MPLS City Announce First Step Into a Brave New World
On August 21st, a message appeared across Minneapolis City’s social media; an announcement that would carry immediate and long term historical weight for the club and the NPSL North Conference’s legacy. “We're excited to announce that we are launching a storefront in south Minneapolis. Mark that calendar for Sept 22. More to come.” The move to create a club store would be the first ever in Minnesota’s NPSL and UPSL history and would allow the North conference’s most beloved brand to take the next step in growing as a club.
With excitement and questions ripe in the air, I talked with club co-founder Dan Hoedeman to get a better idea of how this all came to be and what we can expect from the venture. Before we got into business details and branding strategy, Hoedeman made it clear that this announcement is downright exciting and also presents a challenging opportunity for City to grow in its own personalized way. “It’s exciting to have it be real. We have been thinking about this for a long time, looking for the right spot. Daunting that it's real--we're doing the painting and build-out ourselves partially because it's fun and partially because that's all we can afford and like all projects like this it's the most fun right before you start…The NPSL offseason is long. This will help it feel shorter.”
Minneapolis City is well known for its public approach to discussing finances and expansion. A series called “Year in Review” was featured on popular Minnesotan soccer news site FiftyFive.one, in which Hoedeman broke down the club’s financial situation for the respective year. That public approach is expected to carry to the club’s newest project. “We’ve tried to embrace radical transparency. It's the uncorporate way to soccer. We have two big things we're trying to do: gain increased awareness and increase the connection we have with supporters/the community. We felt like we needed a place, a physical location to be able to do that. With a stadium not quite in the budget, this felt like an achievable way to get that place for the club. We believe that the financials work for us. Or at least that we can work hard to make the financials work for us, though the benefit here is so much more than retail sales.”
Having a public point of contact outside of game day festivities also held a crucial spot on City’s plans for how fans would be able to interact with them. “It’s so important. We're this DIY club, this community club and we believe that we're showing just what can happen when regular people get together to create something. It's so much easier to work together when there is a place to meet, congregate and be at.”
Hoedeman also explained the club is already planning ways to make the store more than just an enclosed merchandise table, creating a unique experience and making it worth the buyer’s efforts to go there specifically. “We are going to be making an investment in inventory beyond what we typically have, both in terms of run of sizes and designs. We are thinking about the store almost like an art gallery, where there will be occasional, rotating focus themes. We've got a fun, local focus theme for our launch and we will have specific merchandise related to that. Short run stuff. I'm pumped about it and the opportunity to have some fun with design and materials--there isn't a ton of great soccer merch out there, it's so often centralized design, and we hope to change that a little bit.”
City will also be partnering with Minneapolis-based Stimulus Athletic, its kit manufacturer, to make the store a multifaceted space where both can benefit, gain exposure, and discuss future plans. “We are partnering with Stimulus Athletic…They’ll be our ‘roommates’ in the space, using it as a place to meet people in person, talk about designs and sizes and colors, all the things that make custom kits sing. There will be a lot happening at our little store.
While talking to Hoedeman I brought up that he’d previously said that while he was happy that the club’s brand had become strong and drawn attention, he knew they still had a long way to go before they’d be at the levels of the NPSL’s huge clubs like Detroit City or Chattanooga, who sell merchandise and acquire interest almost independent of the actual matches they play. Hoedeman was frank on the fact that while the store does provide a promising sign that Minneapolis City can reach those heights, there’s still plenty of time and work between them and that goal. “Our market has very difficult dynamics with a well-liked MLS team here and every major (and minor) sport. Couple that with the short summers which pressures people's time, especially on weekends, and those dynamics mean that we're always looking for unexpected ways to get noticed, to engage people, to introduce ourselves in more meaningful ways. We don't have an army of sales reps to call, badger and hound people to buy tickets. We're not MLS. We need other reasons to get people in, and those reasons are pretty much always ones that are best told in a conversation: commitment to local, DIY approach, community service, member owned, etc. The store--and its associated events that hopefully draw people in--should give us more chances to have those conversations. It should give us a home to build community.”
With all these risks and challenges in mind, Hoedeman is confident that the store will provide an important resource to both the club and fans, allowing people to interact with the club face to face in an almost unprecedented level at this tier of soccer. “Something like 30% of our revenue comes from merch sales so it's extremely important to us. Hopefully we don't just cannibalize our online sales, but given how often people reach out to us for a place to shop and, especially, people who are traveling into town want to check us out and I think we have something here that makes financial sense too.”
As my questionnaire with Hoedeman wrapped up, the final challenge popped up in an afterthought to his last answer. “Now it's on us to make sure that our designs don't suck.” Minneapolis City has a lot to look forward to this offseason, but it’ll all be for naught if it doesn’t put out the quality expected of it. Previous seasons should certainly leave most not too concerned about the chance of poor design coming from this club, but the fact that the club is well aware of the bar it set is a positive sign in a challenging time.