The Georgia Southern University Store takes pride in serving its campus community. Whether it’s through affordability initiatives, campus engagement or an outstanding loyalty program, the store strives to ensure every customer gets the best service. One way they make that possible is by adapting with industry changes.
“We have a strong offering. We’re engaged with the campus. We’re one of the larger student employers on campus, and we take pride in that. We all know that it’s a challenge to be an employer of students, but it is worth it. Not only does an on-campus job help students with affordability, it creates great brand ambassadors on the campus,” Georgia Southern University Store Director Carlita Slatky said. “Football is big at our school. All of the logo apparel we offer adds to the student experience, helps them look their best at the game and shows their school spirit all around the state. Most of our students come from the Atlanta area. They love wearing our colors and logo when they go home.”
The evolution of course materials on campus
Over the past several years, the course material market has gone through many changes that have had a significant effect on colleges stores.
“Students are very comfortable going online to purchase or rent books from whatever sources that they find. We’re doing more eBooks sales now than ever before. When I say eBooks, some of those are purely an eBook and some are with the access code,” Slatky said. “We definitely have some OER adoptions on our campus. The state is very aggressive in pushing for OER materials. They provide grants so instructors can write those materials. In addition, we are trying to get an inclusive access pilot started for spring 2020. We want to be known for taking an aggressive approach to improving affordability and keeping pace with industry trends.”
One of the tools the store uses to increase the availability of low-cost books and to simplify their textbook purchasing process is SimpleSource. SimpleSource is MBS’ new ordering tool designed to simplify wholesale and marketplace wantlists.
“We were able to get so many more books. Being a state school, when we want to order from a vendor that only takes credit cards, it’s very difficult. We have to use our P-card and it has all of these limits. For example, you can only spend so much on a certain transaction and so much in a certain time period. SimpleSource allows us to work with less conventional sources,” Slatky said. “We also appreciate the fact MBS vets the books to make sure we don’t have counterfeit books entering our system. That’s an important part of it as well.”
Preparing for the future with a new retail system
One of the biggest changes was implementing a new retail system. Needing better customer service support and a retail system that could evolve with the campus store, Georgia Southern University Store made the switch to MBS Store Technology Solutions in 2017.
“Implementation can be difficult because you are trying to take data from one system and put it into another while learning that new system. MBS certainly did a good job training and preparing us for the transition. Angela Gray [MBS implementation specialist] was here on our "go-live" date, which I am so thankful for. The go-live date went better than I anticipated,” Slatky said. “One of the things we wanted with our new system was a loyalty program. Angela and the implementation team suggested that we get all of the have-tos done and working first, and then we could work on the ‘Oh, and this would be nice, too” projects. We ended up bringing the new loyalty program live in November of 2017, so we’re just coming up on our second anniversary of that program. We did a few things in phases. That was good advice.”
The store needed a partner that could provide ample customer service support, expert guidance and ongoing training opportunities. In addition, it needed a partner who could tailor its solutions to fit with the Georgia Southern University Store.
“It requires a complicated system to manage the textbook end of things. Add to that financial aid, and the system becomes so massive that it’s hard for someone to learn the whole thing. One thing I like about MBS support is that we have one person who we can go to for most of our support issues — our person is Kathy Davis,” Slatky said. “We have an inSite and POS contact, but, for the most part, it is Kathy who helps us. I like having one contact that knows my store and our history. She knows me.”
Ms. Slatky recognized how important training would be to bring them quickly up-to-date on their new system. After completing the initial implementation training, the store selected MBS’ Gold training package to continue educating its staff on the functionality of the new system. With the Gold package, the store has unlimited classes at MBS headquarters, unlimited training webinars and one three-day on-site custom training class.
“For the first two years, we did additional training as we got deeper into the system. Initially, you’re just learning the surface. Then, the more you get to know the system and use it, the more questions you have. We all have done extensive training, and all of my managers have gone to the MBS Forums training event,” Slatky said. “MBS listens to the stores. We’re the ones out here using the system and what might work for one campus might not work for another. MBS is good about listening and working together with us. I like that.”
With the new system, Ms. Slatky was able to implement a loyalty program that worked for her store and incentivized customers to return frequently.
“Our loyalty program is called the U Count Rewards program. It gives us a way to provide a return to our loyal customer. Stores often struggle with that. How do we reward students that support the store and Georgia Southern as a whole?” Slatky said. “U Count Rewards is great. The more customers shop with us, the more points they earn and use. We allow them to earn and redeem points on textbooks. That has been very well received.”
The evolving role of the campus store
As education, campuses and retail change with innovation and technology, college stores must be ready to redefine their role. By staying tuned in and engaged with its campus, the Georgia Southern University Store best serves the community.
“I think that we’re constantly walking the tightrope. We’re constantly trying to balance service and revenue,” Slatky said. “We certainly have to be self-supporting and return some revenue, but we are also a partner in the whole educational process. Right now, that takes an upper hand to the revenue producing push that we have seen.”
Ms. Slatky’s advice to other college stores trying to find a balance between service and revenue is to be flexible and prepare for industry changes.
“It’s all about going with the changes. You just have to be very adaptable. And you do need a system that is going to adapt to the latest offering,” Slatky said. “We were talking recently about how students try to prepare for jobs that haven’t even been created yet. That’s what we struggle with as stores. What is going to be the trend in two years? Where are we going to be in four years? These things are difficult to predict. You have to be ready to take advantage of opportunities when you can.”