Campus Retail and its Impact on Universities

For savvy retailers large and small, putting boots on the ground on or near college campuses has become a massive opportunity to expand their operations and capture the undivided attention of a niche market: students. Students’ demand for college essentials in a convenient location while away at school has led retailers to expand their presence on campuses throughout the country and create college-geared shopping experiences. To better understand the potential of this growing market, our very own Executive Vice President of Brokerage Services and Principal Steve Niggeman breaks down the evolution of campus retail and how Metro Commercial is helping colleges and universities curate the ideal retail mix for their students. 

What has fueled the evolution of campus retail?

Steve Niggeman: Campus retail is evolving to better serve the needs of universities and their communities. Like in any major market, when retail supplies a need, it is always a good thing. Looking at university campuses, there is a captive audience of thousands of students and faculty. This is a close-knit community that retailers need to support on an annual basis with the full-Monty of amenities, including entertainment and fitness options, school essentials, home supplies, groceries, and more. Sure, students can order their necessities online or ask their parents for a care package, but if universities want to stand out in this competitive market, offering a range of retail uses right on campus will capture prospective students seeking convenience, especially if they will be far from home and not have their car on campus. Incorporating retail on college campuses is not necessarily a new tactic; however, universities are constantly trying to improve upon their offerings and bring in a variety of uses that fulfill the needs and wants of their current students and attract new ones.

How is Metro Commercial helping to bring national retailers to university campuses across the country?

Niggeman: Our team first assesses what retail categories the university currently provides and which retailers are already in the neighborhood. Based on our evaluation, we identify potential retailers who will add value to the campus. For example, I represent Target and am a part of the Target College Campus Initiative. I’ve helped bring small-format Targets to Penn State University, Ohio State University, and the University of Cincinnati and am currently working on deals with a number of Philadelphia universities. These Target stores are successful because they determine what the campus lacks, or already has, and tailor their merchandise accordingly. In these cases, the target customers are students, faculty, and the surrounding community. At Metro Commercial, we also work with private student housing developers, adding retail to their properties and off-campus property landlords to help them get the right retailer for their project.

Why do retailers like Target want to be on university campuses?

Niggeman: Target and other retailers want to be on university campuses for a number of reasons. On university campuses, Target has the ability to sell merchandise that it knows students will buy. If you think about what college students want, it mainly revolves around groceries, grab-and-go food, and clothing with an emphasis on loungewear including sweatpants, hoodies, and t-shirts. That’s exactly what Target supplies in its campus stores. You also have to think about the opportunity for Target on the fulfillment side of the business. Years ago, parents would send their students care packages directly to the campus mailroom. Today, parents can go online to Target and order a custom package for students with just a click of the button. The student then walks across campus and grabs his or her package potentially that same day.

Something to keep in mind, however, is that a retailer that works well on one campus might not be as appealing on another. For example, we’re seeing more Anthropologies appearing on campuses. But Anthropologie might not be a fit for the student body in all markets nationwide.

How is campus retail rebranding itself to appeal to the younger generation starting to head to college?

Niggeman: Retailers that want to be on university campuses understand the younger generation and what attracts this age group — they have to in order to be successful. Target and other campus retailers support the community and sell merchandise that makes sense for not only the students but for that location and the university. A Target at Penn State University will likely look different than the Target at University of California, Berkeley. Again, it’s all about paying attention to your audience and curating the merchandise accordingly. If campus retailers want to attract these young shoppers and turn them into life-long customers, they should offer special incentives for university students including after-hour shopping events and accept university currency.

What goals does Metro Commercial have to expand its campus retail platform in 2019?

Niggeman: The goal is to continue partnering with universities to help them develop a retail merchandising strategy that is designed with the university and its constituents in mind. The challenge is some universities want little to no control over the area’s retail offerings while others want complete control. In either situation, our objective doesn’t change. With our campus retail expertise, we hope to support not only universities, but their students/faculty, surrounding community, the retailers who want to serve them, and the student housing developers who are also working to add value.

Moving forward, campus retail will continue to grow and evolve to meet the changing needs of students. College is about more than education, it is about the experience. Campus retail adds to the overall experience, gives universities a competitive edge, and supports the needs of students, faculty, and the surrounding community.

Copyright 2019 Metro Commercial Real Estate, LLC