A report this week from Forrester Research confirmed what just about everybody in business already knew: Americans are buying online and they are buying a lot.
The study reported that Americans spent more than $200 billion online in 2011 and projected that total would rise to $327 billion in 2016. The 2016 figure represents 9 percent of all retail sales (up from 7 percent in 2011).
Among the report’s interesting findings:
- 53 percent of Americans made an online purchase in 2011.
- 58 percent are expected to make an online purchase in 2016.
- People believe they get the best deals when shopping online.
- Tablet devices like the iPad have spurred online impulse buying.
If these stats don’t make you want to reevaluate your e-commerce efforts—and perhaps plan a redesign!—they should.
An attractive, well-organized website, with a back-end that functions seamlessly and a shopping cart that makes the purchasing process as easy and intuitive as possible will do wonders for your bottom line.
Ten years ago, building a quality e-commerce website was a highly expensive proposition. You had to hire an outside firm to do it. Today, businesses can use any number of open-source platforms to build a complex, yet relatively inexpensive e-commerce site.
But just because you can do it yourself, should you?
I say no. It’s too critical to your business not to get right. Granted, I work at a Web design firm, but hear me out.
These cookie-cutter websites that people are peddling for $1000 or less may be fine for some kid with a blog or a pizza parlor looking to put their menu and phone number online, but for most businesses, they just look cheesy.
Here’s the thing about cheap, template-driven websites: They look like every other cheap website out there. And that cheapens your brand. It makes you look like you don’t take your marketing and messaging seriously.
Custom designs are always going to cost more but the result is something you’ll never get from a generic template: a site that’s been designed to drive real business for you. That requires a team of people including an information architect, a designer, a front-end coder, a back-end developer, a quality assurance expert, and a project manager to coordinate all of the work.
But first, you must find the right design team. Look for one that understands your business and how to best promote your business online. When you are interviewing potential designers, make sure they can point to specific case studies of successful projects they have completed for other clients.
The design process should always start with a planning phase: That’s when your designer should demonstrate an understanding of your business, the competitive landscape, and the goals for the project.
This is followed by the design stage, where your team will map out the look and feel of the site and lay out the navigation and functionality requirements.
Finally, after all of the site specs are agreed upon, the front and back-end coding will begin. At this stage, the quality assurance process tests the site’s functionality across a variety of browsers.
It’s not a fast or cheap process. (And, by the way, it doesn’t end there: The next step involves driving traffic to it with sound marketing strategies.)
If you want to be in business, then you need to be online. But if you’re doing a bad job of it online, you have no business being in business in the first place.
Want to enhance your online presence? MBS Systems inSite could be the perfect option for your store. Our e-commerce solution provides everything you need to take your store to the Web, capture Internet sales, and defend against online competition.
Best of all, your store is assigned a dedicated representative who will work with you to build a website that meets your needs and fits with your brand image.
For more information, talk to your MBS Representative or email Systems@MBSbooks.com!
No advertising is required for you to host a ‘secret sale’ for all your loyal social media followers. Simply designate a slow-traffic time period to provide a specific discount, and then post it to your Facebook or Twitter account. You can make it more fun by requiring a specific action that your fans and followers must complete in-store to take advantage of your promotion. Try posting a password, providing a printable coupon or asking those students to mention Facebook or Twitter during their transaction.
The key to the sale’s success, however, is its exclusivity. Making it available for a limited amount of time to a limited demographic only makes it that much more appealing to students. Be sure to keep the length of your sale brief and the offer significant savings to capitalize on this concept.
Regardless of which strategy you use, have student employees engage with your customers and ask them if they saw your secret sale advertised on Facebook, Twitter, or both. This not only allows you to see how many of your followers view and take advantage of your online promotions, but also to learn which platform they saw it on. If one is mentioned significantly more than the other, then you will know it is the site that reaches the most students and you can concentrate your efforts there in the future.
Eliminating promotional costs, secret sales are a simple and inexpensive way to provide the chance to build interaction among your customer base. Once word spreads that fans and followers received a special discount, others will be likely to join your social media sites to take advantage of such events in the future and build your fan base further.
Sales like this also have the advantage of easy implementation, as they can be planned at any time of the year. Even better, hosting secret sales periodically throughout the year increases the likelihood that you will gain positive word-of-mouth and offers clear benefits to your students, encouraging them to stay involved in your social media.
Have you offered a secret sale? Tell us about it in the comments section!
Another CAMEX has come and gone. We had a great week in Salt Lake City and enjoyed seeing friends both old and new! After several packed training sessions, there was lots of positive feedback about our newest offerings including our mobile app, rental at the buyback counter, event pricing options, price comparison, and more! A special thanks to all those who attended or stopped by our booth – we enjoyed visiting with each of you!
We’re already looking forward to next year in Kansas City, but until then take a look at some of our favorite snapshots from CAMEX 2012:
Marketing is an essential aspect of any retail store’s success. But, with strict budget constraints, many struggle to implement effective strategies that will reach their target audience.
With no marketing allowance in their budget, Mount Mercy University Campus Store recently overcame that obstacle with creative, no-cost advertising options devised by their students.
“One of the marketing professors on campus is very pro-bookstore and she decided to have her students help us advertise,” explained Janie Mills, manager. “By working through our school’s division of the international non-profit organization SIFE, which stands for Students in Free Enterprise, her class partnered with us to plan, organize and implement various marketing initiatives.”
For instance, the SIFE students’ first goal was to bring awareness to the store’s soft goods.
“They proposed the idea of live mannequin modeling, where they would each wear a selected outfit found at our store and pose in high-traffic areas around campus,” she said. “We’d never done anything like it before, so we thought, ‘Why not?!’”
To start, the students each picked out an outfit that they wanted to model. They then selected the times and locations that they believed would draw the largest crowds of their peers.
“They modeled in the cafeteria during lunch hour and other common campus buildings during high-traffic times,” Teresa Wery, assistant manager, explained. “Because this was going on during the last week before Winter Break, the students were also holding homemade decorative gift tags that let passersby know that their outfits could be purchased at the campus store; it was very effective!”
Drawing additional traffic as well as sales, the store believes the new promotion helped increase visibility.
“We saw an increase of $8,000 in overall sales from the previous year and a $3,000 increase in soft good sales, which was great!” Mills described. “Buyback was going on at the same time, too, and many students were bringing their cash straight into the store to make a purchase. Because we had recently moved, several students told us that they hadn’t even known where our new location was before seeing the live models, so it was great to gain those new customers!”
That’s not all the SIFE team students did, either! They also suggested that the store offer color-coded candy canes each assigned with a different discount value to reward those who shopped there during the holidays.
“Before a transaction was complete, each customer could draw one candy cane and were then awarded the corresponding discount. We even had a couple that offered a free item; everyone loved it!” Wery said.
The SIFE students also decorated the store with festive holiday décor and promoted a ‘Buy Local’ campaign, as well.
“Overall, it was a great partnership and we were very grateful for their efforts,” Wery said. “Most importantly, the students enjoyed helping and seemed really excited to be able to make a difference!”
The project also helped shine some light on the way a college store operates, enhancing their image in the eyes of students.
“I think it gave them a different perspective on the store, and made them realize that we’re not the big, bad bookstore after all!” Mills added.
Moving forward, the store plans to continue to partner with student employees for help in marketing as well as other areas.
“One of the students really took the bull by the horns during the project and was very interested in assisting us further,” Mills said. “Her professor created an internship for her so that she could continue working with us for the next two years; we’re looking forward to seeing all that she comes up with!”
To others who may be struggling with the monetary requirements for marketing, Mills has one suggestion, “Get your students involved as much as you can!”
“Let them take ownership of their campus store and be a part of the process,” Wery added. “They know what your customers like and respond to, and they are willing to share that knowledge if you ask! It’s a great partnership because they get valuable work experience for their resume and your store receives important feedback!”
The time for graduation and finals is near. Many seniors will be making some of their last purchases at their college store for caps, gowns and any supplies they may need to make it through their last exams. Now is the time to reach out to them so they will remain loyal customers as alumni.
Reward your seniors for their years of hard work with reserved store hours and special sales, adding exclusivity to your normal year-end events. Offer a Graduation Fair with entrance only for students of senior standing during designated hours. This strategy provides them with quick and easy access to the important items they need for the big day and brings steady traffic to your store.
Make your senior-only shoppers feel special with extra savings on graduation-related products such as diploma frames and alumni apparel, or raffles and product giveaways. To enhance already high spirits, offer them the opportunity to reflect on their four years at your school by displaying themed poster boards around the store where they can write their favorite memories. Then, showcase these boards during your freshman orientation events or fall rush to enhance incoming students’ perceptions of your store and campus.
Though the rules shouldn’t be strict, advertise your events through emails targeted to the senior class, with a printable invitation proving their upperclassman status for entry to the store. Then, consider having an employee stand at the door during your designated time period, to ‘check’ invitations and add to the VIP atmosphere.
For a more sustainable and financially-savvy approach, designate a password in your email and require that phrase for entry during your senior store hours. Regardless of which you choose, requesting a specific action, such as these, allows your store to analyze how many students engage and act on your messages, so you can tailor your future marketing based on the results.
How do you make seniors feel special before their big send-off? Share your ideas in the comment section!
The following article, 5 Simple SEO Mistakes You Are Making and How To Avoid Them, was written by Amy Moczynski for SocialFresh.com.
Build it and they will come just does not fly on the web. You have to work to get people there and then make them very comfortable so they will stay.
Using SEO tactics to drive visitors (getting them there) to a well-designed website (make them comfortable) presents a great one/two punch for a digital marketing strategy. The following represent some common misconceptions people have about SEO best practices and the biggest mistakes businesses make regarding their digital marketing strategy.
1. Using your Keywords Improperly
There’s a fine balance you need to achieve when integrating keywords into your content. Use them too infrequently, and search engines won’t pick up on them.
Use them too frequently, and you could be penalized for keyword stuffing. Generally, the right balance is between 3 and 8 percent keyword density, so don’t go too crazy when putting your keywords on your website.
Also (and this is a huge pet peeve of mine), drawing attention to your keywords in your body content doesn’t do anything from a search engine standpoint.
Capitalizing your Keyword Phrases or making them bold in the text doesn’t make them any more obvious to search engines. Also, nothing screams, “novice” like capitalizing or bolding your keywords on your website. Just don’t do it.
2. Not Using Internal Linking
Your website shouldn’t just have links pointing toward it from other sites. Instead, make sure all of your internal pages link to each other.
A strong internal linking structure makes search engines happy, and it provides you with an opportunity to use anchor text when linking to various pages on your website.
3. Overusing Industry Jargon
Yes, it’s important to use your keywords in your body text, but don’t forget that there are real people, not search engines, who are using your website.
Make sure your content is simple enough for anyone to understand and you aren’t using only buzzwords or keywords in your text for the sake of using them.
Also, having text that is difficult for visitors to understand will lead to high bounce and exit rates, and most likely a lower rate of people completing whatever your online conversion might be.
4. Not Varying The Types Of Links To Your Site
Directories might be one of the easier ways to get links to your site (easier in that they are mostly time consuming but pretty simple to obtain), but using only one kind of link in your SEO strategy is selling your site short.
Blog posts, press releases, forum comments, using anchor texts in backlinks, directories, and links from various social media platforms should all be a part of a well-rounded SEO strategy.
Test different options and see what works best for your site, both in terms of your rankings and traffic to your website.
5. Letting Your Website Go Stale
This probably happens more than anyone cares to admit: You spend time researching keywords; integrating them into your content; placing them in the title tags, meta descriptions, and meta keywords; and then there is no other link building that takes place.
None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Yes, you followed all the rules, integrated the keywords everywhere you’re supposed to, and picked the right terms to get your website the right traffic.
But, if you don’t do any link building for your site, no matter how great the foundation you laid for your website, you’re not going to reach your potential as far as SEO is concerned.
Anyone who works in SEO will tell you it’s a long-term process. Implementing a great keyword strategy is a good start to an SEO campaign, but it’s the long-term link building that is going to get great rankings.
Consumers don’t expect brands to be flawless. In fact, consumers will embrace brands that are Flawesome: brands that are still brilliant despite having flaws; even being flawed (and being open about it) can be awesome. Brands that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humor, and (dare we say it) some character and humanity.
Two key drivers are fueling the Flawesome trend:
- HUMAN BRANDS: Everything from disgust at business to the influence of online culture (with its honesty and immediacy), is driving consumers away from bland, boring brands in favor of brands with some personality.
- TRANSPARENCY TRIUMPH: Consumers are benefiting from almost total and utter transparency (and thus are finding out about flaws anyway), as a result of the torrent of readily available reviews, leaks and ratings.
Benefit of Human Brands:
So, while human brand might not be a ‘new’ theme, four currents are now converging to make consumers more focused on brand attitude and behavior than ever before:
- Consumers’ disillusionment at corporate behavior has (finally) spilled over into outright disgust. As a result, any brand that can show business in a new light will be welcomed with open arms.
- Nearly 85% of consumers worldwide expect companies to become actively involved in promoting individual and collective wellbeing; an increase of 15% from 2010 (Source: Havas Media, November 2011).
- Yet only 28% of people think that companies are working hard to solve the big social and environmental challenges (Source: Havas Media, November 2011).
- Most people would not care if 70% of brands ceased to exist (Source: Havas Media, November 2011).
Alongside this craving for personality sits a deluge of reviews, remarks, ratings, reports, leaks and so on, allowing consumers to benefit from near-total transparency.
And ‘transparency’ will continue to be one of the key ‘big business themes’: from frictionless sharing by individuals to the visualization of previously invisible data, prepare for a world in which everything (attitudes, prices, quality, behavior) will be completely accessible and therefore potentially outed as ‘flawed’.
So, with consumers likely to find out everything about your products, services and activities anyway, you have no option but to embrace if not celebrate them, flaws and all.
Two things to bear in mind:
- Flawlessness is an illusion, and indeed a harmful one. Isolated negative reviews don’t kill brands. In fact, the opposite applies: people’s trust in positive reviews appearing alongside them increases. Consumers aren’t stupid: they know that no products will satisfy everyone all of the time. Some stats:
- 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores, while 30% suspect censorship or faked reviews if their aren’t any negative comments or reviews (Source: Reevoo.com, January 2012).
- Shoppers who go out of their way to read bad reviews convert 67% more than the average consumer (Source: Reevoo.com, January 2012).
- 76% of people who complained on Twitter received no response from the brand. But among those who were contacted, 83% liked or loved that the brand responded, and 85% were satisfied with the response (Source: Maritz Research, September 2011.
How can your store be more flawesome? Consider integrating price comparison to be more transparent, communicating in a human tone through social media, and responding to any online complaints you receive, especially during key times such as buyback and rush. In short, be open and personal and students will be that much more willing to shop with you!
Pinterest is a social photo-sharing website where users can create and manage theme-based image collections on a virtual pin board. According to their website, Pinterest’s mission is to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.”
Because books serve the same purpose in connecting people from different backgrounds, many college stores are getting in on the pinning, too. For instance, University Store’s General Books department at University of Missouri – Columbia recently created their own account to share their love of books with others.
“My student assistant had seen several articles about businesses using Pinterest, so she started thinking of ways to apply it to our store and took the initiative to create our boards,” explained Chris Willow, General Books Buyer. “I know how excited I get about pinning, just using the site personally, and we both thought it would be fun to bring that same excitement to our customers.”
According to Willow, Pinterest is the perfect place to connect with the store’s target audience.
“There’s more to books than just the text, there’s a whole culture,” she said. “Readers are a very passionate group and often enjoy further engaging with the story line and characters outside of the book itself. Pinterest is just one more way we can extend that experience with them.”
For instance, the store has created several ‘boards,’ or collections of themed images, based on popular titles or those that have been turned into movies.
“We try to create boards based on what our customers have shown interest in,” she explained. “The Hunger Games trilogy has been a very strong seller for us, for example, so we created a board called ‘May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor’ filled with quirky tie-ins to the book and upcoming movie including everything from a MockingJay cupcake to stylized quotes from the main characters.”
Similarly, the store’s Pinterest page also has a Harry Potter-themed board.
“He’s a continual obsession in our world!” she said. “It’s fun to show readers that we share the same passions that they do. It’s a different way for customers to get to know us a little better.”
The General Books department doesn’t limit their pins to just books, though. They also use the site as a promotional tool.
“We remind our followers of what we’re up to by pinning events that are going on both in the store and on campus,” she described. “We’ve created boards that relate to the University as a whole, too., where you’ll find everything from our branded merchandise to pictures of landmarks on campus.”
The site is also helping the store to develop relationships with others in the industry.
“We’ve seen a lot of publishers using Pinterest recently and several are following us. It’s a neat way to see what’s up and coming in their world and likewise, for them to understand what’s popular in ours,” she added.
To promote their presence on Pinterest to students, Willow and her staff have spread the word using their existing social networks.
“We often tweet our pins to let students know what we’re up to on the site,” she explained. “You can also add a link to your Twitter bio so ours directs followers to Pinterest as another way to advertise what we’re doing.”
Although they’ve only been active on the site for a few months, the store can already see the benefit.
“It’s fun to be able to use technology to engage with our customers about printed books in a world that’s increasingly becoming more technology-driven,” Willow said. “Our hope is to help students understand the beauty of an independent bookstore and we’re looking forward to working toward that goal on Pinterest.”
The following article, How To Use Facebook Timeline For Brand Pages: New Feature Details, was written by Josh Constine for TechCrunch. View the article here.
What does the launch of Facebook Timeline for Pages mean for your brand? Unprecedented control, an opportunity to boost engagement, but also lots of initial work. A host of new features became available when Facebook gave all Pages around the globe the option to upgrade to the Timeline redesign. Here’s how they work, and how to use them to benefit your business.
First, visit the Timeline for Pages preview manager and select to add Timeline to your Pages. You’ll then enter a curation period where only your Page’s admins can see Timeline, while everyone else including your fans will see the old design. Walk yourself through the features detailed below, and when you’re ready, click the “Publish Now” button atop your Page to start showing off Timeline to everyone. You can upgrade anytime until March 30th, 2012, at which Timeline will automatically become publicly visible for all of your Pages.
The Timeline cover displays a giant 851 x 315 pixel banner across the top of your Page. Facebook’s Product Director of Ads Gokul Rajaram tells me its “goal is to symbolize what an organization is all about. For a restaurant it could be a popular menu item, a band could display album cover art, and a business could show a picture of their customers using their product.”
Covers may not display specific calls to actions or references to Facebook features such as “Like this Page”, purchase or pricing info such as “40% off” or “Download at our website”, or contact information such as web address. Pick a visually stunning, high-resolution image that will delight or intrigue visitors and make them want to scroll down to your updates.
Below the Cover is your Page’s standard profile picture, name, and two stats: your total Likes and the number of “people talking about this”. The About section shows a description for brands or an address and contact info for local businesses. Users can click through the About link to unfold a map and view other basic info. Be sure to fill out a short, punchy description of your brand’s identity.
The redesign of how Page apps are displayed could be the primary disadvantage of Timeline for Pages. Apps have been relocated from the left navigation sidebar to the right side of the About section. There are four app tiles above the fold, and the first is permanently occupied by Photos. The rest can include Likes, Videos, Events, Map and a Page’s custom apps.
Previously, Pages could set a default landing tab that all non-fans would first see instead of the wall when they visited a Page. This is no longer allowed. Instead, users always see the main Timeline view and have to actively click through to custom apps. This means custom apps for your contests, promotions, games, media, coupons, and signup widgets may receive much less engagement from users who find their way to your Page.
Pages also often used “Like-gates” on their default landing app, requiring users to Like a Page in exchange for the ability to use the app. While Like-gates are still permitted, they’re not nearly as powerful since they won’t be the first thing users see when they visit a page.
To edit which apps you display, click the drop-down icon to the right of the tiles, click the ‘+’ button to import your custom apps, and then hover over them and click the pencil to swap them around. I recommend putting the native or custom apps most crucial to your business above the fold, so coupons for e-commerce brands, contests for consumer packaged good companies, events for promoters, etc. Only display the Likes panel if you have a lot of them and want to peer pressure new visitors into Liking your Page.
By default, Page Timelines allow users to send direct, private messages to your Page. This creates a new customer service channel where you can address users’ concerns without having to discuss issues publicly on your Page’s wall / Timeline. Pages cannot proactively send messages, you can only respond to users that have already contacted you.
Since asynchronous customer service through messages is much cheaper than fielding live voice calls, Page messages could create additional ROI if you convince users to message instead of calling. If you find users complaining publicly on your wall, kindly ask them to message you instead and say you’ll resolve their problems there. You’ll need to consistently monitor and respond to messages though, or you’ll risk being perceived as ignoring your fans.
When users visit your Page, they’ll see a mix of stories published by your Page itself, by their friends, and stories from other users that have received a lot of Likes, comments, and shares. This is much different than the dedicated Page-only and other users-only feeds from before Timeline. Users can opt to visit those dedicated feeds, though. A Timeline navigation bar on the left lets users jump to different years in a brand’s history.
Since random user posts that aren’t necessarily positive could appear on Timeline, the Highlights feed presents branding risks. Thankfully, you can disable the ability for random users to post directly to your Page, and prevent their Timeline from displaying mentions of your Page. However, posts to or mentioning your Page by a visitor’s friends are always visible. If you see negative posts, hover over them and select to hide them, or delete them if they’re especially inflammatory or blatant trolling.
You can select to pin one of your best new or old posts to the top left spot of the Timeline feed for seven days at a time. Pinning can be used to direct users to an important promotional app, show off a special photo, or display a timely status update. The feature gives you significant control what visitors to a Page see first. Be sure to at least keep a link to your website pinned at all times, and rotate it with links to your apps and whatever else you want to drive the most traffic to or impressions of.
Beyond pinning posts, you can select to Highlight important posts throughout their Timeline to make them appear the full width of the Page. Ideally before you publish Timeline, or at least at some point you should crawl through your entire Timeline and Highlight all your best photos and links that are still relevant, and hide or delete posts that seem dumb or embarrassing in retrospect, have broken links, or were timely when published but no longer make sense. You should also Highlight user posts that especially positive, while hiding negative ones.
In the top right of a Page’s Timeline’s feed, visitors see the count and faces of friends who Like your Page, followed by one update from a friend mentioning the Page that Facebook’s algorithms deem especially engaging. You have little control over this section. Keep it from amplifying negative mentions of your Page by hiding or deleting those posts when first published.
In addition to traditional status, photo, video, and question updates, you can select to publish special Milestone stories, such as your founding date, and other big accomplishments like acquisitions or hitting a notable number of customers. These updates are likely favored by the EdgeRank news feed visibility algorithm, and may receive more impressions in the news feed and more prominence on Timeline than standard posts. Milestones appear full-width on your Page with a special flag icon on top. Don’t be afraid to use them whenever somewhat appropriate. Users also see the standard composer, sans Milestones, and can use it to publish feedback publicly to your Page.
Rather than sending admins to a separate interface, the new Admin Panel drops down and appears overlaid over Timeline when clicked. It displays notifications of recent activity such as posts to your Timeline by fans, a list of your most recent Page Message conversations, new Likes, and a snapshot of your Insights data including the volume of your own posts, total reach, and the number of “people talking about this”. Each section can be drilled into for a more detailed look. A “Manage” button on the Admin Panel reveals the “Edit Page” option where you can configure all your Page’s settings including whether fans can post to your Timeline and who can see those posts.
Here you can see every post your Page has ever published, as well as all those by users mentioning them. You can highlight posts to expand them to the full width of you Page, allow them to appear if Facebook deems them relevant, or hide them from view. Posts written directly on your Page’s Timeline may also be deleted. Activity Log makes it easy for you to curate your Timeline and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
In summary, here’s a checklist of the most important things to do with your Timeline
- Choose a beautiful cover
- Provide a punchy description
- Feature your most important apps
- Pin the post you want to drive the most traffic to
- Highlight great historical posts by you and your fans
- Hide or delete embarrassing or out of date posts by you and your fans
What’s your opinion of Timeline? What features do you love or dislike? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!
Congratulations to our partner University Store for their recently featured article, Towson Student Recognizes Giving from University Store, in NACS’ Campus Marketplace! Check out the article below, written by Dan Angelo, Assistant Editor of The College Store magazine!
The Towson University Bookstore, Towson, MD, was just trying to help with its donation of outdated and overstock merchandise to a campus student group that is building an elementary school in Honduras.
Student Elliot Glotfelty made sure the store’s generosity did not go unnoticed, penning a thank-you note that appeared in the student newspaper. The bookstore contribution was personal for Glotfelty, who has traveled to the South American village of Villa Soleada to work on the project as a member of the Central American Children’s Institute and Students Helping Honduras.
“I thought the letter was very sweet,” said Katie Simmons-Barth, marketing and retail supervisor. “I know the student, but I didn’t know he had written the letter. The next day, the student group brought me this gorgeous picture they took with ‘thank you’ written all over the mat. It’s beautiful and it hangs in my office. I am very proud of the work we do with them.”
The Towson students started working on the Villa Soleada school during a January 2011 visit, with six students returning last summer with approximately 600 lbs. of goods from the college store. In January 2012, 53 more students were back in Honduras to continue work on the school and to bring more donated merchandise.
“I asked them what kinds of things they needed and they said, ‘Anything,’” Simmons-Barth said. “The people and children there in Honduras are living in dirt huts and literally sleeping on dirt floors.”
The donations consisted of unsellable merchandise from the store, including children’s shoes, clothing, and blankets. Some of the items had the wrong collegiate logos, slight damage, or had discolored from storage.
“A lot of it was merchandise we’ve had for years,” Simmons-Barth said. “Our campus had changed its licensing for our images and we’ve updated some things. Some of the goods were either imagery that was outdated or we just couldn’t use anymore. It was no longer in sellable condition and we donated that to them.”
She even went through her personal belongings for items to donate.
“My partner and I collected clothes from our families and we went through our entire house and found every donation we could possibly give,” Simmons-Barth said. “I rounded up a couple of big bags and came in on my day off to deliver it all.”
The store also places cans at its registers for customers to donate spare change to student causes throughout the year, and permits groups to set up fund-raising tables in front of its location. One store employee is using the space to sell Honduran jewelry to help finance her trip with the group the next time it travels to Villa Soleada.
“I don’t know that we gave that much, but students definitely know we support groups and that we gave them as much as we possibly can,” Simmons-Barth said. “It changes people’s point of view. We used to be seen as the store that just takes money for textbooks and now we’re giving back. It’s important to be active on campus and to show students we are involved, we do care, and we want to assist when we can.”
The University Bookstore is even kicking around the idea of sending staff members to participate in the program.
“This is something that is very important,” Simmons-Barth said. “If I were to go, I think it would drive me to do more.”
The Towson students have a goal of raising $50,000 for the Honduran effort and have raised more than $7,300 to date. For more information on the effort, go to www.ceciskids.org.