They're going a bit retro down at the Metro

13th November 1998 at 00:00
I knew it would be a struggle and against all the odds, but when I came back from teaching in the United States I was full of ideas for selling college merchandise. On my American campus there was a shop selling almost everything with a "varsity" theme to it. Apart from the sweatshirts, shorts, jackets and baseball caps there were notebooks, mugs, car stickers,calendars, yo-yos and those rubber things Americans stick their ice cold beer cans into when they're having a barbecue.

And of course there were variations on a theme; a hat that said "Proud mum of Dean's list student', a Babygro with "Go Gladiators" sewn in and a sweatshirt in a range of colours with "Alumni" up one sleeve and "Class of 97" down the other. The town and the surrounding countryside were full of walking adverts for the college. I was bursting with enthusiasm, but I had a battle to win.

Now whereas those American students seemed proud to sport the name of their alma mater, our college's marketing strategy alliance quality working party research sub-group found after extensive enquiries over a couple of lunchtimes in the canteen that your average British students wouldn't be seen dead in a sweatshirt that said: "Metropolitan Further Education College - our future is your future."

We could offer good quality material - no cheap rubbish - at an affordable price that would keep you warm as you crossed the main road from part of the site to another. Trendy, we thought, and practical too. And let's not forget the potential for foldaway umbrellas and free ponchoes to visitors who arrive in the middle of the morning for a meeting only to find that they have to leave their car in the overflow car park and splash across the waste ground - a proposed site for a new Petsmart - at the far end of the campus. Yes, we were not just thinking of selling fashion accessories, we were selling. . .well, accessories.

We were met with apathy at every turn. Even the staff rejected the idea of tea towels and stacking coaster sets. My mate Colin in maths thought that mouse mats were a naff idea, but he did suggest that we offer mice with "Stolen from Metro FE" printed across them. "There must be a hundred of those buggers that end up in car boot sales every year. Now there's a great marketing opportunity," he said, with a curl of his lip. In fact he always drawls the word marketing like he's describing something he's just trodden in. "You'd really reach your target audience there," he sneered.

I encouraged one of my A-level sets, a sort of unofficial focus group, to give me their opinion on the matter. They were unanimous in pouring scorn on the idea of trying to sell college merchandising to their peers.

"I've seen you wearing something really corporate and tasteless in Halfords, Duncan," I probed, feeling on the defensive.

"That's different, it's for work. I wouldn't be seen dead in it outside work," he said.

"And what about that shirt of yours with Michigan on it?" I asked Danielle. "That's the name of a college."

"But it's American," she replied.

"Precisely. They're proud. Why aren't you?" "Precisely," she tossed back the word with an emphatic smile. "They're American. Say no more. . ."

So the battle to launch a range of designer wear and household novelty items for sale in the college shop alongside tissues, tights, hair brushes and other sundry items was to be lost.

But there was still the media war to win (it's funny how in marketing circles it's the language of confrontation that's spoken). I had found myself with a whole new vocabulary after reading back numbers of Marketing Week in the college library. I scored a "hit" when I got an article in the local paper or I found myself talking about advertising strike rates in my section of the marketing group's annual quality review.

There was one final offensive that I managed to wage with the help of a job lot of forest green polo shirts that Colin acquired for me through some bloke at his Bonsai club. A GNVQ business group took them over as a mini-enterprises, designed a kind of psychedelic variation of the college logo, had it ironed on the front of each and managed to sell them to their mates in half an hour one lunchtime. And what's more the local freesheet gave it a full-colour picture on its front page. But they didn't supply the 3D glasses to go with it. I gave up and quietly surrendered after that,having met my marketing Waterloo.

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