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From Seasonal to Staple

Youngstown, Ohio’s Touchdown Gifts has evolved from mall kiosk to a 3,000-square-foot retail store.

By John Burns, Contributing Writer
October 5, 2016

363x277Front-Left-Angle-3Starting a business can be a massive learning experience and an exercise in patience, and Stephanie Mansour’s road to success in her Touchdown Gifts retail store is no exception.

Mansour, legally deaf, worked government jobs in the early part of her professional career and helped her parents with a gift-basket store in Pennsylvania.

“We did Penn State and (Pittsburgh) Steelers gift baskets,” says Mansour, Touchdown Gifts’ owner. “Somebody in Ohio who was the [Southern Park Mall] manager at the time received a Steelers gift basket and asked us to set up a kiosk.”

So, 18 years ago, Mansour opened up a 4’ x 4’ booth in Youngstown’s Southern Park Mall, selling various sports teams gift baskets. The gig was seasonal — November to December — but as the years went by, the little booth grew in size and popularity.

“People started asking me for Ohio State and Cleveland Browns gift baskets,” Mansour recalls. “Then, in the second and third year, people were asking for other teams, so I took notes. If there were five or more requests per team, I would bring it by the following year.”

Expanding
She soon learned that not everyone wanted to buy a large gift basket, especially if it contained only one or two things they wanted. For this reason, she changed the kiosk into a brick-and-mortar store.

“By the fifth year, people started asking for individual items in the gift basket,” Mansour says. “Then, I started ordering individual items and people were buying them off the shelves. We went from a 4’ x 4’ to a 6’ x 6’ to an 8’ x 8’, all the way to a 16’ x 16’, until the mall manager said, ‘You’re too big to be in the center of the mall anymore. You have to be inline.’ So we went inline and evolved from there.”

After spending about eight years as a sports-gift kiosk, Mansour’s seasonal operation became a regular staple as a 3,000-square-foot retail store in the mall. Mansour only previously ran a seasonal football gift-baskets stall and had no experience running a year-round business, much less a store that sells all sports-related products, not just football.

The first year involved a steep learning curve.

“I only knew NFL teams, and knew what sells [seasonally],” she says. “I had to basically listen and learn what the customers were looking for in MLB, NHL, NBA teams. I was better prepared the second year.”

Adapting
Situated almost directly between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Touchdown Gifts has no shortage of professional and collegiate teams to cater to, so adapting to customers’ wants and needs was essential to Mansour’s business success. And though there are a lot of local fans around, Touchdown Gifts also sells plenty of out-of-area team merchandise.

“Mainly Pirates and Indians fans [during baseball season],” she says. “But we see a lot of [University of] Michigan fans, Ohio State fans, Cleveland Browns, Steelers, 49ers and, of course, Cowboys fans [at other times].”

In fact, Mansour says her store relies heavily on selling out-of-area merchandise; and unlike many smaller stores, she has success doing it. Why? Touchdown Gifts is one of the rare one-off retail stores in the United States that has an account with Nike — a huge advantage.

“Nike — the name in and of itself is huge,” Mansour says. “It brings a lot of traffic to my store, I know that. Ever since Nike took over as [chief apparel supplier] from Reebok in my store, it has made a huge difference. A lot of my apparel is Nike sideline or Nike fashion, and you don’t find a lot of what I have in the other stores around here.”

So when Mansour sells out of San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles or Carolina Panthers gear, it’s not exactly surprising.

Interestingly, Touchdown Gifts doesn’t sell jerseys, even though Nike is the official provider of NFL jerseys. While some say the retailer is missing out on revenue, Mansour says other nearby big-box stores have a strong grip on jersey sales. Moreover, she doesn’t see her store as a jersey seller; instead, she says it’s more of a T-shirt, sideline apparel and accessories retail outlet.

“There is a Dick’s [Sporting Goods] down the street and a Foot Locker, [both selling] jerseys; I try to be creative and bring in more sideline apparel instead of jerseys,” Mansour says. “Jerseys, you can find anywhere.”

Peak Season
For a sports merchandise retailer in the Northeast — and, indeed, most parts of the country — peak season lasts from football season into the holidays.

“During football season, there are so many popular teams,” Mansour says. “Football is also near the holidays, which is like a double bonus.”

And that fall and winter success can carry over if there is an especially popular football team or player making a deep run in the playoffs, which is exactly what happened last season.

“Football-season success is also based on who’s in the playoffs – like the Panthers last year,” Mansour says. “I was wiped out to the very last T-shirt.”

For Touchdown Gifts, the basketball and baseball seasons can be considered downtime because there are only a few popular local baseball teams, and the craze surrounding those teams is not as rampant as it is for football.

When baseball team rolls around, Touchdown Gifts undergoes a transformation of sorts. Mansour stores most of the football gear and brings in fresh baseball and basketball gear until summer.

“As soon as July rolls around and Nike starts shipping all their fall merchandise, people come in to buy the non-local team merchandise right away,” she says.

Looking Ahead
Touchdown Gifts relies chiefly on in-store sales for revenue. A website with e-commerce capability is under construction, but Mansour doesn’t anticipate that a huge percentage of her sales will come online.

In the future, like many retailers, Mansour would like to have several Touchdown Gift locations, but the most important step is finding the right people to help run the business.

“Hopefully I’m going to start franchising it,” she says. “I have considered setting up in another mall, but the big key is finding the reliable people.”

Until then, Touchdown Gifts will continue offering local and non-local sports-licensed products for fan bases near and far, all from its Youngstown mall location.