A new company coming to downtown Columbia has caught the attention of some Missouri fans.
Rally House, a retail sports merchandise chain with stores in the Kansas City area and Texas, will open a new location later this month in the space formerly occupied by Cool Stuff. Rally House sells college and pro team-licensed apparel, such as shirts, jackets and hats, and even team-emblazoned bar stools and pool tables.
The problem? Rally House was created by the same folks who started Kansas Sampler. The well-known chain of stores in Kansas was founded by two KU graduates and sells many of the same items ... except with Jayhawks and K-State Wildcats emblems.
Given the history between the two schools, it’s no surprise that there has already been backlash.
Aaron Liebert, the company’s CEO, said he has seen some criticism on Twitter, Facebook and message boards regarding his company’s decision to expand to Columbia.
“We’ve seen it,” Liebert said, “and we understand it. If it wasn’t for the rivalries, we wouldn’t be in business. We’re OK with it.”
Aaron is the son of Peg and Tim Liebert, the two KU alumni who started the company in 1989. Aaron attended George Washington University but grew up in the middle of the Missouri-Kansas rivalry, so he knew Rally House might cause an uproar when it negotiated an agreement last December to open a store in Columbia.
But with the current excitement surrounding Missouri athletics and its move to the SEC, Liebert said the chance to open a store in another sports-crazy college town was too good to pass up.
“We’re doing it for the same reason we opened a Kansas Sampler in downtown Lawrence,” he said. “It’s a unique business that specializes in local and retail gifts.” Liebert said the Columbia location — which will be free of Jayhawks merchandise, much like the Lawrence store is free of Mizzou items — will carry products that “celebrate the state of Missouri.
“It’s a state of Missouri store. There will be some Cardinals, some Rams, some Royals, some Chiefs and probably some Blues stuff, too.”
Still, Liebert knows some Missouri fans won’t give his store a chance. Internet criticism has arisen from fans who don’t want to spend money at Rally House because they fear some of it would go toward their hated rival across the state line.
Liebert said some of the stores' revenue goes to the University of Kansas, but it’s because schools get a percentage of royalties when an item bearing its brand is sold. That means some of the revenue from Kansas Sampler stores in the Kansas City area also go to Missouri and Kansas State.
“The more we sell, the more goes back to each individual program,” said Liebert, who added that his parents do not own Kansas football or basketball season tickets, nor do they contribute to KU's Williams Fund. “All of our contributions to the schools come through the business, and that’s divided up pretty fairly.
“At end of the day, we’re significant supporters of Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri.”
There are already two Rally House stores open in Missouri, in Independence and on the Country Club Plaza. Besides the Columbia store, two more— in the Northland at I-29 and Barry Road and in St. Louis — are scheduled to open in the next two months.
“There’s going to be some distrust about our entrance into Columbia,” Liebert said. “But I think when people see the store, see the product selection and they experience the service, we hope to win a few of them over.”