Lids is taking the leap overseas.
The largest brick-and-mortar retailer of licensed sports apparel is opening four stores in London this month and has plans to significantly expand its reach in the U.K. next year.
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All told, Lids is projecting it will have 20 stores operating in the U.K. by the end of 2022, according to Britten Maughan, the firm’s president.
“We have a large rollout plan,” he said. “London is a natural fit for Lids. The enthusiasm for both American sports and streetwear aligns with our on-field and fashion-focused hat and jersey assortment. We are excited to bring our brand and product to market.”
The first store opened in Seven Dials in Covent Garden last Friday and the second, at 02 Peninsula Square, is expected to open within a few days. The other two units will be in the Lakeside Shopping Centre in Essex and the Churchill Square Shopping Centre Russel Place in Brighton, which will open later this month.
The international rollout is part of the strategic growth plan put in place by Lids’ majority owner, Ames Watson, a Bethseda, Md.-based private equity firm that bought the company for $125 million in the beginning of 2019 in partnership with Meek Mill Partners and Fanatics.
Lids operates nearly 2,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada and has ongoing relationships with Macy’s and Designer Brands where it runs sports licensed team sports shops in their stores in North America. It also operates the newly opened National Hockey League flagship in New York City as well as the National Basketball Association flagship in New York and has annual sales of more than $1 billion. It operates an NBA store in London’s Soho neighborhood in partnership with Fanatics, which opened in July, as well as a Paris Saint Germain shop in Los Angeles.
“Lids has always been positioned as a giant in the headwear space,” Maughan said. “We’re in every mall in America — sometimes in multiple locations — and that gives us leverage with developers. We fundamentally disagree with the idea of the death of retail and the death of the mall.”
Since being acquired from Genesco by Ames Watson, Lids has expanded its store count and extended its partnerships with Macy’s and Designer Brands, he said. Lids has also launched private label headwear brands for the first time and moved significantly into jerseys and apparel.
“Originally we were only hat stores, but now, the eight- to 12-foot walls in our stores sell jerseys and shorts, and they’ve performed really well,” he said. Today, headwear still represents more than 50 percent of overall sales, followed by jerseys, which Maughan said are considered separate from apparel.
“People buy jerseys for more of a fashion purpose,” he said, adding that the company has recently been focusing on offering more fashion-forward product by working with its long-standing vendors to create exclusive merchandise that fits the bill.
The private label, which is sold under the Local Crowns and Rings & Crwns names, are focused more on the outdoors or generic sports such as hunting and fishing and do not use names or logos that require approval from leagues or licensees. “Right now we’re just doing headwear, but we have the rights for apparel, too,” Maughan said.
That product will be offered at the U.K. stores along with all of the top-selling U.S. league product from MLB, NFL and NBA, as well as items from national brands including Adidas, New Era Cap, ‘47, Mitchell & Ness, Hurley and Oakley.
Maughan said the Lids stores in New York and other large cities attract a lot of visitors from the U.K., which led to the company’s decision to start its international expansion in that country. “The U.K. customer is a fan of U.S. sports,” he said, pointing to the recent baseball and football games that were played by the major leagues in London. “And we believe a large contingent of consumers there are familiar with popular streetwear brands such as Mitchell & Ness.” Rather than buying sport-specific pieces, the U.K. customer is expected to respond more to the colors and logos on the merchandise instead of individual teams.
He said the mix will be tweaked a bit but will still offer mainly U.S. league product, focused on teams with an international following such as the Yankees, Dodgers, Cowboys, Lakers, Celtics and others — teams that are “brands in themselves,” he said. “We will tweak the assortment a bit, so there will be Premier League soccer merchandise, but it’ll be 5 percent of the assortment, not 95 percent.”
Each store will also feature Lids’ Custom Zones, which allow consumers to custom-embroider hats or apparel in-store and add player numbers and autographs.
“We want this to be like a Lids experience in the States,” Maughan said. “There are a lot of hats sold in the U.K., but there’s no one dedicated to headwear. So on Day One, we’re the largest headwear retailer in the market.”
Lids has contracted with a third-party distributor in the U.K. in order to ship its product from there rather than the U.S., he noted.
Since the first store had its soft opening a week ago, Maughan said sales have exceeded plan. “And that’s without any marketing, it’s just walk-by traffic,” he said.
Looking ahead, he said the company expects to further expand its footprint internationally, although there are no concrete plans for now. “We’re not ready to comment on the rest of Europe,” he said.
“Expanding in the U.K. is our top priority at Lids,” added Tom Ripley, chairman and chief executive officer of Lids and partner and co-founder at Ames Watson. “Lids has become one of the strongest retailers in North America and we’re thrilled to take this growth internationally as we look to open 100-plus stand-alone Lids stores in new markets. There has already been great success with the London NBA store operated by Lids since its grand opening earlier this year, and we are excited to introduce stand-alone Lids stores to an even larger audience of British customers.”