new generation of students shop, use technology and relate to brands they use has significantly altered the role of the campus bookstore.

In an attempt to better understand the changing attitudes, preferences and behaviors of today’s college students, University Business recently hosted a web-seminar titled, Transforming the Bookstore to Maximize Revenue Opportunities. During the hour-long presentation and Q&A webcast, guest presenters, Patrick Maloney, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Barnes & Noble College and Lisa Malat, Vice President, Marketing & Operations, revealed some of their observations and experiences with helping partner colleges understand this changing environment.

Maloney introduced the presentation by saying he had never been more excited about the industry, “I’m so bullish on the future of the campus store,” he said, “and our ability to create great bookstores that are vibrant destinations for your students while creating revenue for your schools.” Understanding that opportunity had come from the path Barnes & Noble College had forged from retail textbook provider to essential campus partner, a transformation that began with changing the retail model to provide greater textbook options in response to students’ need for more affordable course materials. Maloney pointed out that 80 percent of the company’s title base is now available for rent, while the company is also preparing the wider adoption of digital materials. But he explained that the way to be a more valid campus retailer, beyond just a transactional provider, is to reevaluate a stores’ relationship with its customers. “Customers want one-on-one relationships, and finding out what that individual customer wants and continually communicating with them is vital,” he said.

Ask, Listen, And Respond

Barnes & Noble College has discovered what customers want through extensive research and engagement, and currently employ a wide variety of channels, engaging nearly five million students and alumni through Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and the company’s The College Juice blog. These kinds of communications, together with research and surveys, have helped create a better understanding of what the customer needs and what they expect. “What we learned was that the bookstore won every time on the issues of credibility, convenience and service,” Maloney said. “And if we provided those key elements and kept focused on those differentiators, they would reward us with their business.”

The two-way communication is not only a useful research tool, and the kind of authentic communication that faithfully reflects the campus mission and values, but it can easily spill over to the physical bookstore footprint. A good example of this is the Igniting the New Student Connection initiative, a program which developed from customer input and has helped school partners drive $20 million through their bookstores during the Fall Rush period. “We found students want a connection to the brands they shop with,” co-presenter, Malat maintained. “They also need help, guidance and expert advice with what textbooks they need, what format is best, should they buy or rent — and they expect that clarification to come from the campus bookstore,” she added.

Students also want a voice, and Malat revealed that when the company launched their Facebook pages four years ago, it helped establish a new channel of conversation. Now, the company engages with over 700,000 users in social forums where they can answer textbook questions, share news about author events, supporting local causes, or ask students opinions on new product ideas. “To us, social is service,” Malat explained, “We ask, we listen, and we respond.” These kinds of interactions, and the physical importance of getting outside of the four walls of the bookstore to build relationships across the campus, can help not only drive more business to the store, but make it more relevant and the focus of a social hub to the college.

Fixated On Customers

Hundreds of business leaders logged into the seminar with its overriding message of customer interaction as being one of the most important keys to the success of the campus bookstore. “Everything we do is really driven by our customers, Malat maintained. “Stay close to your customers.” she advised, “Stay aligned and stay in tune with them.” COO Maloney said that results of Barnes & Noble Colleges’ recent Campus Partner Survey pointed to the fundamental message of the company’s mission. “We learned that student retention and recruitment were the top two priorities for our schools, and it’s our job to be thinking of ways to support those goals, and what role the campus bookstore can play to truly support that mission,” he said. Maloney also believes that those kinds of goals were the same goals on which Barnes & Noble College was founded; on the belief that students deserved more. “More than a series of retail transaction, we believe in continually listening and responding to the needs of our customers,” he maintained, “– that’s our fixation.”

To listen to a recording of the webinar, click here.