An addition to the team
Campus Colors expands with new Mequon location

By Dave Fidlin - News Graphic Correspondent

August 5, 2014

Jon Rubenstein has opened Campus Colors in the Mequon Pavilions.
Photos by Mark Justesen

MEQUON - It all began with a 1989 stop at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

While en route to his family’s suburban Chicago home from a vacation in Toronto, Neil Rubenstein decided to stop in Ann Arbor so his children could purchase authentic sportswear from one of their favorite college teams.

After walking out of U of M’s college bookstore with $250 worth of merchandise on that fateful day, an idea was born: Why not open a store that sells collegiate sports apparel from teams across the country?

Two years later, Neil Rubenstein’s vision came to fruition when Campus Colors opened its first store in Highland Park, Ill. - an affluent suburb of Chicago. In the intervening years, the company grew its presence in and around the Windy City, opening three additional stores in Chicago’s Water Tower Place and the suburbs Hinsdale and Kildeer.

This year, Campus Colors entered a new chapter in its nearly quarter century in existence when it opened its first store outside the Chicago market.

Jon Rubenstein, who has taken the reins of Campus Colors from his father, said an exhaustive search went out in the past few years as a metropolitan Milwaukee site was sought.

With assistance from a real estate broker, Rubenstein settled on a spot in the Mequon Pavilions shopping center. Interior construction took place in April, and the doors officially opened to customers May 23.

“We picked this area because the demographics are strong,” Rubenstein said, comparing Mequon to the specific communities where Campus Colors has laid roots in the Chicago market. “There’s a real emphasis on education in Mequon.”

Jon Rubenstein has opened Campus Colors in the Mequon Pavilions.
Photos by Mark Justesen

While the expansion is an exciting excursion for Rubenstein and his entrepreneurial family, he readily admits it is a bit of a gamble.

“This really is a store that is going to operate on its own,” he said of the Mequon location. “We’re operating outside our comfort zone.”

While the Mequon store is in its infancy, Rubenstein said he is seeing a correlation between it and the other four brick-and-mortar properties. The customer base, he said, is loyal, and a group of regulars already have been patronizing the site regularly.

“When it comes to college sports, we’ve found that there is far more loyalty than you find with the pro teams,” Rubenstein said. “There’s a much deeper connection, sometimes because a family member attended a particular school or played on a team.”

Campus Colors does not carry, in stock, athletic wear from all of the collegiate sports teams across the country. However, throughout the company’s evolution, the number of teams represented in the stores has grown exponentially.

To date, the company carries T-shirts, jerseys, sweatshirts, socks and other apparel from more than 200 teams. Many of the teams are in the Midwest region. But there are exceptions, including such teams as the University of Oregon Ducks and North Carolina’s Duke University Blue Devils.

Beyond the emotional connection, Rubenstein said the colors and logos play a role in the popularity. Oregon and Duke’s imagery has proven especially popular.

Closer to home, however, another team has been grabbing a fair amount of attention: the Marquette University Golden Eagles. In addition to the team’s recent successes, Marquette apparel has appealed to the masses because of its designs.

“Their basketball shorts are unique and very different,” Rubenstein said.

Campus Colors is considered “very unique” by Rubenstein and his family because it has few direct competitors. He also asserts it is one of a few specialty companies that cater to almost every age-range imaginable - from infants to seniors.

The company’s products range in price from $4 to $150, and Rubenstein said about 90 percent are under $70.

“We like to deliver a good value to people, and this means quality goods at a decent price,” he said.

While some of Campus Colors’ apparel line is produced through a licensing arrangement with Adidas and Nike, about 60 percent of the company’s merchandise is produced through a private label, meaning the specific graphics and imagery are exclusive to Campus Colors itself.

Campus Colors, in essence, is an import business. While special orders are taken in-store and online, the bulk of the company’s business comes through what is in stock. Rubenstein said pre-ordering merchandise usually takes place a full calendar year before the product actually winds up on store shelves.

“It makes managing inventory challenging at times,” he said. “I don’t know which teams will be hot, and which will not.”

As is the case with the company’s four Chicago-area stores, Rubenstein said plans are in motion to have the Mequon Campus Colors site being philanthropically involved in the community.

“We believe in a sense of giving back,” he said. “This includes taking part in charity events and similar things. We’re always happy to participate in that kind of stuff.”

Piggy-backing off the Mequon store, Rubenstein said he and his family aim to open about one to two new locations per year in markets near, but outside, Chicago. If the Mequon store grows its own niche, additional Milwaukee area locations could open up shop in the near future.

“We’re looking at slow, steady growth for Campus Colors,” Rubenstein said.

To contact:

Campus Colors
10906 N. Port Washington Road