Central Pennsylvania manufacturers licensed to crank out PSU products
Ever wonder who makes all of those Penn State products that seem to proliferate this time of year, just as football season is getting underway?
From sweatshirts to bedsheets, sunglasses to golf clubs, a brand new batch of PSU-related merchandise seems to pop up everywhere when the Nittany Lions start roaring again in Happy Valley.
In fact, the school licenses 508 manufacturers across the U.S. to use the Penn State name, logo and other symbols on their products. In Pennsylvania alone, there are 86 such licensees, including 18 in the midstate — all of which crank out enough goods to keep even the most rabid PSU fans happy.
A $4.6 billion business
According to the Collegiate Licensing Co. in Atlanta, Ga., which represents the branding interests of 200 colleges around the U.S., school-themed merchandise generates $4.6 billion in retail sales each year — second only to Major League Baseball.
“It's big business, without a doubt,” says Andrew Giangola, vice president of strategic communications for CLC's parent company, IMG College of New York City.
Giangola explains that CLC acts as a middleman for colleges by vetting manufacturers to make sure they produce high-quality products and fit each school's brand objectives. He adds that the final decision to do business with applicants rests solely with colleges, and that “not every company sails through the approval process.” He notes further that Penn State and other CLC-affiliated schools “certainly strive for best-in-class licensees.”
Royalties for scholarships
In time for this year's football season, York-based Wolfgang Candy Co. Inc. introduced a bite-size version of its popular Penn State white-and-blue-fudge-covered pretzels. The snack is sold at grocery, convenience and specialty stores, not just in State College but around the commonwealth.
“You can get a license that allows you to sell your products just in Pennsylvania, which is what we did, or you can get one to sell nationwide,” said Carl Hornberger, Wolfgang's director of marketing and product development. “Then, in addition to paying an annual fee, you have to file a quarterly report with CLC listing your wholesale sales, which is what Penn State takes its percentage from.”
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa M. Powers said the royalties paid by its licensees comes to about $4 million annually — all of which goes to support the school's general student scholarship fund and related activities.
Powers noted that PSU has a “thorough evaluation process, with each potential licensee reviewed on a case-by-case basis.” She says the criteria include a number of factors, such as product quality, the company's corporate responsibility record, and marketing factors such as how the licensee will support the products.
“The university ultimately decides on the licensees that make the best sense for our brand,” Powers said.
Grilling or tailgating
Another midstate licensee is Wilton Armetale Inc. of Mount Joy, which manufactures hand-crafted tableware and platters at a factory in Mexico.
National Sales Manager Karen Schultz says the company creates Penn State-related metal serving products and grillware for home entertaining or for tailgating.
“They can go into the oven, on the grill, on the stovetop and right onto the table,” she said.
In addition to being available from retailers in State College, many of the company's products are sold online by Macy's and Bed Bath & Beyond, Schultz said.
She said the target audience for its PSU products — which cost anywhere from $30 to $130 — are parents, alumni and staff.
She adds that CLC and Penn State facilitated the licensing process by providing a “logo sheet,” showing the images the company could use on its products, then making suggestions during the application process.
Located in Lower Swatara Township, Stone Mill Hardware LP produces decorative cabinet hardware, including a line of PSU-themed knobs and pulls that frequently turn up in man-caves, on cabinets in home bars and in the RVs of tailgaters at Beaver Stadium, according to Jeremy Stone, business development manager.
He said that, although the company's collegiate line performs fairly well at an average price of $2.95 per item, it remains primarily a “side project” for the company. He noted that in addition to being sold by distributors and in some retail stores, most of Stone Mill's collegiate business comes from online sales through the Lowe's, Amazon and Overstock websites.
“It's a unique product and a nice solid piece of hardware,” Stone said.
Not exclusive to PSU
Not all CLC-affiliated companies in the midstate are exclusive to Penn State or to making college-related products.
York-based Olde Country Reproductions Inc., for example, makes a variety of noncollegiate plates, bowls, pitchers, platters, clocks and more. It also handcrafts and sells between 7,000 and 8,000 Penn State-themed license tags and frames each year, and it has licensing agreements with 70 other colleges, including Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee.
“The tags and frames are hard to keep on the shelf, especially with schools in the Southeastern Conference,” said Lonnie Bellenbaum, sales manager. “Part of the reason is because they're made from a patented aluminum alloy that's guaranteed for life. You can buy a cheaply made one for $30 that looks terrible after six months, or you can spend 10 bucks more on a Penn State tag that won't fade or rust. And if you wreck your vehicle and bend it up, we'll replace it.”