Dec. 19, 2013
By Jerome Boettcher | Subscribe to Commodore Nation
James Franklin stood staring at a hat rack.
For a man who prides himself on wearing many metaphorical hats--salesman, publicist, promoter, motivational speaker-- along with his job as Vanderbilt's football coach, Franklin was puzzled to see a lack of Star V ball caps in a LIDS hat store not 15 miles from campus.
Turns out, the Commodores were represented but just in other parts of the store as LIDS spaces out their items via style, not team.
Franklin and director of football operations Michael Hazel connected with marketing specialist Mary Ann Daniel-Kaszuba over in Vanderbilt's licensing department. She contacted Daniel Phillips, a district sales manager for LIDS.
Together, they worked to make sure all Vanderbilt hatwear was grouped together and highly noticeable when fans walk in.
"We've altered our merchandise plan in Middle Tennessee to highlight Vanderbilt product," Phillips said. "It was a (national plan) that was in motion but hadn't been delivered yet to the field. Vanderbilt was the first move I made in the state of Tennessee."
Vanderbilt is no longer blending into the crowd. The Commodores stand out on shelves. "If you put a Star V on it," Beth Cain said, "it is going to sell."
The numbers support Cain, who is in her second year as the manager of the Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt bookstore on the corner of West End and 25th avenues.
During the 2012-13 fiscal year, gross royalties on Vanderbilt merchandise increased by 11 percent from the year before, according to data compiled by Collegiate Licensing Company.
That was the second-highest increase among SEC institutions represented by CLC. In fact, in the six years of Vanderbilt and CLC's partnership, Vanderbilt's royalties have increased year-over-year each year--and doubled since 2007. Of the 160-plus schools CLC represents, Vanderbilt ranks 58th--up 10 spots in the past six years.
"There for a while, people saw them as the smart school in the SEC," said Matt McCauley, president and CEO of Franklin-based Logo Chair Inc. "They have done a good job of putting Vanderbilt more on the map and out in front of people. Now they are a legitimate contender in a lot of sports. So that obviously helps our business."
In turn, it helps business at Vanderbilt and keeps Maggie Harris and Daniel-Kaszuba very busy.
The duo represents the trademark licensing team at Vanderbilt. Harris has been the university's director of trademark licensing since its inception in 2000.
Their jobs encompass all things Vanderbilt licensing. If a Star V or the word Vanderbilt stretch across a shirt, hat, sweater, socks--you name it--Harris and Daniel-Kaszuba have signed off on it.
"Our approval process helps to ensure the Vanderbilt brand is used appropriately," Daniel-Kaszuba said.
Three categories of licensing agreements exist--standard (bigger companies such as Nike or Under Armour), local (smaller companies) and internal (campus suppliers). For any Vanderbilt merchandise bought at retail, the university receives a 10 percent royalty fee.
"Universities rely heavily on royalties that are brought in to help fund university scholarships," Harris said. "We're all having to take a look at the revenue we're bringing in and find new opportunities to promote more collegiate product."
In the beginning, around the year 2000, Vanderbilt was just trying to get in Nashville stores. Just six years ago, according to Harris, Commodore hats and shirts weren't in the Nashville airport.
The Commodore Spirit Association was one program that was created to allow local retailers the opportunity to purchase small quantities of Vanderbilt product to sell in their stores. This program is no longer necessary because retailers are now committed to selling Vanderbilt products.
Early on, one of the biggest complaints Harris, Daniel-Kaszuba and Steve Walsh, the school's director of sales and marketing, kept hearing from fans was they couldn't find Commodore gear through all the UT orange.
Retailers want products they know will fly off shelves, and, in a sports crazed town, Vanderbilt is competing with the Titans, Predators and the University of Tennessee.
"Shelf space is so limited, and retailers have to put in product they know is going to sell," Harris said. "So when we're winning ball games, and fans are coming in looking for the Vanderbilt product, they know it is going to sell."
Not too long ago, Harris, Daniel-Kaszuba and Steve Walsh, the school's director of sales and marketing, made a push to make sure retailers on West End and close in proximity to campus was selling Vanderbilt gear.
"All these things over the course of time have started to build on one another," Walsh said. "Obviously the success in football helps. But it has just gradually grown and grown to the point where now we kind of have an anchor around campus. Now how do we get down to the Sam's Club in Franklin? How do we get in? Let's hunker down, let's grab the area around campus, and how do we build out from there?"
The growth is well underway.
Inroads are being made with bigger stores such as Academy Sports, Alumni Hall, Dick's Sporting Goods, LIDS, Sport Seasons and Cracker Barrel. In fact, the Star V can be found in 13 Cracker Barrel stores around the state now-- more than double than before.
"There is a stronger, more committed group of licensees for Vanderbilt than there was before July of 2007," said Tyler Stinnett, director of partner services for CLC. "Overall, just the growing retail footprint. They are just in more doors than they were six, seven, eight years ago.... We are continuing to grow Vanderbilt's footprint at retail and trying to get Vanderbilt placed in more doors than they have been."
According to Phillips, Vanderbilt is the No. 1 sales per percent school in LIDS stores in Middle Tennessee.
Logo Chair's McCauley credited the growth of Vanderbilt's licensing program for helping with sales. Logo Chair carries 44 Vanderbilt product lines --almost quadruple their original inventory.
"This increase is in part to each store selling more, but even more importantly getting to add new retailers," McCauley said. "More stores carrying Vandy, more exposure, and that always translates to more sales. The licensing department has done a great job helping to get us more exposure at more retailers."
With the evolution of the licensing program, Vanderbilt has been more selective when choosing licensees.
There are standards potential partners must meet: They must adhere to Vanderbilt's code of conduct and be members of the Fair Labor Association. Companies must disclose manufacturing information to avoid any association with sweatshops.
"That is something that the collegiate licensing industry has become very conscientious of in the last decade," Daniel-Kaszuba said.
Companies also must present a marketing plan to show they are serious about promoting and selling Vanderbilt product.
"We need a commitment from companies that want a license," said Harris, a former president of the International Collegiate Licensing Association. "We work together with CLC to find the right partners for Vanderbilt."
Logo Chair fits the bill.
Producing tailgate accessories such as tents, chairs, coolers and blankets, Logo Chair has been a Vanderbilt licensee for the past 11 years. Out of 380-plus schools Logo Chair has licensing agreements with, Commodore merchandise sales ranked 63rd in 2012 or just outside of the top 15 percent.
"A big spike since James Franklin was hired," McCauley said. "A lot of our business is driven by the tailgate business...Having a good football team always helps."
And having a proactive, interested, engaged head football coach doesn't hurt. Franklin has been a huge supporter of selling the Star V and all things black and gold. In July, when Harris and Daniel-Kaszuba met with their CLC representative, Tyler Stinnett, and buyers from Cracker Barrel and LIDS, Franklin joined them.
A Division I head football coach sat in a sales meeting for 90 minutes--just weeks before preseason camp.
"That is a first," said Stinnett, who has worked for CLC for more than eight years and represents several SEC and ACC schools.
"It really showed me coach Franklin is aware of the brand," Phillips said. "He understands the value of branding and the marketing of the brand. The fact that he took an hour and a half out of a day really spoke to that. He may not have all the answers but is wanting to learn and better understand other aspects of it."
The collaboration between merchandise sales and the athletics department has been seamless. Harris, Daniel-Kaszuba and Cain keep in constant contact with Walsh to promote the newest products during games and on the athletics' website.
Having a technologically savvy head football coach helps matters. Franklin often tweets about new items for sale and recently gave fans a heads up that the new shirts with "Chip" placed cleverly on the shoulder were in the bookstore.
The football team collaborated with the bookstore last summer before the 2012 season to show off brand new uniforms. A well-publicized event drew more than 1,200 people. Fans cozied up and swarmed the first and second floors of the bookstore to catch a glimpse of Zac Stacy and Jordan Rodgers glide down the escalators in glossy all-black or all-white unis.
"They were worried about the fire marshal shutting us down," Cain said, laughing. "Off the charts. People are still talking about that (night)."
Cain spent nearly 10 years at the University of Memphis and has worked for Barnes & Noble bookstores for the past 12 years.
The Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt bookstore, which formed two years ago, has been the school's biggest moneymaker. According to CLC, of wholesale sales from January to July 2013, 54.56 percent of total merchandise sales came through the bookstore. In fact, during that seven-month span, Vanderbilt ranked third out of 86 Barnes & Noble bookstores at colleges across the country. By comparison, bookstores at the rest of the SEC schools accounted for just 14.7 percent of wholesale sales. Cain says general merchandise sales in the bookstore increased 11 percent compared to last year, which she called a great year.
Children's apparel accounts for seven percent of the bookstore's total merchandise business. Fans can't get enough of trinkets for their dogs. Cain has even had requests for pasta in the shape of a Star V. She even had Georgia and Missouri fans buying Vanderbilt gear--she made sure to sell black ponchos to Bulldog fans before their rain-soaked game against Vanderbilt in October.
"We are more than just a bookstore, and that's the message we want to get out there," Cain said. "Our partnership with Maggie and Mary Ann could not be better. I want to be the No. 1 store. We want to beat everybody."
She is not alone.
Those inside the licensing and athletics department are proud of the growth but not satisfied. They encourage fans to keep calling if they can't find Vanderbilt in stores. Maybe the store is in process of purchasing more inventory.
Or maybe that company just wasn't a good fit for Vanderbilt.
But speaking up, like Franklin did, alerts retailers Vanderbilt is in hot demand.
"We know this is just the tip of the iceberg," Harris said. "We know there is still so much more to do. We are never going to stop. We just want to make sure people know this is important to us and Vanderbilt. We will continue to do what we can to find more opportunities for Vanderbilt product."
Selling the Star V
A look at the numbers inside Vanderbilt's merchandise success
• Gross royalties generated during the 2012-13 fiscal year increased 11 percent
• Second-highest increase in royalties among Southeastern Conference schools
• Apparel represent 63 percent of Vanderbilt's royalties (up 7 percent)
• Vanderbilt's top 35 licensees generated 75 percent of school's total royalty revenue
• General merchandise sales in Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt bookstore increased 11 percent
• Children's items accounted for seven percent of general merchandise sales at bookstore
• Bookstore accounted for 54 percent of Vanderbilt's wholesales sales from January-July 2013
• From January-July 2013, bookstore had third-highest sales of 86 Barnes & Noble college bookstores in the country
• Royalties for Vanderbilt have doubled since partnering with Collegiate Licensing Company in 2007
• Vanderbilt ranks 58th among Collegiate Licensing Company's 160-plus colleges and universities--up 10 spots in the last six years
* Information provided by Beth Cain at Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt and Tyler Stinnett of Collegiate Licensing Company