Just because things slow down once school begins doesn't mean you have to accept slower sales! By taking a proactive approach and scheduling a mix of fun events throughout the semester, you can expand your customers' perception of your store from "just" the place to pick up their course materials to a year-round staple. Here are some easy ways to get started:
Plan regular events
Don’t feel limited to the big occasions like rush and buyback, though you should try to make those into special events whenever possible. Depending on the structure of your campus, you could have scheduled in-store events like:
- movie nights
- craft or DIY demonstrations
- sales on certain days or at set times
- meet-and-greets with local and visiting celebrities
- book signings
- theme nights
The opportunities to create a fun, engaging activity are only limited by your own creativity, available time and budget — and as our past College Store Stories demonstrate, with a little ingenuity, you don’t need a large budget for a successful event.
Offer incentives for later visits
At the beginning of each term, you hope your customers’ initial visits to your store will be only the first of many, and this is especially true of new students and visiting parents and families. One way to solidify the likelihood that they will return is to provide an incentive to bring them back. For example, a loyalty program that rewards them the more they shop, or a coupon for a future discount, handed out at the time of purchase or at on-campus events.
Get out on campus
Speaking of events on campus, the more visible you and your staff are, the more present you will be in your customers’ minds.
“You have to be out there, actually out on the campus, if you want to have an edge over your competition. Students recognize me and so they’ll come into the store just to say ‘Hi.’ Our store is a true part of the community — that takes a little effort.”
-- Sue Machuca, marketing and events coordinator, The Phoenix Bookstore, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Become a resource for students and faculty
For faculty members, you could offer assistance and information about adoption or provide training on digital materials and devices. Your store can also function as a bridge between what students want to see available for course materials and what faculty members may actually be adopting.
For students, you may have a repair service for laptops, tablets or smartphones, offer information and discounts for local businesses or provide a guide to help incoming students acclimate more easily.
Make your store a destination spot
Do you have a comfortable area where students can sit? Whether they use the space to study or socialize, having a spot designated for them may make them more likely to drop by between classes. What about a feature that makes your store unique on campus, like a store pet (if allowed by school regulations), a showcase for student artists, or even something as simple as an area for bulletin boards?
Ask for feedback
Find out how you're doing, right from the source! Twitter's recent polling feature makes it easy to perform casual surveys, you could crowd-source on Facebook or schedule a focus group.
Other ways to get your customers' input include:
- in-store surveys
- comment cards
- checking online reviews (and responding in a timely fashion)
Cater to your community
Get involved in regional events like town festivals, and network with local businesses to organize job fairs, provide prizes for giveaway items and extend both of your abilities to reach out to customers. You can also consider branching out beyond your captive audience of students, faculty and staff when it comes to merchandise, and carry items that would appeal to members of your community as well.
“Our store is part of a lifestyle center, a gateway between campus and downtown. We’re working towards removing any perceived distance between the university and our downtown community.”
-- Charlie Rutt, director, The University Store, University of Central Missouri
Work with campus groups
One of the best assets you have in cementing your store's reputation as the go-to place for your students to shop is other students. Cooperating with on-campus groups, sponsoring events or intramural sports and, above all, being absolutely transparent about the role you play in your school's ecosystem, will make your store an even more indispensable part of your campus community.
Track your results
Don't wait until the end of the year to evaluate how certain items have sold. Keeping track throughout, whether by encouraging staff members to solicit and pay attention to feedback, or using your store's system to create targeted reports, will help ensure that you stay on top of sales trends throughout the year.