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Defensive Strategies Series:Stacy Elofir's Advice on Creating a Community

Posted by admin on 9/27/11 11:00 PM
Topics: mbs direct, college store customer service, Battle for Books, college store stories, fighting competition

We understand that competitors have invaded your market share. That's why, as your ally in the industry, we created the Battle for Books webinar to offer you defensive strategies that you can use to overcome those e-tailers and rogue buyers. We believe, however, that there's often no better source for novel ideas than amongst your own colleagues, so we organized three of the most innovative collegiate retailers to share their experiences with you. This week, we'll take a look back at some of the highlights!

Today, let's take a look at what Stacy Elofir had to say!

A Little Background

Stacy is the director of University Store at Towson University in Maryland, and has been in the collegiate retail industry for more than 20 years. She was previously the associate director at Loyola University and then director at American University in Washington D.C. She’s presently been at Towson University almost two years. Her main message is that you can’t wait for someone to tell you what to do; talk to the resources on campus and talk to your community. Once you make your move, make sure it’s a decisive one.

"We’re a University Store serving about 22,000 students so we’re very busy!" she said. "I wanted to focus on how we changed the perception of students on campus and how partnering with them has allowed us to maximize our course material business."

Stacy's Main Points:

  • Talk With Your Customers

"How do you connect with students? The answer walks through your door every single day! Your students punch in at the time clock, they come in and buy snacks, they bring their parents in to buy a new t-shirt, and let’s not forget they at least come in and look at your textbooks! We, as service people, can’t just open the door and not speak with our guests. They have the vital information that we’re searching for!

Poll your students both individually and in groups to get their opinion on everything you're doing. I speak to my student employees daily!

In fact, in the fall, we allow each employee to choose a piece of our clothing to wear. The caveat is that only one person can pick each piece of clothing, they have to wear it, they have to tell people where they got, and most important of all they have to really like it!

It costs me a couple hundred dollars but I get so much goodwill from of each of them! We employ over 60 students a year, and when they’re feeling good about their job, they’ll share that with 5, 15, or even 20 friends. I’ve definitely seen an increase in job applications, and I think that’s an indicator of their positive experience."

  • Get Your Students, Faculty and Staff Involved

"You should always model your sales floor and services to reflect the wants and needs of your clientele. We’re servicing a school; they’re not here for us. So, if you can listen and act on what they’re telling you, then you’ll see many returns.

Right now, we’re promoting our Faces of Towson Marketing Campaign, which means all of the people in our advertisements are faculty, staff, alumni, children of alumni, and others modeling our items. People like to go online and in the store to see their friends’ faces! It’s been great for traffic and for goodwill! We post these pictures to Facebook, use them in our catalog, and put them on everything we can.

We’ve started doing in store candid pictures, too. We have a card made with a QR code which directs students right to our Facebook page so you can “like” our page and see your pictures. It’s been really cool and we’re going to continue it the rest of the year. I mean, who better to promote the store than the people that are already there? It’s just another way to connect with our students."

  • Use Your Resources

"Our art services department has been a terrific resource for us in this project and helped us create many of our marketing materials. We also have art and marketing students help out, too. I think when you look under rocks you’re going to find a lot of really great resources on campus that won’t cost you a lot of money."

  • Get Social

"Yes, we are on Facebook! I actually have students contacting us on the page with questions, and not just about sweatshirts, but as you can see here, about textbooks! She sent us this message at 12:41 and we were able to respond by 12:50. If you’ll read our response, we’re trying to speak in direct language just as if we were having a conversation. Obviously, she’s watching because by 12:51 she had responded back and thanked us for our help!"

  • Be Engaging

"That’s sometimes easier said than done! You know at first we started out with 10 Facebook fans and thought to ourselves, ‘Oh gosh, how do we get more?!’ One of the things we’ve done, besides putting pictures up, to engage our students is Win-a-Prize Wednesday. We just started it back up a few weeks ago because someone actually posted on our Wall asking when we’d be doing it again. That just goes to show that they are listening and communicating!

For the contest, we ask students a question and the first correct response receives a prize. You can see that we had 21 comments in 32 minutes and that’s actually very low. Last week, we had 160 comments in just about an hour; I really love the interaction!"

  • Borrow Ideas

"I’m going to tell you a secret; I do go online and ‘friend’ many of you, either personally or as the University Store. I stalk you and I borrow what you’re doing! I go on your website or your social media pages and I look at how you’re creating graphics and in what ways you’re marketing to see how I can make that work for us. I suggest everybody do that; steal ideas from the best of your peers. Feel free to steal whatever you’d like from us!"

  • Make Textbooks Sexy!

"Now, let’s cruise to textbooks! I told someone the other day, textbooks aren’t very sexy; Facebook and sweatshirts are kind of fun, but how do you make textbooks sexy? I think that if you hit at all angles, using both offense and defense, you can achieve that.

We wanted to showcase all of the options that we offer: new, used, rental and eBook, so we again partnered with Art Services to create this really great poster. We’ve used it in ads, hung it in our window, put in on every endcap, and posted it to Facebook. It just really illustrates all that we do to help students save. You have to put it out there and show students what you're doing to help them!

Last year we hit the rental road pretty big. We went from 2 titles in the summer of 2010 to over 650 titles with over 10,000 books rented this fall, and counting! It’s been really successful and we’ll continue to incorporate it as much as we can! But, that’s not where it stops. By letting your customers know that you offer every option available, you’re showing them your value and proving your worth."

  • Be Transparent with Price Comparison

"We added this great price comparison shopping application to our e-commerce site through the MBS-Verba integration. We know that everybody price compares, whether it’s you looking for the cheapest bottle of milk or a student buying textbooks. So, being transparent is just another way to prove your value to students and faculty.

Let’s not forget the faculty, either, because if they tell their students to buy from the store, more than likely they will come here. There are faculty members that will say ‘Go to Amazon, it’s cheaper,’ so if you can prove your value to them, it’s a win-win!

This program also allows you to really build trust with your customers by providing a service while capturing at least some of their business. I did want to say that it was really cathartic this year to be helping a customer and hear them say ‘Oh I can get this cheaper from Amazon or Chegg or wherever,’ and for me to just release myself and say ‘Go ahead! In fact, let’s go to the computer and I’ll help you check it out!’ It went such a long way!

In the future, we’re planning to put QR codes on the shelves to take students directly to each book’s specific comparison page, too."

  • Add Fun Merchandise

"We just got a new t-shirt that says ‘I Love Towson Because’ and you can write in your own reason why, with a QR code on the sleeve that directs students right to our website. It's been very popular!"

  • Thrive Together

"MBS has a loyalty program and I thought that was really cool, so I started investigating ways that we could structure this for our students. So, I went to my favorite shoe store and checked out how they ran their program and used their parameters.

Every dollar that you spend earns you a point which can be redeemed for gift cards to our store. It turns out to be about a 5% return on your purchases, which is really amazing if you’re spending $500 on textbooks.

To get the message out, we speak to every single customer at the Point of Sale. We tried to make our program as easy as possible to entice people to join. We track points through a phone number, rather than a student I.D., because we wanted the program to be open to the community, rather than to exclude anyone.

Since we started mid-January of this year, we have about 5,000 members! We’ve only had around 10,000 points redeemed so far, which equals to about $500 in nine months, so it’s not a big expense for us at all! I’ve been pretty pleased with the numbers."

Final Words of Advice

“I guess my overall message is to be visible, be vocal, and be your community. You can impact your store by listening to your greatest allies and acting on the demands of your customers!”

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