The University of Tennessee’s on-campus apparel and fan gear store was built in 1963, when the school’s student population was roughly 13,500 students. Until this summer, it hadn’t expanded or adjusted its “throw-it-on-the-rack-and-get-it-out-the-door” mentality.
This past June, that all changed as the University’s new 14,000-square-foot VolShop opened in University Center. The new store chiefly sells Tennessee apparel, including clothes, gifts, and accessories — essentially anything a die-hard Vols fan needs on fall Saturdays and all game days beyond. The retailer also offers school supplies, various technologies and several graduation services as well.
“The old store was built in 1963 and our student population was about half of what it is now – currently we have about 27,000 students – so obviously we needed to increase capacity,” says Drew Sims, associate director of the VolShop. “The new store is able to focus on some areas we’ve never done before — we’ve added a boutique, a jewelry counter, a cosmetic counter. We were so limited by space and now we can do more mainstream things on a college campus.”
Along with the new counters and expanded space, the University added several other retail stores to improve its students’ and campus visitors’ options.
“We’ve recently undergone a massive transformation,” Sims says. “Last fall, we added two [separate] 5,000-square-foot [satellite VolShop] stores that are just off the base of campus. … We added an Apple campus store, which is about 2,000 square feet, and our book store is right around 6,500 square feet.”
The New Stores
Of all the new campus retail stores, the University Center’s VolShop is the centerpiece, and along with its increased capacity and capabilities, it offers convenience to students and football fans alike. And with nearby Neyland Stadium, which holds 102,455 people, that’s a lot of potential customers waiting to flood its aisles.
“It’s directly across the street from Neyland Stadium,” Sims says. “Conveniently for students it’s right in the heart of campus. Above us we have dining services, career services and the bookstore; the tech store and the VolShop are all together, whereas before we were separated a little bit and you had to go around through the old building.”
The completion of the new University Center made expansion to the new on-campus store possible, and Sims says student and alumni reaction has been excellent, even during the summer.
“The good thing is we have orientation going on this month, so there’s thousands of parents and grandparents and friends here with the students, and they — especially the alumni — are amazed,” he says. “They’re saying, ‘This is not even close to what I had when I was here.’ It’s very rewarding to see.”
Along with the new on-campus VolShop, the school’s satellite stores have been operational since last fall.
“The one that’s on the outskirt of campus is built in a new retail facility that has a grocery store, a Wal-Mart, etc.,” Sims says. “That store is all one level and has a little bit of higher-end goods. The other store is right on what we call ‘The Strip,’ and this store is two floors and is connected to a dining facility.”
The supplies in each shop are tailored to its surrounding community in an effort to specialize and maximize sales. For instance, the higher-end supplies at the store in the retail facility is located near a more affluent part of town, and the store on The Strip carries more gameday supplies, as that area is popular for pre-game football celebrations. The campus VolShop carries just about everything the Tennessee faithful could want.
Another unique aspect about VolShop is it turns over all profits to the University.
“Your other stores in town, or even some bookstores, give a portion back,” Sims says. “We give 100% of the proceeds back to the University. That goes toward scholarships and new dorms and different construction. We feel like we play a small part of the big picture.”
The Nike Factor
Tennessee’s official athletic gear has been provided by adidas for more than a decade, but no longer. At the beginning of July, the school switched to Nike, and Sims says the timing could not have been more perfect to coincide with the opening of the new VolShop.
“It’s a great time to be in the VolShop business,” he says. “We were planning (the stores) before we even knew there was going to be a switch, and the timing just couldn’t be any better.”
Sims says fans formed lines in the early hours of July 1 outside the store to get their hands on the new Nike gear. Because of Nike’s popularity in the United States, it’s easy to see why Tennessee made the switch.
“It certainly made it easier for the administration when we were talking about the growth of sales as we go from adidas to the No. 1 overall sideline vendor (Nike) and No. 1 brand in the world,” Sims says, adding that he expects sales growth of nothing less than 40% because of the switch.
Those are jaw-dropping expectations, but it’s certainly within reason with the added convenience and quantity of stores, the addition of Nike and the simplicity of the VolShop online store.
One more addition is the Nike store inside Neyland Stadium, which is scheduled to be open for the 2015 season and is expected to do significant business during home football games in the fall.
“That’s 2,800 square feet and that’s featured on the west concourse of Neyland Stadium,” Sims says. “It’s right next to Gate 21, which is where about 60% of the fans come through. adidas, our former supplier, made that a concept store and Nike came in and completely renovated it. Our internal folks did a great job of getting that store ready.”