August 28th, 2008

Retailers Give it the Old College Try

By Jennifer Saranow
The Associated Press

Despite pushback from some schools, fashion brands plan to sell directly on campuses this fall to reach the lucrative college crowd.

Starting in September, flip-flop maker Havaianas, a brand owned by Sao Paulo Alpargatas SA, plans to set up a temporary “pop-up” store on five campuses in the U.S. To generate buzz, the Brazil-based brand will run competitions involving its footwear, awarding trips to Brazil as prizes.

Victoria’s Secret’s Pink, a young women’s clothing brand of Limited Brands Inc., this fall is opening its own pop-up store at about 12 schools, up from 10 last spring. The store opens for a day, selling merchandise, handing out promotional items and collecting used clothing for charity. Sustainable-clothing brand RVL7 is installing a bamboo-clad temporary ministore at six to eight campuses this fall, including the University of Colorado at Boulder and Arizona State University.

The race to introduce brands via these short-duration marketing and selling events is likely to accelerate. American Collegiate Intramural Sports, which sells sponsorships for college intramural programs and fitness centers, is seeking a fashion brand to sponsor fitness centers and host pop-up stores at 100 campuses in the next year.

Companies generally make a donation to the school, campus bookstore or student organization that sponsors their visits, which means hosting the stores can help raise funds for student groups.

Brands’ growing presence has more colleges balking at these campus marketing events and stores. The University of Florida recently rejected a request from Pink to visit this fall. The university doesn’t allow companies to do business on its campus. “There would be no end to it - you would have the whole campus covered with them in no time,” says school spokesman Steve Orlando. “We don’t want our faculty and students overrun with commercialization.”

The University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, meanwhile, have decided to quit allowing their names to be used on Pink’s new line of college-themed merchandise. Pink sells fleece pants and hoodies, among other items, bearing the names of 31 participating schools and says it will add at least five more by year end.

College students have long been a target for marketers looking to build brand loyalty. But only in the past few years have companies set up these temporary stores on campus, recruited students for paid positions to aggressively promote their products and hosted their own campus events. In the past, they would buy ads in college newspapers, hand out fliers or freebies, or co-sponsor larger campus events. Stores generally were located off campus, in college towns or spring-break hangouts.

The focus on college campuses comes as both the number and spending power of students have grown sharply. Roughly 18.3 million students will enroll in U.S. postsecondary institutions this fall, up 26 percent from 14.5 million a decade ago, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The discretionary spending of 18- to 30-year-old students is estimated to reach $53 billion this year, 10 percent more than last year and 29 percent more than in 2005, according to the latest College Explorer study by Harris Interactive for Alloy Media and Marketing.

While pop-up stores are primarily a brand-building tool, they also generate revenue. A Pink pop-up store at Penn State University rang up sales of about $20,000 in a single day during this past school year, a spokeswoman says. Kiehl’s Since 1851, a skin and hair-care company owned by L’Oreal SA, says its college pop-up stores performed “on par with what our normal store would do” in daily sales per square foot, according to a spokeswoman.

Schools sometimes reject the pop-up stores for scheduling reasons or because they don’t want the brands to compete with their own stores. San Diego State University recently said “no” to Havaianas because it didn’t want to lose sandal sales at its own store. Pink, which visited the University of Alabama in February, was told it couldn’t come back during the football season partly because its fleece clothing and sweats would compete with clothing sold by the school’s store, though it could return in the spring.

Some schools allow marketers to set up temporary shops only when sponsored by a student group. Pink, for instance, got the nod for a pop-up store this past January at the University of Tennessee because it was sponsored by a sorority. “A lot of things get approved,” says JJ Brown, associate dean of students. Many of the campaigns also have an educational or academic element, such as lessons about sustainability from RVL7 or interviews for internships at Pink, says H. Tony Berger, president of New York event-and-marketing firm Relevent, which helps organize campus campaigns. The result, he says, is that schools and students view the visits as having “added value.”

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