Today, sports gear brand Lids announced that it would be expanding to the U.K. for the first time with four new London-based stores.
Lids was founded in 1995 in Indianapolis as a store that primarily sold hats for fans of professional and college sports teams. Over time, the retailer expanded to over 1,000 stores across the U.S. and Canada, primarily located in malls and shopping centers. While Lids dominated the mall scene of the early aughts, the company started reporting year-over-year declines in sales and foot traffic in 2017 and early 2018.
At the end of 2018, private investment firm Ames Watson acquired the company for roughly $100 million. At the time, Ames Watson’s co-founder Lawrence Berger said that the firm wanted to combat the decline of the shopping mall with a diversified product mix — moving beyond hats into further fan apparel and streetwear — and building stronger relationships with its sports team partners.
Now, Lids is opening new brick-and-mortar stores in four London metropolitan shopping centers to kick off its plans “to open 100+ standalone Lids stores in new markets,” said Lids CEO Tom Ripley in the brand’s press release.
Lids’ President Britten Maughan talked with Modern Retail about the resonance of U.S. sports across the pond, the importance of personalization in sportswear and future international expansion plans. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you choose the U.K. — and the London metropolitan region specifically — as your first foray into Europe? Why did you think the region would be a good fit for the brand?
There’s a lot of reasons for it. One is we have good data on that region’s customer base. A lot of our best stores are in New York City and, due to the proximity to the U.K., we get a strong tourist business, historically, from the U.K. They’re coming into our stores in New York City, buying a lot of products and leaving comments like ‘Hey, we wish you were in the U.K.’
The leagues that we partner with have done a nice job cultivating a fan base there from a pro sport perspective. The NFL plays games there. There is a pretty feverish fan base of MLB, NFL and NBA in the U.K. Then there’s also a nice appreciation for American fashion and streetwear.
Many of Lids’ products are centered on American sports leagues. Do you feel that these leagues’ gear will resonate the same way in Europe or are you adapting product to the region?
We believe that there are Europeans — specifically those in London — today that want access to American sports, and they want access to the Lids experience. We see it when they come to our stores in the U.S. If you think about what kind of product will be in these [London] stores, it’s not going to be a European Premier League store. They can find that already. Will we carry Premier League product? Absolutely. But the emphasis is going to be on Major League Baseball, which is our top-selling league.
If you think about it, people want to wear the NY for New York City, they want to wear the LA for Dodgers. They are popular teams, but they’re also fashion icons. And then within each of these leagues, there’s these iconic teams that transcend the league itself and our brands: the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics.
We’re going to provide those types of products to these fans, to give them access in a way that they don’t have today. No one in Europe today dedicates an entire store to nothing but headwear and jerseys and that’s what we aim to do. They’ll have the largest selection of headwear of not just licensed pro sports teams but also streetwear brands that we carry in the States [like] Hurley or Adidas.
Each of your new stores will have customization stations where customers can add embroidery to their purchases, including player autographs. Can you talk a bit about the importance of customization for the Lids brand?
[Customization] is one of our core competencies. Customers, in today’s day and age, want to express themselves and individualism is huge. This allows them to make any hat a one-of-one, the only hat on the planet, right when they walk out of the store… Almost 10% of our purchases in the United States include some form of personalization.
Do you think consumers in the U.K. will also have that interest in personalization?
I think individualism is worldwide at this point. I don’t think that’s unique to America. And I think having that option, people are going to take advantage of it.
What’s next? Do you plan on expanding to other regions or adding further U..K stores in the near future?
We absolutely have a pipeline of stores for the U.K., we have four that will be open by the end of December and then we have additional leases that are being signed. So as we think about the end of the year — next year 2022 — I would anticipate that we have a meaningful amount of stores there. The range of 20 to 25 would be our would be our estimate at this point. And then at that point, does it open up other opportunities within Europe? We’ll wait and see.