BOISE, ID – A lot of customers were caught off-guard during their first visit to the freshly minted Pro Image Sports at the brand spanking new mall, Boise Towne Square.
The year was 1988, and tremendous buzz surrounded the opening of the first full-scale regional mall in Boise. The Pro Image was the first retail experience for many residents to lay eyes on officially licensed sports product. This is going to sound crazy in our current E-Googlemazon world, but back then you either had to live in a major market or go to the games to purchase such product.
This was not why customers left stunned though. That had more to do with the pint-sized bundle of ambition that served as their sales associate. Travis Hawkes was all of 12-years old at the time his father Bill became one of the first owners of a hot new sports franchise out of Utah.
“There were times my dad had to run errands and would leave me at the store alone. I was competent enough counting and giving change, but customers were freaked out and would say ‘Do you work here?’” Travis said laughing at the memory.
The store was a huge hit straight away.
Bill was (and still is) the embodiment of hard work, grit and ingenuity, having worked his way up from a car salesman to running his own thriving dealership. Travis, who is the youngest of four with two older sisters and an older brother, was a sports freak, having been mesmerized like thousands of others by the Showtime Lakers. He also proved to be a quick study that had a natural aptitude for business, being the type that would factor sales tax in his head.
Naturally then, while most kids his age were home watching G.I. Joe, Travis was working and learning the family business despite needing a stepping stool to reach the register.
“I’ve been a sports junky too. That’s the reason (Travis) was,” said Bill. “He started working in the store right when we opened. We’d go to a movie and leave him alone to run the store.”
Creative use of a babysitter no doubt.
Nearly 30 years later (they had opened their first store at Karcher Mall in nearby Nampa, ID in 1986) the Hawkes family grew closer by working together as Bill eventually passed the torch to Travis. They have easily been the most innovative Pro Image Sports owners since the franchise’s inception.
“My dad likes to work and stay busy, so it was a way to be with him,” said Travis. “My mom was in charge of decorating window displays. That was cool. (Working with my parents) has been one of the great parts of it,” said Travis.
Their story serves as a prototypical example of the American dream of small business ownership. A major motivating factor for anyone looking to get out of the corporate grind is to own something for themselves; to build something to pass on to their children; to create a legacy.
Bill, who never thought he’d ever do another business outside of the auto industry, successfully built and passed on both businesses to his two sons who have taken them to new heights.
As Travis continued to grow-up in the business more responsibility was given to him. When he was in junior high school he was in charge of buying, merchandising and restocking the posters (no small feat in the late 80’s-early 90’s when posters donned the walls of nearly every teen). Eventually he started managing a store and taking on more of the buying, loving every minute of it along the way.
“Going to (The Pro Image Sports annual convention) and trade shows as a kid was fun. I loved to do that and I learned the business that way. I loved Black Friday and the Christmas season,” said Travis.
Business has not come without challenges over the years, or as Bill says, “it’s been quite a ride”. After a successful 10-year run at Boise Towne Square, they were not able to renew their lease and had to seek opportunities elsewhere. While many may be demurred, the Hawkes family stood steadfast and pressed forward broadening their reach.
They re-opened in Nampa along with three stores in Utah in 1998. While they easily could have become resentful for being ousted from their hometown mall, the Hawkes’ waited patiently for an opportunity to come. And it did in the form of an existing Lids store with an expiring lease.
Another sports fan gift shop was in Boise Towne Square that had exclusivity within the mall, but in looking at the fine print it was noticed the exclusive clause only covered team licensed sports apparel. It did nothing to prevent Hawkes from doing a headwear store or anything else they could dream up. And between Bill and Travis, they have incredible imaginations.
The Hawkes’ have known there is great flexibility within the myriad sports licensed products and vendors to present different concept stores capable of meeting specific customer needs. No one has executed the strategy of stepping outside the standard Pro Image Sports store with such precision and success.
They promptly took over the Lids space and began operating it under the Pro Image Sports headwear only store named Capz in 2001 (The Hawkes’ became one of the first Capz franchisees two years earlier in Utah). This was just beginning of what they had visions of for Boise Towne Square.
Bill Hawkes became an innovator in the sports licensed industry throughout the country in the early 90’s by being one of the first to operate a novelty only store in the same mall you had a regular team licensed shop.
He went back to this playbook to add a second store to his Capz in Boise Towne Square. The competition was feeling the heat and brokered a deal that allowed Hawkes to take back their Pro Image Sports store in 2004.
With three stores humming along in one mall, it would’ve been easy to be content, but as you’ve gathered by now, that’s just not in the Hawkes DNA. In 2005 Travis had an idea. He was confident it would be a huge hit. It was their riskiest move yet. No one had ever tried anything like this in a market that didn’t have a big-time hometown team, professional or college.
No one knew much about Boise State University football outside of Boise except that they played on silly blue turf affectionately known as smurf turf. They didn’t have the storied history or alumni of traditional college powerhouses. The program had only been playing Division 1-AA football since 1996.
Not even 10 years into their FBS experience, Travis wanted to do a BSU only store. There was much trepidation at the Pro Image Sports corporate office.
“We thought he was crazy,” said Pro Image Sports CEO Dave Riley. “I for one didn’t believe it had staying power or that the demand for BSU was so great to warrant an entire store dedicated to it.”
BSU had built some momentum under the Dan Hawkins regime, and finished undefeated in 2004 before losing to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. Buzz was starting to build in a city that had always loved football, but had never had big time winners to call their own.
Along the way Nike had picked up the school and was rolling out a new line that also brought legitimacy to a fan base that didn’t have to be embarrassed wearing orange. There was a lot of work that went into building relationships with the school and executing the grand opening, but in 2006 The Blue & Orange Store was born (credit goes to Bill’s wife Nancy for coming up with the name).
All that ensued was an undefeated season, a BCS busting Fiesta Bowl victory over storied Oklahoma in one of the most memorable games in the history of college football and a new store that shattered every Pro Image Sports sales record possible; highest annual sales, highest monthly sales, highest daily sales. It earned them the Pro Image Sports Franchisee of the Year award and they were off and running.
“That’s what you call a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” recalls Bill. “At one point just after the game we had 120 people in line to pay inside the store and 130 lined up outside to pay.”
As for the staying power of the store, it has been the No. 1 grossing store in the Pro Image Sports franchise since its inception.
The Blue and Orange Store has been a major instrument in executing the school’s desire to have fans wear certain colored apparel to each game (naturally blue & orange, to go with white and black once a year). They also have certain sections wearing a specific color.
“Things sure have changed,” said BSU alum & super fan Alyson Anderson. “There was a time you went to games and wore whatever. Now the fans are geared up and always wearing the right color. Plus, as an out of area fan, I appreciate the Blue & Orange online flash sales.”
Oh did I forget to mention they also built a killer website selling BSU product across the nation? Check it out at theblueandorangestore.com. Once again, they were one of the first, and certainly the most successful Pro Image Sports owners to execute an e-commerce platform.
Today the Blue and Orange Store is still racking up big numbers despite the program cooling off a bit. It stands next door to one of the highest grossing Pro Image Sports stores in the country, and down the hallway is a revamped Capz store that draws customers from all over the Treasure Valley. They still have a store in Karcher Mall in Nampa where they opened their first Pro Image Sports.
The Village at Meridian, an incredible outdoor shopping center opened last October. Pro Image Sports owns the market, and had the developer request they be a part of the original opening stores, just like they were 25 years earlier in Boise Towne Square.
Bill has officially “retired”, but men like him don’t do such things. All that entails is he may take one more trip a year to Disneyland with his grandkids than he did before. He can still be found outworking sales associates nearly 60 years his junior anytime the busy season rolls around again.
Travis has built a great infrastructure for their five stores, with VP & COO Brandon Miner and District Manager Klayton Fronger who assist in operations and buying of five stores and a burgeoning website. He has given them the opportunities to learn and grow that he was afforded, and they have become two of the best at what they do in the nation.
Politics has always been Travis’ other love, and he had the great opportunity of working on the campaign of president elect Mitt Romney. He began working with Romney before his 2008 campaign and served as a key fundraiser in 2012.
A bright future is ahead, as two of Travis’ three children (two girls, one boy) are nearly the same age he was when left alone at night to man the store.
“This has definitely been awesome and I look forward to them working in the stores. I hope they enjoy it and want to be a part of it in the future.”
We’re excited to see what ideas the next generation of the Hawkes family has for their business.