This year has required college stores to adapt normal operation strategies, pivoting with a moment’s notice. Elizabethtown College Store had never done a pop-up location before this year, but when it needed a way to better serve students and parents on campus, the store made it work.
In addition to limited occupancy, one challenge the Elizabethtown College Store faced this term was that their building was only open to those with a campus ID. That meant that visitors to campus, including parents, couldn’t come into the store. As students moved back onto campus, the store needed a way to serve students and keep people healthy.
“The idea for a pop-up location came up at the last minute. We were just reopening the store and had hundreds of book orders that were for in-store pickup. We found out that move in was being pushed back and spread out, so we would actually need to ship all of those orders out. We were in the midst of figuring that out when the administration asked us to also set up an outside retail location on the various move-in days. Only people with a campus ID can enter our building right now, so this would help us serve campus visitors as students move in. I wasn’t sure we could do it. There are only three of us here, and we had never really had pop-up stores, but we figured it out,” Sue Doremus, Director, Elizabethtown College Store, said. “I was worried we would end up in the field, but we ended up on the front patio of our building. Our wonderful conference staff put tents up for us, and we set up a store. We ran it for the 10 days that students arrived with their parents. The parents were happy. A lot of parents did have orders in here to be picked up, so we did a lot of running back and forth into the store, but it worked.”
Everything happened so fast the store wasn’t able to do much advertising for their pop-up locations, but it still attracted foot traffic and helped make move-in day special as students trickled back onto campus.
“We had really good business over the first couple days as the first-year students were moving in. They were, of course, excited to be here. It slowed a little with the upper classmen. It is a lot of work. We had to set it up and break it down every day, but it served a good purpose. I am glad I stepped out of my comfort zone,” Doremus said. “The tent was well received, and a lot of people thanked us for doing what we did. We had a smaller selection outside compared to what we can offer in the store, but under the circumstances, people were very grateful.”
When selecting the merchandise to offer outside, the store personnel had to make quick decisions based on that day’s target audience.
“Wendy Gibble, our merchandise manager, should be given most of the credit. Each day, she pulled the merchandise and changed it up a little for different years as they moved in. For example, the first-year students might want lanyards and cardholders. So, the pop-up location had the things that those students would need most. However, the upper classmen probably already had those things. On their move-in days, we switched gears with the products we brought out to display,” Doremus said. “All in all, it was a good experience and we did our part serving our customers which is why we are here. People liked the tent sale atmosphere. We were just asked if we were going to have an outside tent sale for the holidays, as well. Usually, we have a sale week during finals, but the students are leaving before Thanksgiving. So, we are going to have a two-day sale, but given the weather, we will probably stay inside.”
Looking toward the future, Ms. Doremus could see these pop-up sales continuing to be a great way to serve the Elizabethtown College campus.
“Soccer is our big sport. Over the years, athletics has always done their own thing, but now it might be possible to offer some of our merchandise at the games. So, I could see more pop-up locations happening in the future. It will be a challenge, but we could do it,” Doremus said.
For future pop-up locations, Ms. Doremus would like to increase marketing efforts that will help spread the word to the campus community and parents about where they will be and when the tent will be open.
“We typically use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to market store events. This year, we have also been working with our marketing, alumni and athletics departments to send out emails which has been a huge help. Our online business has really picked up. It’s been amazing,” Doremus said. “I think the email blasts have been more effective than anything. Students are even telling us that the emails are what got their attention. An email blast was sent when we did our in-store Halloween sale and online special. We ended up with about 80 orders that morning which is unheard of for us, being such a small school. It was fun filling all of those orders.”