As the English poet John Donne famously posited, “No man is an island.” College campuses can often feel like their own, self-sustaining world. In a lot of ways, that’s what they are; jobs, housing, food and even medical services are often provided. However, no one exists in a bubble. Embracing the greater community beyond the campus walls can drive foot traffic, enhance the shopping experience and support the local economy.
The benefits of selling local merchandise
- Unique merchandise
Students are aware of the larger community surrounding the college — many probably grew up in the state. Speak directly to local sensibilities by providing merchandise that feels like home. Not only will this bring more students into the store, but it increases faculty, staff and community traffic as well. Berea College Store found that Kentucky Proud merchandise does well with their students. South Arkansas Community College Store offers pig cell phone holders that sell-out almost as fast as they are stocked. The Titan Store at Lance Community College offers a specific water bottle that is a known favorite among locals. Each of these items wouldn’t be found in just any college store — they are regionally specific. The items speak directly to customers and set stores apart from impersonal big-box retail.
- Increase nontraditional foot traffic
Nontraditional students are a growing population on campus, so much so that nontraditional isn’t really an accurate term for this segment of the student population. However, bringing these busy, older students into the store can be a challenge. More than likely, your nontraditional students are locals. They aren’t living in dorms or even spending the majority of their time on campus. They are, though, members of the greater community. Offering local merchandise or food items could encourage them to frequent your store — as well as other people who straddle the two worlds of campus and town: faculty and staff. Check out 3 Easy Ways to Drive Foot Traffic for more ideas on how to increase store traffic.
- Shopping experience
Opening your doors to local artisans, farmers and craftsman can bring a unique sense of location to your store. It gives easy access to seasonal items and sets the shopping experience in your store apart from one in another shop. This makes the store a destination — somewhere that is fun to browse. However, buying local is more than getting unique items. It is also about customer service, something that can be hard to find in a large store. The combination of these factors make stores that people want to return to time and time again for the merchandise and friendly service.
- Support local economy
Simply put, more money spent locally, stays local. For every $100 spent in a local small business, $68 stays in the community — compared to $43 that stays when purchases are made in a chain store. Plus, buying and selling local goods supports your neighbors, which can help boost the town where your college is located.
The idea of buying local isn’t new by any means. Buying local is becoming big business — local food is expected to climb to $20.2 billion by 2019. People recognize the benefits of locally sourced products and are often willing to pay a little more for the perceived quality and benefits that come with the purchase.
The retail market is changing. Finding new and creative ways to bring people into the store can be a challenge, one that many businesses in your community are probably facing as well. Joining any “buy local” campaigns or helping to spread the word to your students can have a much larger impact.