When bookstores build community, they fuel campus retail relevance. The four bookstore events presented here have successfully nurtured community at colleges across the country. All are powerful bookstore marketing tools that bring campuses together.
Normandale Community College’s pop-up clothing closet offers students connection and stress relief
At community colleges, students’ primary stressors involve finance and relationships, according to a recent study of two-year college populations. Students ranked these challenges as their top three:
- Work: 34%
- Paying expenses: 34%
- Family and friends: 30%
The Normandale Community College Bookstore partnered with the school’s Student Resources Center to host an event that simultaneously addressed students’ financial stress and their need for community support. They created an event centered on a pop-up closet filled with free clothing.
“The student resource center partnered with the campus store to host a weeklong free clothing event in the space provided by the campus store,” said Normandale College’s AmeriCorps VISTA and Student Resource Center Coordinator, Amy Soeun.
Faculty, staff and other students donated items. The clothing closet displayed hundreds of items students could take home, including jeans, dresses, children’s clothes, shoes, accessories and more.
“The pop-up closet clothes were displayed just like they would be in the store. Students could walk in and start shopping. We had a limit of 20 to 30 items per student each day, but we weren’t very strict about adhering to the rule, because really we had a ton of donations,” said Ms. Soeun. “After students finished shopping, they would stop at our little checkout table. The student volunteers would take their student information and record approximately how many clothing items they selected. After that, the clothing was bagged and the students were on their way.”
The event enhanced students’ sense of community and connection. It showed that faculty and staff were not just there to provide education but also support.
“I think the event showed the students that the faculty and staff are here to help them and that our school really cares about them and wants to help where we can,” said Ms. Soeun.
BYU Idaho students flock to the campus bookstore’s Golden Snitch Scavenger Hunt
The BYU Idaho Bookstore held a Golden Snitch Scavenger Hunt that tapped into community-wide love for all things Harry Potter. To get started, the campus bookstore chose a handful of prizes to distribute and tapped a student employee to write the clues.
“We had to get the right person to write the clues,” said Jenny Anderson, BYU-Idaho’s Auxiliary Services Communications Assistant. “One of our students came up with brilliant clues that you would have to know the books to figure them out.”
The game took place over several days, with the bookstore awarding small prizes for each session. The simple setup kept costs low while maximizing fun for the campus.
“We placed one hint at a time over the course of three different days of the week. We did one on Tuesday, one Thursday and one Friday. The first day the prize was a deck of cards and socks. The second day was a mug and keychain. The grand prize was on Friday. It was a shirt, puzzle, replica snitch and vinyl stickers,” said Ms. Anderson.
The result was a memorable community-building experience that BYU-Idaho Bookstore now schedules yearly. Students forge bonds with each other during the game — and with the bookstore, too.
“There were roommate teams, classmate teams and individual teams,” said Ms. Anderson. “The [Harry Potter] product will always please them as long as the fun and the challenge of the scavenger hunt are there. When the students know it’s coming again next year, they get excited to come.”
University of Minnesota Bookstores creates community connection with Tech Time courses
The University of Minnesota Bookstore engaged its campus community with an innovative offering: Tech Time classes. The store’s technology team created a set of courses to help students develop mastery with a variety of popular devices and applications.
“During the courses, attendees get tips — like how to use an iPad®, apps that will help them in their classes, how to do video conferencing and other tasks. We try to listen to the needs of our community and create content around that,” said University of Minnesota Bookstores Marketing Manager, Kari Erpenbach.
Besides offering Tech Time classes that cater to community requests, the bookstore focuses on marketing the events through multiple channels and making it easier for customers to register for courses and engage with the store.
“We really try to reach out as much as possible. We put sandwich boards in front of the store when we have our tech classes scheduled. It’s about saturating the campus with our message and giving people many ways to engage with us,” said Ms. Erpenbach.
Tech Time has attracted stakeholders from all parts of the university and raised the bookstore’s profile among students. The student newspaper even gave University of Minnesota Bookstore an award that celebrated its offerings.
“We get students, staff, faculty and even some community members. People will come to campus just to attend these events,” said Ms. Erpenbach. “We just got recognized for the courses with a Grapevine award. Our student newspaper gives out awards every year called the Grapevine. The University of Minnesota Bookstore won best bookstore. In the nomination, students wrote how fun it was to get great Gopher gear and how much they enjoyed our Tech Time classes.”
The classes are an excellent way to increase foot traffic and enhance the campus bookstore’s reputation within the community, according to Ms. Erpenbach. To succeed, its important to listen closely to what customers are saying about technology and plan the classes carefully.
“You must have your course schedule mapped out far enough in advance so you can create all the content you will need to support the program and promote each session,” Ms. Erpenbach said. “Listening to your customers helps a lot. What kind of questions are you getting in the store? What’s really hot on campus? You have to really keep your ear to the ground and make sure your content will engage your market.”
Riverland Community College Bookstores’ marketing savvy sparks sale event excitement
Riverland Community College Bookstore has a simple strategy for generating community excitement: timely campus store sales events marketed on social media and via email. The store plans sales around the holidays with student-friendly deals. Because the sales occur at the same time each year, students look forward to the events.
“We do a pre-Black Friday sale. Whole racks are marked $5, $10, or $20. For Christmas, we did 12 Days of Deals. Students know to expect something around the holidays,” said Carissa Drake, Bookstore Coordinator at Riverland Community College. “At the end of the year, we have a BOGO for $1 sale before summer break to help make room for the new stuff. It has become such a yearly thing, that if I were to stop doing it, faculty and staff would get upset and the students would ask, ‘Why don’t you have that sale?!’ I don’t think I could take that one away.”
Posting about the sales on social media helps the bookstore reach students directly. The store focuses on marketing through available social media channels and email.
“We’ve been on Instagram for about two years. Our college Facebook page has 5,000 followers. Rather than start our own, we decided to just kind of bump onto theirs. An Instagram page was something we felt we could do because it is more visual. We post the clothing we just got in and other new items. We share our sales and event posters,” said Ms. Drake. “We send out emails to all the current students on our campus. We will also move racks outside for, like, a sidewalk sale. For the 31 percent off sales, I put out some of the sale items to help call in the students. Right now, we have one camouflage piece that is $20 off this whole month for hunting season. We put it out so students just passing by can see it. It works pretty well. It’s a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing.”
Community-focused bookstore cafes, charging hubs and seating enhance the student experience on campuses everywhere. Bookstore events go a step further and bring people together, providing experiences students cherish for years. Stores that foster such connection become indispensable features of campus life.