Lids debuts university-oriented storefronts

Lids U has three on-mall locations open.
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· 3 min read

Just in time for tailgate season, Lids is taking its talents to university. The hat chain recently debuted three new storefronts exclusively for college gear and has plans to open more.

Lids U is the company’s venture into collegiate athletic gear, a market that Lawrence Berger, partner and co-founder of Lids’ parent company Ames Watson, told Retail Brew is ripe for new customers.

  • “We thought that there was a really big gap in the marketplace on it, and then we also thought that there was an ability over time to do what we do really well, which is really curated, interesting product that’s not just for the fan, but it’s also fashionable,” Berger said.

Lids, which has ~1,200 retail locations and an estimated 8,500+ employees, already provides products for many university bookstores through a secondary business called Fanatics Lids College, and Berger said they could tell demand for collegiate apparel was top of mind based on that business. The new concept will feature a significant assortment of NCAA products, including headwear, clothing, and accessories from local, regional, and national university and collegiate teams.

Lids U, which averages 2,500 square feet, will have mall and standalone locations in various states including Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina. The plan is to open eight more locations this year with more to come in 2023. The first three stores opened July 22 at Gurnee Mills in Chicago; the Mall of Georgia in Buford, Georgia; and the San Marcos Premium Outlets in San Marcos, Texas.

The stores will also feature Lids’ signature “custom zones,” which allow consumers to custom-embroider a product of their choice in-store. They’ll also carry apparel brands such as Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and Fanatics.

  • “When you come in there every single month, there should be some new, interesting product that you haven’t seen before that you’re only going to find in that brick-and-mortar store,” Berger said.
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The collegiate apparel market, according to Berger, is hot right now based on consumer demand. Nike and Fanatics recently entered a deal for NCAA fan gear distribution, which includes replica jerseys, sideline clothes, and headwear.

“There’s such deep interest in product in those stores from current students and also from alums,” Berger said. “But we also know that not everybody can get to the college bookstore and there are plenty of fans all over the country who are looking for product from lots of different universities.”

Lids U is only the latest venture for the company: In February, Lids introduced a hat drop website where customers can only buy a singly-produced hat for a brief period of time. The site was created for Lids’ most dedicated customers, but Berger said that “it’s probably the most successful launch” that Lids has ever done.

  • Berger declined to disclose Lids revenue and sales numbers from the drop website, but said the company is doing roughly 60 drops a year, which all sell out up to a “few thousand” hats in an average of four minutes.
  • The average Lids store has between 9,000 and 15,000 SKUs.
  • Additionally, Lids wants to introduce exclusive apparel items, like jerseys, in the future.

“There’s a core set of customers who are really hardcore, and we’re just thrilled with what’s going on there,” Berger said.—KM

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