Just as sales in the publishing industry have been declining, the University of Southern Indiana (USI) Campus Store, in Evansville, has seen sales fall an average of 10 percent per year the last few years.
With new and used book sales accounting for 60 percent of revenue in the store, Steve Bridges, assistant vice president for finance and administration, and his team knew something had to be done.
Part of the challenge for the store was increased competition. A textbook rental business opened right down the street and retail giant Amazon was pushing ever more aggressively into used textbook sales. The campus store was hardly students’ only destination for textbooks and university apparel.
To become competitive once again, campus store officials knew they had to begin offering services to students that its competition could not provide. “We looked to meet needs, not only measured by profit, but also by serving unmet needs with an efficient personal service model,” Bridges explains.
Hearing from the provost that students frequently attended the first week of classes without books because they couldn’t afford them, or because financial aid hadn’t yet credited the student’s account, the campus store zeroed in on this as a differentiator. Administrators simplified the process of buying books. Instead of requiring students to first visit the financial aid or bursar’s office to receive a voucher, the store now allows students to charge up to $1,000 in books to their student account. They can then spread repayment out over the semester.
Because Amazon does not lend students money for books, the USI campus store had carved a unique niche. As of mid-October, charge sales were up $400,000 over last year. And no students have to wait to buy books.
The campus store is also expanding its inventory by selling artwork for students and faculty. A display space is aimed at increasing foot traffic and showcasing the level of talent at the university.
Apparel is another product line the store is expanding, with the creation of new shirts and sweatshirts touting specific colleges and teams within the university.
An authorized Apple store staffed by a full-time employee was also added within the USI store. Students not only can try out the latest Apple technology on campus, but they can also enroll in classes and workshops to enhance their technology skills. Dell computers will soon be offered, too.
Although the campus store is typically thought of as an auxiliary service, Bridges says he believes it has a broader role. “The ability to get people learning tools on day one will positively impact retention,” he says.
“Competition in some cases makes you smarter, more creative, and, in the end, becomes the catalyst for a more customer focused and financially sustainable model,” Bridges adds.