The University of Southern Indiana is one of seven colleges and universities nationwide being honored by University Business magazine in its winter 2013 “Models of Efficiency” national recognition program. Sponsored by Higher One, a leader in providing financial services and data analytics to colleges and universities, the Models of Efficiency program recognizes innovative approaches for streamlining higher education operations through technology and/or business process improvements.
Tim Goral, senior editor of University Business, said, “The USI Campus Store completely reinvented itself to remain competitive, all while keeping students’ needs at the forefront. It’s a great job all the way around.”
The USI Campus Store had seen its 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. And, store manager Mike Goelzhauser completely agreed.
“The store was simply outdated. Our sales floor didn’t flow, and the store just wasn’t inviting. Over the years, as the University Center grew, we absorbed every piece of space we could, so our store became larger, but we weren’t fully utilizing that space,” he explained. “We started by bringing in a team of consultants, not once, but twice; they confirmed we needed to make improvements and helped us devise a plan.”
Some of the major cosmetic changes included adding new windows and large glass doors to the entrance, updating the color scheme and rearranging the merchandise on the sales floor.
“The interior of the store is much more modern,” Goelzhauser described. “We started from scratch and literally changed everything in the store – we have new fixtures, new merchandise and even new hangers. The only thing we kept was our MBS POS systems and even those are the newest version!”
The updates have made a significant impact on customers’ perception of the store.
“Everyone that’s come through including students, faculty, staff, alumni and even vendors have commented on the new look. We’ve heard nothing but praise,” he said. “Everyone says it looks so much more inviting now, and several have asked if we’ve added space to the store. It’s the same size; we’ve just made better use of the square footage.”
Beyond appearances, the store has also added new services to counteract the industry’s increased competition. The store worked in conjunction with the University to develop services that its competitors simply could not provide. The result was a new Bursar account program that allows students to charge up to $1,000 in books to their student accounts within the store, rather than requiring them to first visit the financial aid or bursar’s office to receive a voucher. They can then spread out repayment of the cost of the books over the semester using a payment plan that’s interest free.
As a result, charge sales are up $400,000 over last year and students don’t have to wait to buy books due to delays in financial aid processing or lack of funds.
An authorized Apple store was also recently installed where students can try out the latest Apple technology on and enroll in classes and workshops to enhance their skills. Dell computers will soon be offered, too.
“It was a major improvement; so far, it’s been a real success,” Goelzhauser said.
Together, the updates have had a major affect on sales, which were up 125% over last year in September and 50% in October.
“Our store is a puzzle that’s been put together piece by piece and the transformation is just remarkable,” he emphasized. “I’m looking forward to continuing to provide quality service, controlling pricing to keep course materials affordable for our students and enhancing communication with our campus population. Those initiatives combined with our new store and improved services are the key to a viable future for our store and satisfaction for our students. I’m looking forward to seeing where the future takes us!”
Although the campus store is typically thought of as an auxiliary service, Bridges believes it has a broader role on the USI campus.
“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. This has been the case at the USI Campus Store and a learning experience that we will not soon forget.”