UCLA students are picking up their caps and gowns for graduation, but hundreds did not buy them from the university.
Instead, they purchased their graduation gear from SoCal Grad Club, a new student-run business that sells cap and gown packages for 14 dollars less than what the university sells them for. SoCal Grad Club has sold more than 700 packages since February.
Tim Connors, a third-year cognitive science student who founded SoCal Grad Club, said he started the company after his friends complained that the caps and gowns sold by the university cost too much.
“We were all in the same entrepreneurship fraternity, so we were like ‘that’s a crazy price. We can just sell these for cheaper right?’” Connors said.
In winter quarter, Connors researched how much he could buy graduation gowns for, and he realized he could sell them for much cheaper than the university.
“Every step of the way I was just encouraged by what I was finding,” Connors said.
Connors made sure his caps and gowns met UCLA standards by bringing a sample of his product to a graduation apparel store on campus. He asked a store employee if he could wear the gown, which he said was from home, to commencement. However, the store employees stopped providing him with information after they realized he was competing with UCLA sales.
Connors said his business has faced resistance from the university and added he had to move his distribution operations off campus.
One day, as customers lined up at the bottom of Janss Steps to pick up their orders from Connors, an employee from an on-campus graduation apparel store walked up to Connors and asked him to leave, saying he could not conduct his business on campus.
“I was like ‘we’re done’,” Connors said. “As soon as I saw him I instantly started packing up.”
Connors stopped distribution for an hour and moved his setup to Strathmore and Gayley avenues while one of his teammates redirected the 200 customers picking up their orders that day. Connors received a hundred emails from people asking where he was and he had to distribute many of the orders individually.
“That was a dumb mistake on my part,” Connors said. “I shouldn’t have expected to be able to do anything on campus.”
Patrick Healey, the general merchandise director at the UCLA Store, said outside retail outlets are not allowed to operate on campus because UCLA is in charge of all retail on campus. In addition, the revenue the university generates from selling caps and gowns goes back to student programming and services as part of Associated Studies UCLA, he said.
“If students are going that route (with SoCal Grad Club), then there will be less revenue going back into ASUCLA for funding for services and programs,” Healey said.
Connors said he first struggled with running SoCal Grad Club because he had to keep track of every aspect of the business, from managing orders and setting up distribution, to designing the business’ website.
Many of Connors’ customers said they chose to purchase their graduation apparel from SoCal Grad Club because of its lower prices.
Connors said he is able to keep his prices lower by negotiating lower prices with factories in China, keeping costs low through the production process and taking less of a profit than the university.
“This is my first business, so I’m not trying to be a millionaire,” Connors said. “I’m okay with taking a smaller profit and just having my own little project.”
Prudence Tam, a fourth-year psychobiology student, said she did not want to spend too much money on a gown because she would not be able to resell it.
“Since I plan to decorate my grad cap, it’s unlikely that I’d be able to resell just my gown,” Tam said. “Even if I wanted to sell just my gown, someone probably wouldn’t want it ’cause they can’t just buy a cap from UCLA.”
Benjamin Chiang, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student said he chose SoCal Grad Club because it was convenient for him.
“I could get my clothes faster and cheaper, so why not?” Chiang said. “In senior year, it’s best to have things as hassle-free as possible.”
Connors said he hopes to expand his operation to five or six more universities in southern California next year.