Recently, the University of Wisconsin University Book Store in Madison capitalized on a great opportunity and expanded its technology business. When it was announced that the University was closing its tech store, bookstore management stepped up and prevented students from losing an important on-campus service.
“As our University was exiting the tech business, we were quick to jump on the opportunity,” Vice President of Retail Operations Kevin Phelps said. “We strongly believe that a University such as ours needs to have a retail tech store on campus serving Apple and Dell customers. We also know that selling technology products is a core competency of most college bookstores across the country.”
Why is a tech store important to the campus community?
In the evolving educational world, students require easy access to technology and support services. In the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology survey:
- Less than 1 percent of respondents reported that they did not have access to a smartphone, laptop, tablet or computer
- 98 percent reported using a laptop in at least one course
That’s why it’s important for all students to have easy on-campus access to repair services as well as a place where they can purchase the technology they need for their education.
How to develop a tech store on campus
Starting a tech department in the campus store can be a long and, at times, arduous process. But for campus stores like the University Book Store, it’s worth the effort.
“With the Apple Contract taking as long as it did to get completed, we missed most of the summer orientation business which was a large part of the University’s business. We have, however, gotten up to speed quickly by hiring former employees of the University and are finally hitting our stride with merchandise flow, sales and marketing promotions,” Phelps said. “Ultimately, it worked out in our favor with the blessing from the University.”
Most importantly, though, students will continue to have on-campus access to the technology they need to be successful.
“The students of the University have been the biggest benefactors. If the university didn’t keep an on-campus tech store, the alternative was for students to leave campus to find all their tech needs,” Phelps said. “The University avoided that by letting us take over the tech store operations. It would have been sorely missed.”
As the tech store is still a very new part of the bookstore, Phelps wasn’t quite ready to offer other college stores advice.
“We are in a taking mode currently, not giving. We’ve talked with a number of stores who are experts in the Tech operation, and they have given us invaluable guidance,” Phelps said. “Working with stores who also use MBS, such as Iowa State, saved us many personnel hours in the setup, receiving and selling of the complicated merchandise.”
Creating alternative revenue streams for campus stores
In addition to the expanded technology department, the University of Wisconsin Book Store also explores new ways to help bring more students, staff, faculty and alumni into the store and increase revenue.
“In an effort to maintain the majority share of campus sales, we have recently started a 5 percent discount on all books, clothing, gifts and school supplies when using the prepaid campus debit card,” Phelps said. “The goal is to incentivize students to choose us over local stores and online competition. We realize discounts will go up, but we believe owning the campus business is a long-term plan.”