How many gift store managers ultimately have to answer to the Secretary of Defense? Danielle Vaughn of the United States Naval Academy Gift Store does.
While calling current Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter Vaughn’s boss is a bit of an exaggeration — Carter is pretty far up the chain of command — the Naval Academy (and its gift stores) are indeed under the umbrella of the Department of Defense, which means Vaughn and her staff have to follow certain rules most retailers don’t.
For example, when Vaughn is thinking about adding a new supplier, she has to check with the Pentagon’s Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office to make sure the vendor has been approved.
Vaughn is in charge of the Naval Academy’s main gift store, which sells apparel, souvenirs and everything else one would expect to find in an on-campus store, and oversees the U.S. Naval Academy Museum store, which sells historic books, ship models, educational toys and plenty more.
Size and staff
There is more than 5,000 square feet of retail space open to the public at the U.S. Naval Academy. The primary gift shop is 4,600 square feet, while the museum store offers an additional 860. The two stores account for 19 non-student workers employed by the Department of Defense. All but two work at the main store.
Annapolis is located on the northern coast of the Chesapeake Bay, and visitors to the U.S. Naval Academy Gift Shop get a prime view of water.
The location of our Gift Shop on the historic Annapolis waterfront is spectacular,” Vaughn said. “Whenever there is a visiting military ship, tall ship or boating event in town, they usually park in front of our store. Visitors love taking a tour of the Academy, walking through the museum, eating at our restaurants and shopping at our stores.”
The main gift store offers approximately 4,800 items, and the museum store about 650. Not surprisingly, apparel is by far the top-selling category at the primary gift store, accounting for 64 percent of sales. Customers, in-store or online, can’t get enough of the official U.S. Navy-printed gear. The store also offers U.S. Marine Corps apparel, as students often go on to become officers in the Marines as well as the U.S. Navy.
Some top-selling non-apparel merchandise includes magnets, decals, key chains, “spirit” tumblers, ornaments and anything featuring Bill the Goat, the official mascot of the Naval Academy. A full array of products can be found at www.NavyOnline.com.
Books account for 33 percent of sales at the museum store, although the best-selling items are the “Don’t Give Up the Ship” flags and shirts. The store also offers model ships educational toys.
While the Naval Academy is a federal service academy, it’s also home to a Division I athletic program. In addition to selling a plethora of U.S. Navy- and Marine Corps-printed apparel, Navy Midshipmen apparel also is very popular.
One won’t find names on the back of authentic Midshipmen athletic jerseys, nor will you find names on the jerseys sold by the store, not even of famous former athletes like David Robinson and Roger Staubach. Although the name Staubach isn’t on the No. 12 jersey, but Vaughn said his notoriety — he is the only Navy player to win the Heisman Trophy and later led the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl championships — is a big reason why the jersey is traditionally one of the most popular, although it’s not the only reason.
“To some, it represents the 12th man,” Vaughn said, referring to a nickname often given to the home crowd at many college and pro football stadiums.
“We are always excited about the new sideline products by Under Armour,” Vaughn said. “We also are very excited about the baby clothing that can be found (online). Our faithful fans love dressing their sons and daughters in Navy apparel.”
Vaughn added she and the staff are “very active when it comes to researching” potential or new products. “We attend various tradeshows, meet with hundreds of vendors and even speak to other schools about how things are selling in their stores,” she said. “Our aim is to bring quality merchandise to all our patrons.”
Benefitting a cause
All store profits go directly to the Brigade of Midshipmen Welfare Fund, which pays for all approved Midshipmen extracurricular activities and club sports, Vaughn said. In addition, members of the military receive discounts on merchandise.
At a Glance
Where: Annapolis, Maryland. The main gift store is located at the Armel Leftwich Visitor Center on the coast of the Chesapeake Bay. The U.S. Naval Academy Museum is located at Preble Hall, less than a half-mile away at the center of campus. Admission to the museums is free. Merchandise at both gift stores is not subject to sales tax.
Traffic: The Naval Academy draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, including approximately 100,000 just to the museum alone. In addition, a variety of guided tours are available, as well as on-campus special events and sporting contests. The academy itself has about 4,500 students.
Notable USNA alumni: The list is a who’s who of decorated naval officers and astronauts, but a few notables include President Jimmy Carter, Sen. John McCain, Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Roger Staubach, Basketball Hall-of-Famer David “The Admiral” Robinson and astronaut Alan Shepard.