Retail Winner: Underground Printing expands in Ann Arbor with new store and Moe Sport Shop acquisition
Underground Printing was born while its co-founders were students at the University of Michigan and living in the West Quad Dorm.
Less than a decade later, the company now operates a state-of-the-art production facility in Scio Township.
And as a supplier of licensed collegiate apparel, it’s a natural fit for the company to look to the retail side of the business. Today, it also operates 15 retail outlets in mostly Big 10 college towns across the U.S.
Co-founders Ryan Gregg and Rishi Narayan have a business model that gives them control over retail inventory, since they’re also supplying their stores. And they plan further expansion in coming years.
But they’re also committed to Ann Arbor and the company’s roots are in this town.
That was seen in 2009 when Underground Printing expanded its store on South University into a higher-profile, 4,000-square-foot outlet.
But what truly propelled the company into a high-profile Ann Arbor retailer were two moves in 2010:
â€¢ First, the company acquired the iconic Moe Sports Shop on North University, a longtime, traditional supplier of athletic wear to U-M fans of all sports.
â€¢ Then, near Labor Day, the pair decided to open a retail store on the key retail block of downtown Ann Arbor: South Main Street, between Liberty and William.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
With both stores, the pair followed their mission: To only operate in the best real estate locations in the best college towns in the U.S.
Underground Printing proved that it could do it in this city — twice in one year, in fact. For those reasons, Underground Printing was chosen as AnnArbor.com’s Business Review Deals of the Year for Retail.
Both locations were worth waiting for, the owners said. And they weren’t going to rush into the wrong locations.
“We still have stores we want to get to,” Narayan told AnnArbor.com in January. “But, whereas in the past we would sacrifice a little to get a store open, we took a page out of a lot of successful companies’ books. We’re waiting for that perfect store at Iowa, at Kentucky, at Penn State. Until we get that store, we’re happy where we’re at.
“We’ve been able to go back, analyze what makes us good and retool what we need to so when 2010 comes, we can (expand).”
At Moe’s, the pair forged a relationship with Bud VanDeWege Jr., the second-generation owner of the store located on the edge of the Diag since 1915.
The move, VanDeWege told AnnArbor.com, adds Moe’s to the list of what he calls “the dying breed of family-owned stores with real connections to the community.”
But he sold the store with confidence that its traditions would be preserved, extending its 95-year legacy in the city.
“What we’re so thrilled about is that we have local ownership. They were customers of ours,” VanDeWege said. “They grew up around the business, and they understand its value and name and want to carry on the tradition.”
At the South Main Street location, Gregg was inspired in late summer to open a location on the best non-campus retail block in Ann Arbor. And in a matter of weeks, he made it happen.
“We just felt like Main Street was another area to expand our customer base,” Gregg said.
Underground Printing is shaping its presence on the block by reflecting the character of the street: It’ll stay open late, since the restaurant customers like to shop after eating. With that move, it bridges what many in Ann Arbor mourn on the block - traditional retail - with the newer nightlife attractions.
“Hopefully we’ll have a big impact down there,” Gregg said. “I think it’s a really good fit.”
Sales so far have exceeded expectations four times over, fueled in part by the early season wins by U-M teams.
Now, as Underground Printing continues its growth arc, Ann Arbor residents will have multiple retail reference points for understanding the shop and its prominence in the athletic apparel industry and the local retail sector.