With promises of convenience, less work for school administrators and a handsome lease fee, many schools with limited resources have turned to outside companies to lease out their on-campus retail operations. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas was one such school whose campus store was operated by an independent company for 80 years. That is, until they pulled the plug unexpectedly, leaving the school scrambling to find another solution
"I didn't find out until Feb. 1 this year," said Bookstore Manager T-Ann Currie. "Then the store closed Feb. 29. I'd worked with (the lease store) for 23 years and altogether had about 25 years of bookstore experience, but I'd never started a bookstore."
Why they chose an online bookstore model
Luckily for Currie, the seminary offered her a position on staff as the director of the new bookstore, which was being developed through the school's library. Due to the extremely short notice of having to develop a new bookstore service in time for the coming summer term, the Dean of Libraries suggested Currie look into online fulfillment models.
"I’d never heard of the online bookstore model. When I came on board, I started doing some research and found out that a former bookstore employee went to Liberty University and told me about MBS Direct. I researched more, talked to some people, received presentations and MBS Direct came out ahead both in references from other folks and in aspects we wanted for our bookstore."
One key aspect for Currie was ensuring the online bookstore offered convenience and ease of use for their students, who were used to buying in person from the on-campus store. By integrating with Blackboard, Currie said MBS Direct was able to provide students with an easy, intuitive way to access their course materials right from within their LMS.
Currie said staff have personally helped students get used to the new store, and watching them discover how easy it is to order their materials is like "a whole new world opening for them all of a sudden."
"The Blackboard Store integration has really been a plus, students have been able to get on and find what they need," she said. "They see their classes are populated automatically with their book list. They see all the buying options and get really excited, and we always tell them to make sure your friends know."
Additionally, Currie said she has been pleased with how their new fulfillment model helps students save money, and makes it easy for professors to adopt titles and submit book lists.
How they're physically staying on campus
While students' primary course materials will be ordered online going forward, that doesn't mean Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is done with on-campus retail. While currently under construction within the seminary's library, Currie hopes to open a physical Southwestern Bookstore to sell supplemental academic materials in time for the Fall 2016 term.
"We do have a lot of students or professors who come in and look for additional resources, and still have people who aren’t seminary students come in to use the library or shop," Currie said. "We know that online presences like Amazon and other sites have affected retail sales, but there are still some people out there who are very tactile and prefer not to buy something until they’ve held it in their hands."
Ultimately, Currie said that students and staff alike have been pleased with the new system, and she looked forward to continuing to refine and evolve the store's new retail operations.
"We’re excited to work with MBS Direct, it's been a really easy transition so far and I appreciate MBS for what they did," she said. "They got us up and running for the summer even sooner than they projected. Because we weren't given much time between closing down our store and finding a solution for summer textbooks I know the implementation team busted their backs to help us."