True North Sports & Entertainment is looking to carve out its own niche of Winnipeg Jets merchandise.
The owner of the NHL's newest team has just opened its second Jets Gear retail outlet Wednesday. The nearly 2,000-square-foot location at St. Vital Centre follows the one opened several months ago at the MTS Centre and it may not be the last, according to Mark Chipman, True North's chairman.
"Edmonton has four (team-owned stores). We have a smaller in-arena store than the average in the league, so it was easy to make the case for an additional store. Depending on how it goes, we'll determine if we can grow beyond that. Some Canadian NHL teams have many retail outlets," said Chipman.
Even though it's hard to go virtually anywhere in town without seeing somebody wearing a Jets hoodie, T-shirt, hat or jersey emblazoned with the new logo, the team doesn't profit from most of that business because it happens at other retailers.
"The majority of Jets merchandise isn't sold by us. We only benefit from the merchandise sold out of the (Jets Gear) store, not from the retail sales of Jets-logoed merchandise anywhere else. The NHL is the beneficiary of licenced revenue and the retailers benefit from the sale (of the various items). We don't get any residual cheques from Sport Chek," he said.
Not surprisingly, traffic at the new Jets Gear location has been brisk to say the least.
"It's absolutely crazy," said James Scott, the store's manager. "We're excited not just to be a part of the mall but to branch out (from the MTS Centre) as well. We want to make sure fans get their Winnipeg Jets fix all in time for Christmas."
In addition to selling pretty much anything with a Jets logo on it, the St. Vital store is also expecting its first shipment of game-used equipment, including sticks and gloves, that won't be available anywhere else in town.
Scott said he's optimistic he'll also be able to sell game-worn skates and pants.
Fellow tenants at St. Vital Centre could hardly be happier, according to Cheryl Mazur, the mall's manager. She said the Jets Gear store has been busy since it first opened its doors Tuesday morning, even though it still hasn't fully stocked its shelves.
"It's a very big deal," she said. "A lot of men don't like to shop but if you put a sports store in there, you'll see more men out shopping."
The timing of the Jets Gear store could hardly be better, she said, as it comes at the beginning of the all-important Christmas season. Its popularity will undoubtedly be felt at the cashiers of other mall retailers, she said.
"There will be spillover. Just like at Polo Park, where people come to the Apple store and then go through the rest of the mall and do some shopping, we expect the same thing will happen here. The Jets Gear store coming here benefits everybody at the mall. A lot of our other retailers are thrilled to have them here," she said.
The arrival of Jets Gear brings St. Vital Centre's vacancy rate down to virtually zero, Mazur added.
Developing all-star kids
TRUE North's charity division, formerly known as the Manitoba Moose Yearling Foundation, is expected to dole out more than $1 million to worthy organizations this season, up from $300,000 a year ago.
Now rebranded as the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation, the already long list of programs it supported over the last 15 years is sure to get a lot longer. Its mandate is to provide funds to registered charitable organizations in Manitoba that provide programs and initiatives for young people with a focus on healthy living.
One of them is its own hockey initiative, called the True North Hockey Academy, which provides ice time, equipment, busing, food and instruction to 150 financially disadvantaged kids from across Winnipeg. At first blush, the main goal appears to be teaching them how to play the game, but True North chairman Mark Chipman said there's much more to it than that. He wants to build all-star human beings.
"You can't participate if you're not attending school. This program is designed to build self-esteem and improve attendance rates at school," he said. "Our objective is to grow it as quickly as we can without sacrificing the quality."
The foundation gets its money from fundraising initiatives such as last week's Mike Keane Celebrity Hockey Classic in which 18 beer-league teams drafted a former NHL star to play on their team for the day, a golf tournament, the sale of the just-announced specialty Jets licence plates and half of the money raised for 50-50 draws at every home game.