Every semester, students receive a letter grade measuring their progress and success in various classes. Stacy Elofir, director of University Store at Towson University, believes college stores should be no exception.After a transformative year, Elofir wanted to find a new way to showcase her store’s hard work. That’s why she decided to compile a summary of their accomplishments in one easy-to-read document.
“It’s our report card; our time to shine,” she said. “We’ve done so many things this year that had never been done before. My staff and I work really hard to reach that goal and I think it’s important to review the immense amount of we achieved with limited resources.”
Although she had presented similar annual reports for previous positions within the industry, this was a first for University Store.
“We’re operating in an increasingly challenging and dynamic industry,” explained Elofir. “As the director of an independent store, I feel constantly challenged to show my store’s value and prove that we are competitive. This is just one more way to demonstrate that effort.”
As a first step in the process, she designed a structure for the report.
“I knew that NACS offered templates, so I started by looking through their resources,” she said. “I really wanted to include the store’s graphics, however, so that the final result looked as though it could stand alongside our marketing materials. I ultimately used their suggestions but created my own hybrid version.”
Based on a series of strategic initiatives, Elofir then had to decide which content to include, which proved to be no easy task.
“Honestly that was the hardest part!” she admitted. “There was so much to include but I knew it was important to keep it as simple as possible. I integrated a combination of text and graphics to visually balance the page and provided as many statistics as possible to back up each point.”
Elofir began the report with a broad summary of the various ways the store provided value to their students as well as to the University throughout the year. She then elaborated on those areas she felt were integral aspects of the store’s success including expanded course materials and savings, clothing and gifts, new products, online sales, and marketing, with more detail.
Although each of these components work together to enhance the student experience, the store’s rental program is one service that sticks out as most significant this year, according to Elofir.
Starting with just 4 titles in July of 2010, University Store has seen tremendous growth in their program with over 500 titles available in the spring of 2011!
“We took a significant risk by restructuring our textbook department over the past year,” she explained. “Because we rent books at 45% of the selling price, fiscally it looks like we’re losing money. But, our program has been so successful that, at this point, 75% of our titles have been rented for 3 semesters or more. So, I was excited to be able to show that all of this hard work has paid off in dollars.”
Saving students more than $600,000 over the cost of purchasing textbooks new, their rental program has also made great strides at enhancing student perception.
“It’s been a resounding success,” said Elofir. “I’m very proud of our numbers and the impact they have made on our students. Our store has integrated basically everything MBS has available, from price comparison to a campus marketplace, to help us stay competitive, and the rental program is just one example of how that has paid off!”
Their program isn’t stopping there, though.
“I left for vacation and asked my textbook manager to submit a list of about 500 rental titles,” she added. “I came back and she told me we were going to have 640!”
It’s that strong dedication that Elofir believes has made the store what it is today.
“I’ve been blessed with an extraordinary staff that’s been so receptive to my energy,” she elaborated. “I think it’s really important to trust your employees and allow them to do their jobs. It’s amazing what can happen when you’re passionate about your job and you surround yourself with people who are just as passionate, too!”
After presenting her report to the campus’ vice president of Auxiliary Services, Elofir received such positive feedback that she has since shared it with others.
“We have a unique entity on our campus called the Incubator, where small businesses can pool their resources in order to perform at a higher level,” she explained. “So, I sent my report to the director to help identify areas of growth for our store. I’m determined to make our foothold so strong on campus that no one would even think of replacing us."
Based on this input, Elofir and her team identified several ways the store can further develop their success in the future.
“We’re planning to update our website with customer friendly graphics, partner with the Athletics department to link from their site, create web-only sales and promotions, integrate Google Analytics to our webpage, and expand our mobile options, including the use of QR codes,” she said. “You just have to be fearless and take the leap. If you wait, it will be too late.”
Along with those plans, Elofir has one major area in mind that she also hopes to expand.
“My main goal is to make this the students’ store,” she revealed. “We already have 65 students working in the store, which is huge; but that’s a number I want to keep increasing. I’m hoping to eventually have students involved in every process of the store from picking out new products in focus groups to volunteering to run events. The more that we allow them to be a part of our store, the more likely they are to be loyal to us.”
For others in the industry looking to better their business, Elofir suggests first finding a focus.
“Identify one or two things that you know you can do,” she said. “That alone will have a significant impact. You don’t have to do it all at once.”
But, above all, she advises stores to refer back to one simple rule they likely learned long ago.
“The best way to get an 'A' in school is to do what your teacher wants you to do,” she explained. “Working at an independent store is the same. If you can find out what both your school and your students want, then your success rate will be that much higher. It’s all about providing the value that your customers are looking for!"