News / Toronto

TTC gift store a hit over the holidays

According to the TTC, the online store sold $60,000 worth of merchandise in its first month in operation.

An item listed for sale from the TTC online store.

An item listed for sale from the TTC online store.

TTC-branded mugs, T-shirts, and water bottles were flying off the shelves of the transit agency’s new online shop faster than a speeding streetcar this past holiday season.

According to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross the online store, which relaunched with an expanded range of products on Nov. 28, sold $60,000 worth of merchandise in its first month in operation.

Ross said the TTC considers the revamped website a success. “People want the TTC to succeed and they’re super excited to have TTC products they didn’t have before,” he said.

The transit agency only gets to pocket a portion of the proceeds from retail sales, however. The store is operated by a company called SVS Marketing, which takes a cut of the profits in exchange for sourcing products, shipping orders, and collecting payment.

Ross said he couldn’t reveal how the revenue was split between the TTC and SVS because it was propriety information for the marketing firm. But the transit commission plans to publicly report its revenues from the store in December, once it’s been in operation for a full year.

Other cities have shown there’s money to be made in trading on their public transit agency’s brand. New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority generated more than $600,000 in revenue from licensing its trademarks last year, according to the agency’s 2015 annual report.

Official outlets of London’s Transport Museum sell everything from model trains to limited edition Fender guitars emblazoned with the iconic map of the city’s Underground system. The BBC has reported the shop nets London’s transport authority the equivalent of about $4 million a year.

No matter how successful the TTC’s new store is, retail revenues won’t amount to more than a drop in the bucket for an organization that has an annual operating budget of $1.9 billion.But the TTC is hoping that the shop helps ongoing efforts to improve its reputation among the public.

“It’s about supporting the brand and supporting all the work we’re doing,” Ross said. “It’s an important part of keeping the TTC relevant in the 21st century.”

That may be the goal, but the online shop also proved fodder for some of the transit agency’s more sardonic critics. Soon after the revamped shop launched, it inspired a parody website peddling “relatable transit merch” that highlights the sometimes frustrating experience of riding the TTC. Items for sale on the Not In Service website include buttons that say “Expect Delays All Ways” and shirts immortalizing garbled subway disruption announcements.

The relaunch of the TTC shop doesn’t appear to have hurt local retailers who already sell transit-themed products. Spacing Magazine has sold TTC-related items for years, and this year the publication’s store on Richmond St. W. offered subway station buttons, streetcar toys, coasters shaped like tokens, and guitar picks made out of old Metropasses, among other products.

Spacing co-founder Matthew Blackett said they were again some of the store’s most popular items this holiday season. “I’m of the mind, the more the merrier,” he said of the TTC’s new shop. “They’re not putting us out of business or anything.”

The outlet has obtained permission from the TTC to use its copyright in some cases, according to Blackett, but the transit agency doesn’t get a cut of the profits.

Prior to relaunching the store last November, the TTC only sold a handful of products like vintage posters. But the new shop offers everything from T-shirts, fridge magnets, phone cases, shower curtains, and even blinds made out of decommissioned streetcar signs.

The most popular items in the first month were mugs adorned with the Bloor-Yonge subway line font, more than 200 of which were sold at a cost of $9.95 each. Mugs bearing the logo of TTC subway lines were the second-hottest item, followed by water bottles and T-shirts.

All 50 of the streetcar sign blinds, which cost $250 each and came with a warning that they may contain “brake dust, stains and grime,” sold out.

By marketing products based on Toronto’s transit system, the TTC is following the lead of other transit agencies around the world.

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