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Retailer Lids strives for Super Bowl dominance

February 2, 2012
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Lids Sports Group is emerging as an early Super Bowl winner among local businesses after betting big that souvenir sales would shine.

The chain once known as Hat World is doing brisk business at a handful of temporary Super Bowl shops, most notably its huge retail operations at The Huddle and at Indianapolis International Airport.

Indianapolis-based Lids operated on a much smaller scale at last year's Super Bowl in Dallas but decided to up the ante for its hometown, agreeing early on to donate apparel for Host Committee volunteers and lease space in The Huddle before other tenants were sold on the concept, said Lids President Ken Kocher.

The chain transformed 23,000 square feet on the second floor of the former Circle Centre Nordstrom store into a wonderland of Super Bowl apparel, hats and souvenirs. About 150 Lids associates from across the country are staffing the store, with support from 250 volunteers with ties to the chain's corporate offices. (To view inside the Huddle location, see video below.)

“This has nothing to do with Lids making a nickel off the Super Bowl,” Kocher said. “If we make money, that’s great. But this had everything to do with getting our company and our employees involved with a potentially one-time event for the city.”

The Huddle shop is in addition to three separate storefronts in the Pan Am Plaza office building at Georgia and Capitol streets and an expansive operation at the airport.

Lids' strategy has surprised many of its competitors, including locally based MainGate, which operates Colts Pro Shop locations (now stocked with Super Bowl gear) at Circle Centre, Greenwood Park and Castleton Square malls. MainGate also operates 11 NFL Shop-branded apparel stands at downtown hotels including the JW Marriott.

"What they're doing is very aggressive and impressive," said MainGate CEO Dave Moroknek. "But early indications are there's enough business to go around."

The first Super Bowl in Indianapolis was on track for record merchandise saleseven before most visiting New York Giants and New England Patriots fans arrived in townthanks largely to an energized local fan base that has flocked downtown to check out the NFL Experience and Super Bowl Village.

The NFL Experience was on track to break its all-time attendance record by Thursday, three days before the Super Bowl. Sales at the Super Bowl-transformed Colts Pro Shop at Circle Centre have exceeded goals by 25 percent every day so far.

"I think everyone was surprised this weekend by the phenomenal turnout downtown," Moroknek said.

Fans from all over Indiana and even neighboring states have visited since Super Bowls rarely are played in the Midwest. MainGate's shops have placed "chase" orders to replenish supplies of fast-selling items like the gray matchup T-shirt, shot glasses and credential holders.

Super Bowl sales at Lids are "ahead of expectations," Kocher said, but he declined to provide details.  He said he was not allowed to disclose the price Lids is paying the Super Bowl Host Committee for its space at The Huddle. The rent is rumored to be more than $500,000 for just 10 days of business.

Kocher noted the chain will donate a portion of sales, amounting to a six-figure sum, to the newly formed Lids Foundation, which is focused on supporting "active lifestyle programs" for disadvantaged young people.

Lids' Super Bowl shops also are everywhere at Indianapolis International Airport: baggage claim, both concourses and in the main plaza, where Lids operates a Locker Room three times the size of the chain's typical footprint.

Lids was a natural candidate to run pop-up retail shops at the Indianapolis International Airport since the chain has a permanent shop in the terminal's main plaza, said Jerry Wise, the airport's retail director.

The extra shops opened Jan. 25 and will remain open for at least a week after the Super Bowl, depending on inventory levels, Wise said. Sales have been strong; Lids generated more than $70,000 in revenue on Jan. 29, before many visitors even landed in Indianapolis.

The airport lease arrangement does not charge a base rent but calls for Lids to pay 20 percent of sales for the space. The Airport Authority has the same arrangement with other temporary Super Bowl vendors, including Atlanta-based The Paradies Shops.

Wise said the airport is projecting it will earn between $200,000 and $250,000 on more than $1 million in extra merchandise sales during the Super Bowl festivities, though he added the figures could wind up looking "very conservative."

Kocher said Lids is happy to play a part in the big game.

"The city of Indianapolis has embraced this Super Bowl in an unbelievable way," he said. "This would be hard to replicate anywhere else."

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