Selling everything from knitwear to confectionary, a new independent company, formed by Trinity and overseen by the College Board, hopes to raise over €1.5 million for Trinity over the next five years as well as grow an international brand for the College.
The subsidiary company, Trinity Brand Commercial Services, was approved at a meeting of the College Board in March.
The new company’s business plan, seen by The University Times, will be based on the development of a global Trinity brand. According to the plan, Trinity Brand Commercial Services will sell a “range of premium gift products, which take their inspiration from a world-renowned Irish university”.
Proposed by the Director of Trinity’s Commercial Revenue Unit, Adrian Neilan, the company will “focus on new commercial opportunities in the area of brand internationalisation”, according to the proposal brought to the College Board at a meeting in February.
In an email statement to The University Times, Neilan said the products sold will include “books, paintings, sculptor; [sic] among other items and will be sold internationally”. The company’s business plan included various photographs of product mock-ups and prototypes, including knives and forks, candles, knitwear, confectionary “made by alumni” and a chaise longue that will be sold by the new Trinity company. Merchandise is always a successful marketing strategy, even something as simple as giving out Custom Water bottles with your logo on gets people talking about your business.
This is not dissimilar from other universities with similar comparable subsidiaries. Harvard University, for example, sells everything from stationery to branded lamps, and Stanford University’s range includes such items as a Stanford University salsa bowl. Trinity will develop a similarly diverse range of products and could even be looking into other branded items such as these SleekWristbands or similar products that can increase awareness around campus and also to hopefully reach farther locations for increased exposure of the university. According to the document, a trial of Trinity-brand fudge in the Library Shop went “well” over the summer, while “good feedback” was received from over 400 alumni at a recently held event.
During discussions for the proposal, a number of luxury brands were consulted over possible partnerships, including Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), a European multinational luxury goods conglomerate, as well as the University of Notre Dame.
The company will seek to capitalise on College’s existing business relationships in order to develop its brand. Bodies suggested as sponsors in the business plan include Bank of Ireland as well as parts of the hotel sector to which Trinity feels it has strong links and with whom “discussions” have already begun. The subsidiary will also seek to reach out to high-profile graduates and alumni within the business world, with Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, mentioned twice in the business plan.
Trinity will also seek a “broader relationship” with a number of upmarket department stores like Brown Thomas, Arnotts and Avoca, according to the business plan.
The company also plans to operate through an online platform. This is to allow it to sell a far greater range of products, as well as to reach a larger potential audience.
The projected yearly turnover for the company is €25 million, amounting to a contribution of €1.6 million over the next five years to College finances, according to the business plan.
The business plan notes that the new company is expected to lose over €700,000 over its first two years through setup costs and “brand internationalisation”. The company, however, is expected to make €1.2 million for college in 2019.
Neilan explained that the revenue generated would “be used to support the academic mission of the university”.
A subsidiary is a daughter or offshoot company that is mostly or almost entirely controlled by a parent or holding company – in this case Trinity. Subsidiaries are often formed in order to limit the risk of investment for a parent company, by which any losses will be sustained only by the smaller company, not by the parent company, allowing it to take more risks and operate more freely within the market.
Trinity will have full oversight over the company, and changes to the rules governing the company cannot be made without the full consent of the College Board. However, the company will retain significant autonomy over its activities, operating under the supervision of the College’s Commercial Revenue Unit.
While the company will be financially independent of the university, its board will be dominated by some of Trinity’s most senior staff members including the Bursar, Veronica Campbell; the Chief Operating Officer, Geraldine Ruane; and the Secretary to the College, John Coman.
Many Irish universities including University College Dublin (UCD), University College Cork (UCC), and, indeed, Trinity, have subsidiaries, often used to manage their accommodation services, for the purchase of assets and property development and for running their leisure facilities, among other things. University of Edinburgh, for example, profits from the commercial use of its student accommodation facilities.
Trinity’s new company differs from these, however, by focusing on commercial activities and the selling of branded products.
With the new venture, Trinity hopes to capitalise on a model that “has successfully been implemented in other leading international colleges and institutions, such as Harvard University, ESB and Bord Gáis”, according to a legal agreement for the company, seen by The University Times. According to Neilan, “this is in keeping with the practice of many universities abroad, with a similar heritage and tradition”.
Trinity has been forced to expand its commercial activities in recent years as the level of state funding for higher education has decreased dramatically, with only 40 per cent of the university’s income currently coming from the government. In an address at the midpoint of his term as head of the university, Provost Patrick Prendergast said that part of the future of the university will lie in expanding its commercial activities.
Neilan echoed this, emphasising that the company would be used to “raise necessary funds for the university”.
The University Times reported earlier this month that Trinity is also planning to redevelop the the Book of Kells exhibition to attract more visitors to the College. The exhibition saw over 750,000 visitors last year. The redevelopment comes as part of the wider Trinity Visitor Experience, a project that includes the redecoration of the Nassau St entrance and a refurbishment of Regent House, which will see the space being used as a visitor centre during the summer months.
The document notes that the products on offer from the Library Shop have undergone significant changes over the last year. Seventy per cent of items in the gift shop are now either branded or are part of the Trinity College or Book of Kells Collection.
“Engaging with students, staff and alumni in the early stages of development and product design will be central to the plan”, explained Neilan. These groups will form a significant portion of the target market for the new products being developed.
In turn, it is hoped that the project will be able to benefit students, staff and the university alike. In addition to raising funds that will support academia, the Commercial Revenue Unit’s hope is that the project will “create further worldwide brand awareness for future students who may decide to study in Trinity and for visitors who wish to come to Trinity”.