For college stores, balancing regular retail space against the area needed for a robust textbook section can be a challenge. With their former leasing partner, Ouachita Baptist University Campus Store struggled to offer a broad enough selection of course material options to keep their students shopping in-store, without compromising the profit-making potential of their remaining retail space.
Before making the decision to switch providers, Campus Store Director Beverly Dickerson did her homework. “We had a good relationship with our former provider,” she said. “That wasn’t the problem. The reason we began investigating alternatives was prompted by feedback from our students and parents: they wanted more options.”
Store size and the total enrollment of the university made it impractical for the Campus Store to carry more than one or two formats per title, and what to offer was at the discretion of the staff.
“We were going through as many as 1,600 adoptions and choosing which format to carry for each,” Dickerson said. “While some of these decisions were based on factors like how new the book was, for the most part, we relied on our own preferences and judgement. We’d choose new and used for this one, only used for this one. But our customers were telling us that they wanted to be able to choose for themselves, and they were showing us this by purchasing elsewhere.”
Because the store had a positive history with MBS as a wholesaler, when it was time to investigate solutions, MBS Direct was high on Dickerson’s list.
“I’ve been in the bookstore business since 1988, and in my experience, the two main concerns for students are always price and choice,” Dickerson said. “We already knew MBS was a good company. At that point, we’d decided to explore an online model, so we wanted to see what MBS Direct could offer our students.”
Affordable options in one convenient location
One of the University’s core tenets is that their students should have the right books on the first day of class. To ensure this, every student is able to charge up to $1,000 of textbooks to their student account each semester. After their financial aid has been processed, the school offers a payment plan for the remaining balance.
With their previous provider’s limited options, students were placing orders with outside vendors, despite having access to these funds.
“Moving online with MBS Direct allowed us to offer new, used, rental, digital, digital rental and Marketplace — students can choose what best fits their budget and their preference,” Dickerson said. “Because they can comparison-shop right on our page with Marketplace, we don’t lose them to other sources.”
This semester, students were able to put their financial aid toward Marketplace purchases and will soon be able to use SFA for rental, which Dickerson believes will result in even more market share.
The streamlined, online ordering process is not only easier for the students, but it also minimizes the work involved for the staff. Course materials are delivered to the store in bundles organized by student name, and the staff simply passes them out at the beginning of the semester.
“We encourage our students to use the bulk shipping method to our campus location,” she said. “They see significant savings, especially if they order during the state’s tax-free weekend in August, and it also allows us to still have the maximum amount of store traffic and customer interaction.”
Rejuvenated retail space and lowered overhead
Without the additional labor involved in maintaining course material inventory in-store, the associated costs have disappeared.
“We have no overhead and have been able to reduce the number of payroll hours in the summer and the beginning of each semester,” Dickerson said. “We’ve also eliminated at least five temporary positions. With our former way of doing things, we were lucky to break even after payroll expenses.
“Now, we receive a commission for our textbook sales and it feels like MBS Direct is doing all the work!”
Shifting to an online model has also enabled the staff to expand the retail operation and carry new product lines.
“With a fixed textbook department with counter service, you have a great deal of floor space that is occupied, butonly used a fraction of the time,” she said. “Retail is where we actually make money as a store and now, with twice as much available space, we can carry a wider selection of merchandise. We’re more profitable than ever. Our alumni even brag about how great the store looks now that we’ve remodeled, but we haven’t spent a penny on renovations. We just moved stuff around after outsourcing the textbooks.”
Customer service with tailored solutions
Dickerson said that she often feels like Account Manager Jordan Powell and Client Services Manager Tanner Tucker’s only customer.
“The level of customer service we and our students have experienced is unmatched by anyone in the industry. MBS is simply the best vendor I’ve worked with — and I work with a lot of vendors,” she said. “It’s really a no-brainer: this is what’s best for our kids and our parents.
“Our previous provider had a blanket answer to any question we had, that seemed to come straight from a manual. With MBS Direct, we get a customized solution that works for our school and our students. The whole team truly goes above and beyond every need and expectation we have.
“Having MBS Direct as our online bookstore provider has been so much better for our school, our students and our store. We were so many years behind in certain areas, so the changes have been many for us. But after a full year, every change has been well worth it and we couldn’t be happier with our decision.”