It was a big deal getting our house cleaned up for Thanksgiving this year. Work, school, youth sports, Phantoms games–always so much to do and it’s always more fun than cleaning up around the house. But we had folks coming over, so we had to get the place “ship shape.” I went to throw on a T-Shirt–and while I’ve a stack of orange Phantoms T-Shirts from last season, the stack of IronPigs T-Shirts was much, much larger. Now a sweatshirt to work outside: A choice of 6 different IronPigs sweatshirts. Don’t forget the cap: a plethora of IronPigs choices, too many to even list–but only two Phantoms caps, and they’re reserved for game-day wear.
It occurred to me that I didn’t have a ton of Phantoms stuff. Oh, I know, they’ve only been in the valley a year or two–and I’ve got the free hats and the free T-Shirts–but still, I haven’t been impressed with what they carry in their team shop. In other words, my lack of Phantoms gear is much more related to its availability as it is to the amount of time they’ve been in Allentown.
Later that day, I was checking in on SpaceBook and noticed that some of my Phantoms friends were expressing some frustration with the Phantoms team store as they begin their holiday shopping. Lack of selection, poor access, and the way they have their shops set up at the arena have been roadblocks to sales. It was very similar to what I had been thinking earlier in the day.
The thing is–they’re missing out. Sure, the jersey auctions are mostly “for profit” and are providing a nice cash flow both from the silent auctions as well as the on-line and auctioneer sessions they’ve had. And folks are purchasing items at the store in the arena as well as at the kiosk in the LV Mall. But still, it could be so much better for them. I think they underestimate the appetite for team-related items in the Lehigh Valley.
Have they seen the Majestic Clubhouse Store over at Coca Cola Park? The Reading baseball club put in a brand new team store with Mitchell and Ness sponsorship along with their remodel a couple years ago, too–and now it’s going gangbusters with the rebranding (despite what they might tell you about the reason behind the whole fiasco). They carry all kinds of name merchandise from Nike and Under Armour as well as the M&N stuff. Have the Phantoms been to an IronPigs game? It’s not easy to spot a fan who DOESN’T have team-branded clothing on–be it a hat or T-Shirt or jersey or whatever. Sure, some of it is give-away stuff–but much of it is purchased from the clubhouse store.
Certainly, there’s team-branded stuff on display walking around the concourse at the PPL Center, but it’s just as likely to be Flyers, or Philadelphia Phantoms as it is new arena store-sold items. So what should the Phantoms do? How to remedy this and make a little more cash in the process? I’m here to help:
- Carry plenty of quality, branded merchandise. Yes, it costs money and is overhead, but you have to have it to sell it. Reebok/CCM is the big one for hockey, but depending on how the contracts are, consider some Nike or Under Armour gear as well, if possible. Carry a few “authentic” quality jerseys–even if you have to sell them without numbers/names or if you have to charge a fortune. Perhaps just pick a couple of the popular players–jersey auctions will tell you who that is–and have a few made up to sell in the store. Remember that hockey is mostly a winter sport, so have plenty of long-sleeve items as well as sweatshirts and sweat pants, winter hats, and heavier jackets. Remember, I want NAME BRAND stuff–and I do understand there may be some exclusivity via the AHL or whatnot in terms of who’s allowed to produce such merchandise, but I’m sure it can be done.
- Create a bigger space. I’ve got a solution for this, too–see below. But many times before and during games, one must wait in line to even access the store. You can hardly move once you get in there. The smaller kiosks about the concourse don’t have all the merchandise in all the sizes. The one up front, which is open on non-event nights, chronically suffers from this problem. None of this is making it any easier for consumers to purchase goods. The easier it is, the more they will sell.
- Create more access. As above, the larger space will allow for more people to get in and out during the events, but extended hours and an easy to find entrance will permit for downtown shoppers to spend their money on the Phantoms.
So where to put it? As first, I thought maybe they should re-open the storefront down the street. However, that space isn’t that big, either, and would be redundant on game days–forcing double-stocking and double personnel. Even though we need access at non-event times, game days are still the best chance to make sales–so something accessible to the arena concourse is a must. Plus, I support their idea of having a kiosk at the the mall–it’s a good way to attract casual fans as well.
So here’s my solution: build something connected to the lobby of the hotel. On non-event days, the store would be accessible from the hotel lobby and a neat attraction for hotel guests. Plus, the added traffic through the lobby might attract additional patrons to the Dime restaurant upstairs. On game days as well as event nights, the store would be open from the concourse side and the door to the hotel lobby would be locked. This more permanent location could have some signage from the outside and could be a bit larger. It could be open any set hours the team would desire for staffing–and not dependent on the arena staff. If the facility would have enough space, a small corner with a few selected SteelHawks items–on sale year-round–might be a good idea. On SteelHawks game days, additional space could be cleared for an enhanced supply of their team-branded gear.
I know the above suggestion might require some construction–not to mention some cooperation from the hotel. But, I think everyone wins.
One more thing: Another way to help here might be to make the online store more robust and to make more items available online. I notice that the Reading baseball team and the IronPigs don’t always list every item online–probably because it’s difficult to track inventory and maintain the accuracy of the website. However, if the Phantoms can’t improve their brick and mortar retail experience, they can certainly dedicate some time and I.T. resources to make sure they have the best possible presence on the internet.
See you at the arena–probably in line for the store,
PS: Hey Steel FC! Pay attention to this stuff. I know you’re running everything through Chester right now, but you’re going to want to capitalize on the sales of your branded merchandise. Again, if you’re not able to have a physical retail presence in the Lehigh Valley, you will want to make sure you have the best possible online alternative. And of course, you can sell the stuff out of your stadium store, as well. There are already folks trying to buy Steel FC merchandise online–asking where to get it and so on. Take advantage.