He Is In The Zone Now

October 14, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — After four years of running The Zone, he now owns it.

Jeff Gebben took possession of The Zone from DP Fox Sports and Entertainment LLC, the majority owner of the Grand Rapids Griffins and sole owner of the Rampage, less than a month ago in a quietly completed deal. Price and terms of the transaction were not released.

The Zone, which DP Fox opened on the west side of Van Andel Arena nine years ago, has always been an outlet for Griffins and Rampage clothing, other team-related items, and game tickets.

But four years ago, about the time Gebben became director of merchandise for DP Fox and began running The Zone, the store’s inventory grew as products from the Detroit Red Wings were added to the shelves and racks when the Griffins aligned themselves with the NHL club. Then items from the American Hockey and Arena Football leagues were stocked, and suddenly The Zone found itself covering a lot more retail territory.

Still, that old standby — location — was the main reason why Gebben bought The Zone, along with its two kiosks located on the arena concourse.

“I see the arena as a prosperous place. It’s also a good community thing. The attendance is there and it’s a nice night out for people, and souvenir sales follow,” he said.

Talks between Gebben and DP Fox began late last year when the firm spoke with him about changes the company was considering making to the store. But after having a lengthy close-up view of sales traffic to The Zone and seeing the potential for future sales, Gebben made DP Fox an offer for the store that the company didn’t refuse.

As for his changes, Gebben wants to make it easier for customers to buy merchandise online. To accomplish that task, he has two virtual addresses: www.thezonegear.com and www.bleachersectionsports.com. The latter address includes memorabilia and merchandise from his other store, Sportscard Stadium, located in the Jenison Meijer.

He also plans to stock Sportscard Stadium, which he has solely owned since 1999, with merchandise from the Griffins and Rampage.

“We have some new styles coming out, this being the tenth anniversary (of the Griffins), and we’re going to spice The Zone up a little bit. We’re going to put a collectibles spin on it because of my background with autographed memorabilia, both from the parent club and the Griffins,” said Gebben.

Gebben told the Business Journal that The Zone would offer collectibles that couldn’t be purchased anywhere else in the area. Items used or worn in games, such as hockey sticks and jerseys, and autographed merchandise from the Red Wings top his list. Gebben also said he was working on putting together a couple of autograph sessions with noteworthy players.

The regular hours for The Zone are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday. The store also will be open on the Sundays that are game days.

“And, of course, from 10 until the end of the game — if it’s a game night,” said Gebben.

The Zone will continue to sell tickets to Griffins and Rampage games. But because the team no longer owns the store, Gebben is required to charge buyers a convenience fee for each ticket they buy at The Zone.

“We negotiated for it to be the lowest convenience charge that they have; it’s a dollar per ticket. We’ve caught a little bit of flack about the fee, but there isn’t anything that we can do about it,” he said, while adding that ticket vouchers can still be exchanged at the store.

Gebben said owning both stores means more to him than just a way to make a living.

“I look at it in a couple of ways. The first one is, it’s a business that I love and I’m a little blinded by that,” he said with a laugh.

“But as with any business there is always good, healthy competition. It’s always tight and there is always new stuff coming out and decisions to be made on what to sell to people. But I think that fans want to feel like they’re going to be the next person called up. So my goal is to make the fans feel as close to the action as I can.”     

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