Every year, University of Alaska Anchorage students are shuttled from the campus dorms to a local retailer to buy school supplies. That tradition, however, has always presented a bit of a problem for the campus bookstore, which sells many of the same items that students pick up on the trip, at better prices. As a result, UAA Campus Bookstore staff decided to be proactive and plan an event this rush season that would encourage students to do their back-to-school shopping right on campus.
“We wanted to not only bring customers in the store, but also to engage them; to show them that we’re here for much more than just buying textbooks and school supplies,” explained Rebecca VanLoon, marketing director. “We’re a place where they can come to have fun, too!”
The store set to work organizing the event, which they dubbed Rockin’ the Racks, by forging partnerships. They were fortunate to have a staff member who had previously worked as a Resident Assistant (RA), and was therefore familiar with the campus residence life department. That connection proved to be integral, as it allowed the bookstore to team up with the residence halls to spread awareness.
“Courtny worked very closely with their staff to promote the event,” described June Ebert, buyer. “She put flyers in all of the dorm rooms and common areas, added our information to their Welcome Week calendar, and even coordinated transportation for students from the dorms to our store.”
Courtny also reached out to local vendors to gather an array of prizes.
“She was so persistent in gathering donations, and we ended up with a great variety,” Ebert said.
Although it was advertised exclusively to students in the residence halls, the after-hours event, held from 7 to 9 p.m, drew quite a crowd. To entice attendees, the store offered countless activities, including everything from a photo booth to Minute to Win It games.
“The most popular game was probably Junk in the Trunk, which involved strapping a box filled with ping pong balls to your mid-section and jumping around until they all bounced out,” said Ebert. “The first to complete the task won a prize. It was absolutely hilarious!”
“Our MBS Representative, Julie Wood, even competed! She was such a hoot,” added Van Loon.
Students’ snacking skills were also put to the test. Some competed to see who could eat a donut, suspended in midair by a string, the fastest without using their hands, as well as who could consume a cookie, placed on their forehead, the quickest. A Wii Dance Competition also created excitement, especially since the winner was awarded with a free iPad at the end of the night!
“Everyone got a kick out of the games, they were just so fun to watch,” said Ebert. “Students loved it!”
Attendees could also take advantage of 25% off everything in the store, excluding designated items such as textbooks and electronics, during the event. Adding to the atmosphere, free refreshments were provided and a DJ from the school’s radio station stopped by for entertainment.
By the end of the two hour event, it was easy to see that the evening had been a success. Students walked out with smiles on their faces and the store earned additional revenue.
“Rockin’ the Racks allowed us to capture business from this market early on in the semester as well as establish a sense of community between our store and the incoming class,” described Ebert.
“It was definitely worth the time and effort,” agreed Van Loon. “In fact, we’re hoping to make it an annual event. We were able to influence students’ mindset and show them we’re a fun place to be. Money is great, but creating that positive attitude toward our store is priceless.”