SAN DIEGO, CALIF., SKATEBOARD MAKER Randy Koch first heard about Florida Gulf Coast University through its breakthrough basketball team in March. He also realized the school might be a good place to sell his boards.
Students frequently skateboard to class. And with the year-round sunshine, Mr. Koch said, the usage potential was upped even more. But before he could print FGCU typeface and logos onto his Aerial Action Sports skateboards, he needed official approval.
“We try to select schools that are skateboard friendly, otherwise it’s an uphill battle,” said Mr. Koch, whose boards sell for $250 at the FGCU Bookstore.
Officially licensed college products nationwide make up $4.6 billion in retail sales per year, according to the Collegiate Licensing Company, which handles licensing arrangements for the country’s larger, prominent colleges and universities, such as the University of Florida.
Clothing makes up the bulk of sales, and most items are tied in some way to a sports mascot, whether UF’s Gator or FGCU’s Eagle. But besides the usual avalanche of sweatshirts, stickers and chip-n-dip helmets, schools extend their trademark images into all corners of the retail world. You can add Christmas ornaments, garden nomes, flash drives, musical instruments, and now something more fragrant to the list.
UF, FSU and 17 other schools around the country, started offering their own line of perfume and cologne this fall through a New Yorkbased company, Masik Collegiate Fragrances. Its researchers visit each campus to draw inspiration for a signature scent, one that captures the “essence” of that school. Fortunately, unrefined college odors like your roommate’s filthy socks or moldy Chinese leftovers were left out of the process.
“We joke about that, too,” said Katie Masich, the company’s founder and chief executive. “I went to a small school in Pennsylvania and I can remember certain times of the year my campus would smell like manure… Our idea was if we could pull on certain aspects of the campus and create this signature scent, over time people could embrace that and it could be a future reminder of their time at that college.”
Inspiration for the UF Gator scent, for example, was drawn from architectural landmarks such as Century Tower, the blue and green of the mascot, sunshine and smells such as a mimosa flower to create a scent that is “luminous, edgy and alluring.” For men, the smells include a complex mixture of fragrances such as sandalwood, mint and yuzu mandarin; for women, there are notes of cedarwood, pink rose and crisp pear. The 1.7-ounce bottles cost about $40.
“We’ve been so thrilled with the results,” Ms. Masich said. “We’ve held our own along with the top designer and celebrity fragrances.”
FGCU’s trip to the national basketball tournament in March, and that team’s Dunk City nickname — which instantly became a brand name — attracted new retailers as well.
Along with Aerial Action Sports, a new Fort Myers-based business, Scream Guitars, was added to FGCU’s list of licensees for the fall semester. Kurt Kiehnle, who lives near the school, founded the company.
His musical instruments are built using classic guitar-body types. Each is emblazoned with a custom logo that memorializes a company, school, business, or whatever image you can imagine on a guitar. While they are high-quality, playable instruments, Mr. Kiehnle says, they are at least as often bought simply as memorabilia. They’re sold at stores such as JP Sports in the Port Charlotte Town Center mall and Gulf Coast Town Center. Mr. Kiehnle plans on selling Gators, Seminoles and University of Miami Hurricanes themed instruments as well. The guitars cost $400.
In Naples, a company called Zooop It Up, which produces stylish, European-style onesies — described as “the ultimate comfy wear,” perfect for lounging, travel, or anywhere — is in the process of becoming an FGCU licensee. Zooop clothing starts around $150.
The company wants to use the FGCU logo because of its connection to a local school and “It’s an up and coming university,” said owner Fabien, who prefers to go just by his first name. “It’s a huge emerging market as far as the University is concerned.”
The college lifestyle
Clothing may be the lifeblood of a school’s retail efforts. But about 35 percent of officially licensed college products sold are non-apparel items, said Tammy Purves, communications director for the Collegiate Licensing Company.
“Really, college is a lifestyle brand more than just a sports brand,” she said.
It’s profitable for schools that create an ever-replenishing customer base of incoming students and outgoing alumni. Even at institutions such as FGCU, a smaller and younger school with fewer alumni and a sports team that only last year became a nationally known name, schools may benefit from the name recognition.
“I didn’t know much about FGCU, but I knew they were skateboard friendly,” said Mr. Koch of San Diego. “And they did really well in the basketball last year so I think that notched up school spirit. I’m on the other side of the country here, but I do know there was quite a bit of activity. I sold boards here to sports buyers that were showing the Florida Gulf Coast games, because they were out of nowhere. They were kind of an unknown out here. They just did really well.”
FGCU licensed products earn the school royalties of up to 8 percent. In addition, the school receives a commission on items sold at the bookstore itself. The school brings in roughly $750,000 to $800,000 per year just through its brickand mortar bookstore and its online sales (including class books and other items in addition to FGCU-themed merchandise), said Loren Privé, FGCU director of business operations.
Those royalties, which go to the school’s general revenue stream, are only a small part of the school budget, said Mr. Privé, but they “have more than doubled from the previous year,” based on the first two quarters of 2013.
“The local community, I would say from a merchandise perspective, is a big audience,” Mr. Privé said, but so are nonlocals. “We’ve seen a lot of continued support for the basketball team that’s translating into sales from all over the country.” ¦