For Robert Mann, The Stadium Shoppe on Razorback was the accumulation of years and years of late nights and little sleep, good timing, hard work, and big dreams.
Robert worked in or with college athletics in some form for almost a quarter century before he and his wife took the leap of faith and opened up The Stadium Shoppe on Razorback - AKA the ultimate University of Arkansas fan shop.
Situated on Razorback Road, The Stadium Shoppe exists in the heart of the action: the baseball stadium sits a short stroll away, and football and basketball happen right up the street.
Says Robert, half-joking but mostly serious, “It don’t get more Razorback than we do.”
“Part of this business is being different than everybody else. Our theory is, we’re not just another t-shirt shop; We’re going to be more creative, a little more different than anyone else. You’re going to find stuff in my store that you’re not going to find anywhere else. That I can promise you. If you’re going to be a hog, be a Razorback. That’s our philosophy.”
What’s been your favorite item that you’ve sold or designed?
“Have you ever heard the phrase, “Fear the Tusk”? Well, I created that slogan back when I was with the athletic department. I came up with it on a whim for a spur of the moment order.
“I have done all kinds of customized t-shirt, but “Fear the Tusk” is the one I’m most proud of because I still see it to this day. If you go to a game, you’ll see it somewhere. And I’ve seen people who have it tattooed on their arm...that’s just really weird.”
Tell me about your ties to the University.
“Pretty much the whole family has University of Arkansas ties. I went to the university, my wife went to the university. My son is a senior at the university. My brother-in-law was a pitcher for the baseball team back in the early 90s. My father-in-law was a student, my wife’s aunt and uncle were students.
“That’s how I got into the business actually. It was kind of by accident, but I was a Razorback fan my whole life. One of the reasons we moved up here to go to college was I wanted to come to the school and work in the area. And we ended up landing here.
“Everybody goes to college thinking that they’re going to get a job when they graduate. God only knows where that was going to be with me. I was looking at Tyson or Wal-Mart like everybody else.
“I didn’t realize that the college market was as huge as it is or that there was really opportunity there. I was a business major and kind of stumbled into it with an internship at Hog Heaven. But it turned out, I just so happened to have a knack for it.
“Follet, for example, sent me to Michigan State and University of Miami to teach them how to run a stadium. I worked store acquisitions in Nebraska and Wash U in St. Louis. I’ve worked games at Florida State. I’ve done four or five bowls - the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl. I’ve worked every SCC tournament you can imagine, from basketball to football, SCC and NCAA championships several times.”
What has been the most memorable Arkansas sporting event you’ve witnessed or attended?
“My most memorable event that I’ve ever seen was the ‘78 Orange Bowl. Of course, I watched that on TV at home.
“The most memorable that I’ve actually been in the middle of...there’s two or three. The day that ESPN came to town and did their ESPN College Game Day here was very memorable. When [quarterback Clint] Stoerner got his redemption against Tennessee, and they tore down the goalpost and took it along Dixon Street...I was actually on the field for that one when the game ended. That was one of those things I’ll never forget.
“That National Championship for basketball in ‘94 and the Final Four in ‘95, those were huge. And baseball in general. Just being a part of opening that stadium up was really special.
“I’m very, very, very lucky that I get to do something that I absolutely love and my family does too.”
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned over the years?
“I'm one of those people who’s never satisfied, I’m always looking for ways to do something better. At some point I just realized, there's more out there to life. Why am I settling? Don't settle for whatever's around you. You see something across the street you want to do, go do it!
“I can’t remember the exact way it was put, but some comedian back in the day made a comment about, ‘The country wasn't built on people who just settled. It was built on people who said, Hey, I wonder what's over there! Look there's a mountain, let's go find out what’s on the other side!’
“If you just pitch a tent wherever you are and stay there for the rest of your life, you'd never accomplish anything. So don't just sit on your dreams and goals and wish you'd done it. You never know, you might be successful, you might be good at it.
“I think a lot of people don't do stuff because they're afraid to try. The worst thing that can happen is you fail. People are so afraid of failure. Guess what? Sometimes failure teaches you something that you might need to know next time, so you don't make that same mistake again.
“When I was growing up, we didn't buy cars. My dad built them. Me and my two brothers were always hanging around the garage with him, and we kept making a mess. We’d go out and tear something up and rebuild it, or we’d be playing in the garage and leave a mess. My dad got to lecturing us that we needed to throw our trash away and pick stuff up and put it back where it belongs.
“One day I'm in the garage and my dad was cutting something with a blowtorch. A piece of metal hit the ground. He picked up the other part that he was working on and took it, walked over to the bench and started working on that piece. And I'm sitting there looking at that piece that hit the ground, thinking to myself, Hey I can pick that up and put it in his junk pile, that'll impress my dad! He's just been getting on us about cleaning up after ourselves, so I can help him.
“So I went over and picked up that piece of metal. Well guess what. It was freaking hot. He had just cut this thing with a blowtorch, but at that age I didn't realize it was still hot because it wasn't red or smoking or anything. And I just threw it across the room and yelled 'cause it hurt, it burned.
“My dad without batting an eyelash said, ‘Didn't take you long to look at that, did it?’ And I learned a lesson real quick, you never pick something up in the garage without making sure it's not hot first.
“So I mean, if you fail, you fail. Sometimes you try something and things don’t go the way you hope. But most of the time you'll find out it works. If you think something will work, if you've got an idea, there's usually some validity to it.”
Robert Mann is full of ideas, and he’s got an entire shop to prove it. Whether you’re looking for a tailgate spot to set up camp (you can join the Shoppe’s Sooieville Tailgate Club), a unique way to share your Razorback pride, or just a friendly conversation, you’ll find it at The Stadium Shoppe on Razorback. Go local (with the free Towny app as your guide) and GO HOGS!
PS: when you swing by, make sure you ask about the family band!