An in-person buyback makes it hard for college stores to ensure both student and employee safety, but the Delta College Bookstore at San Joaquin Delta College came up with an ingenious plan that not only ensured everyone’s health and safety, but also made quarantining books simple. We recently sat down with Michael Williams, Auxiliary Services Operations Supervisor, to discuss how their buyback and rental return was set up and what made it a success.
Tell me a little about how your store buyback was set up.
When the pandemic started, we served as a laptop and hotspot distribution team for the college. In auxiliary services, we have access to an old cottage on campus that has service windows, much like you would see in a concession stand. We started working with different programs on campus to identify students who needed laptops, hotspots, and/or Chromebooks. Our staff was able to go into the cottage and hand out the devices to students. We all wore masks and gloves, had hand sanitizer inside for ourselves and outside for students, and portable hand washing stations on the outside of the building for the students to use. We became the “go-to” location for students who needed technology.
That experience made it a very easy transition for us to host an in-person buyback and rental return, even during the pandemic. Because we were so successful in using the cottage with the concession style windows for the laptop and hotspot distribution, we conducted buyback and rental returns in the same location. To publicize the event, we leveraged our campus marketing department to help us communicate about it. We also communicated with student services from the very beginning.
For buyback, we wore gloves and masks and had a box of over-sized zip lock bags. In the cottage, the concession-style window was only open wide enough for the largest textbook and for us to have communication with the student. We would open the bags and hold it in front of the small window opening. The student who was standing outside of the building would push their book into the bag that we had in the opening. Our team would zip the bag shut and scan the book inside the bag. We would then quarantine the book in the bag for 72 to 96 hours inside the cottage. We didn’t want to pass the bags out to the students because we wanted to reduce the number of touch points.
We were just opening the bag and the student was pushing it in. The student wasn’t touching anything we were touching, and we weren’t touching anything the student was touching. We did hand out money and receipts, if they wanted one. Some students just took pictures of the receipt. It worked out extremely well. We had no issues during the quarantine period other than when you put them in bags, the stacks of books begin to slide. After the quarantine period, we were able to bring the books from the cottage back to the bookstore. We would sort them into groups based on whether or not it was something the bookstore was going to keep or send back to the wholesaler.
What kind of response did your buyback get?
We did not see much foot traffic for retail/wholesale buyback. Most of our buyback came from students that were coming on campus to return their rentals. We received our average number of rental returns. We actually received five more than last spring. As far as rental returns go, we rent anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 books a semester. We only had 250 students fail to return their books, which is our average. We were thrilled we were able to serve the same number of students in the rental return process.
How did you get word out about your buyback and rental return event?
We leveraged our campus marketing department. We have social media in the bookstore: Facebook and Instagram. We just don’t have the followers that the campus has as a whole. We don’t have the ability to text or email students from the bookstore so we went to our campus marketing department and asked them to help us spread the word.
In addition, we also worked with departments on campus to help us inform students. Our campus has success coaches. These are individuals who operate inside of campus and are there to support students; they are part of Guided Pathways. We kept in contact with our success coaches, contacted our counselors and reached out to our student service departments. All of these groups are the different touch points students might encounter on campus.
As soon as the pandemic started, I started jumping on student service manager meetings and calls and started working with the student services vice president. Because of that relationship, we were able to massively communicate that the bookstore was open and what we were doing for buyback and rental returns. That helped get the word out far and wide. Every time there is a weekly meeting, it is a matter of stepping up and saying this is what the bookstore is doing. It really helps get that message out.
Students aren’t going to our website and reading what we are doing. But when they are being told by others on campus, they remember it. I recommend looking at your on-campus resources and reaching out to them. Join meetings and be vocal about what your store is doing.