If the employees at College Book Store in downtown Athens look a little tired this week, that’s because they’ve been working around the clock to meet the unprecedented demand for Ohio University apparel — demand fueled by tonight’s Sweet 16 match-up between the OU Bobcats and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.
According to Andrew Stout, licensed products manager at College Book Store, sales skyrocketed this week following the OU men’s basketball team’s wins against the University of Michigan on Friday and the University of South Florida on Sunday. He said Monday’s online sales of OU apparel were triple what the business sees during its busiest holiday shopping days.
In fact, Stout said he charts the number of holiday orders on a wall in his office, and when he charted Monday’s orders, he actually had to mark the day’s total orders on the office’s ceiling. The store’s website was so busy that its server crashed at least twice on Monday.
In his 23 years at College Book Store, Stout said he’s never seen such a frenzy for OU merchandise. This is the first time the Bobcats have made it to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 in nearly 50 years, and Stout, who on average designs one new OU shirt per week, has already created 12 new shirts this week.
Stout designs apparel and merchandise with official licensing rights from Ohio University and said most of the business’ sales come from online ordering. Because he is not officially licensed through the NCAA, he cannot create merchandise featuring the NCAA logo or any coined terms used by the college sports organization, such as “March Madness,” “brackets,” “Sweet Sixteen,” “Elite Eight” or “Final Four.”
However, College Book Store does carry new officially licensed NCAA Bobcats merchandise.
Due to licensing restrictions from the NCAA, Stout said he has had to be creative in designing new shirts to highlight the Bobcats’ road to success in the basketball tournament. He said one of the most popular new designs he created simply says “MichiGONE!” which he created following OU’s victory over the University of Michigan.
Stout said the “MichiGONE” shirt has not only been popular in Ohio, but also in Michigan where there is also a big rivalry between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
Another one of Stout’s popular shirt designs came by accident. Stout told The Messenger he created a graphic that featured the Bobcat logo on a basketball with the word “Sweet!” above and posted the graphic on the store’s Facebook page. He said while the business didn’t have many Facebook fans, the few fans it did have shared the graphic with friends and family via Facebook and soon requests started pouring in for shirts featuring the graphic. He said within hours, he had the graphic put on a shirt and they’ve been selling like crazy.
“Facebook has really changed the way we do business,” Stout said.
While most of the store’s business this week has been coming from online shoppers, Stout said people who work for OU and in downtown Athens have been swarming the store during their lunch breaks.
Stout said sales during OU’s spring break are typically very sparse and the store has been struggling to keep up with the demand without the help of its student employees.
“There’s no manual on how to do a Sweet Sixteen,” Stout said. “We’re not built for that kind of volume, and it’s been a monumental task to get all these orders out.”
Stout said he and other employees at College Book Store have been working until “stupid o’clock,” adding that employees have been leaving work around midnight and returning at 5 a.m. to keep up with the demand.
“I feel like I got dropped on the moon,” he said.
While this week has been extremely stressful for College Book Store’s employees, Stout said OU’s trip to the Sweet Sixteen is a huge boost to the local economy. He said not only are his employees busy, but the shirts he designs are printed by other businesses in Athens County and distributed by Ohio companies.
With a rough economy, Stout said the business is grateful for the uptick in sales.
“It’s jobs. I’m not complaining,” he said.
Stout noted that a few of the Bobcat basketball players visited College Book Store earlier this week, giving him a chance to thank them for the economic impact they are having on the region as well as the excitement in the community generated by their success.
Stout said he can’t imagine how busy the store will be if the Bobcats beat the Tar Heels on Friday and advance to the Elite Eight. Although OU students are on spring break until Monday, Stout said he predicts that some students will return to campus today to watch the big game.
“It’s more exciting to watch the game on campus,” he said.
While the College Book Store is one of the largest producers of officially licensed Bobcat gear, other downtown businesses are seeing increased sales as well.
Mario Cinquepalmi, store manager at UniversiTees, said the store had a huge burst of online sales on Sunday. He said the store has not created any new shirts for the NCAA Tournament, but said their standard men’s basketball shirts have been popular sellers.