Lilli Brooks, Corporate Marketing Representative, shares her experience from over a decade of helping college stores of all sizes tackle their individual challenges. Find out what she's learned about the importance of making connections and why it's essential to keep evolving:
With any job, it’s really easy to get caught up in your daily responsibilities. This is especially true if you’re managing a college store.
Most of the time, you’re probably too busy to think about what you’d change about your store’s operations — or when you do have a free moment, there are countless other things demanding your attention.
You may be wondering how you can keep up with everything you have to do on a daily basis and still work on making your store more competitive, how to research and bring in new merchandise, find ways to keep your staff happy, increase your sales — the list is neverending, isn’t it?
You probably can't do it all in the course of a normal day, but what you can do is use the network you already have to make some things a little bit easier. By finding out what other college stores are doing, listening to what your customers and staff have to say and connecting on campus, you’ll get insight into new ideas to try in your store, without having to spend extra time strategizing.
I’ve been lucky enough to have visited a lot of different schools over the years and I’m continually amazed by the store leaders I meet. This industry has some of the most dynamic, creative people out there. Why not take advantage of their experience by learning what’s worked for them?
Here are a few ways to get yourself out there and learn from your peers:
- Reach out to other managers in your region — or anywhere in the world — by connecting on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter
- Share stories and ask questions
- Attend industry conferences and webinars
- Visit other stores
I guarantee that if you ask for advice or opinions about anything related to your store’s operations, whether it’s what merchandise to carry, suggestions for better campus relationships or how to implement a new rental program, you’re going to get feedback.
Another resource is the College Store Stories on Foreword Online. Every Monday, we feature a different store, sharing their innovative events, sales and strategies for increasing sales. If you read about something you’d like to try, we’d be happy to help you connect.
Listen to your staff
One of your best assets for keeping your store relevant is your staff — especially your student workers. Tap into what’s trending by holding regular staff meetings, sending out quick surveys and putting a suggestion box in the break room.
Other ideas for getting your student staff members involved include:
Giving them input in merchandising decisions. If you’re debating whether or not to bring in a trendy new clothing item or accessory, find out what your employees think about it. Ask them what items they’re interested in, or what they see their friends buying and wearing.
Encouraging them to evangelize about your store. We’re living in an era when social proof trumps just about every other form of promotion. If your students are involved in the daily operation of your store and feel as if they have an investment in its success, they should be more willing to help you promote it. Ask them to help you spread the word with your next online promotion and see what happens!
Letting them have the (social media) reins. If you have a student worker or intern who is particularly savvy with social media and also trustworthy, let them help out with your online presence.
Showcasing them in your advertising. Actual students from your school wearing the apparel you carry, will be far more appealing than stock photos or pictures of just the items themselves. You can — and should — take it a step further and also ask your online audience to submit their own pictures.
Connect on campus
No store is an island, so knowing what is happening on your campus and forming the right relationships is essential to your success. Getting involved in school-wide events like orientation and career fairs, supporting or sponsoring intramural teams and being part of your institution's regular operations may make it more likely that students will think of your store as an integral part of their college experience — and be more likely to shop there.
Another vital relationship is the one you have with faculty. Making sure that you're on good terms will increase the percentages of timely adoptions, and may even help persuade them to be advocates for your store with their students.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the relationship you have with campus administration. Are they fully aware of the role your store plays on campus? Do they know what efforts you're currently making to save students money and increase sales, like offering more used books or rental? If you haven't already, schedule some time to sit down with the decision makers at your institution and bring them up to speed.