With college campuses shut down, Spring 2020 buyback and rental returns went into uncharted territory for a lot of stores. The Dixie State University Campus Store came up with a plan to work within these extraordinary circumstances to get the used books and rental returns they depend on each term, and the results were better than they hoped.
We sat down with Dixie State University Campus Store Textbook Manager Claudia West to discuss their buyback setup and how they spread the word to students. The Dixie State University term ended Friday, April 24 and the five-day buyback was held from April 27 to May 1.
Tell us a little about your buyback this term.
Our store really depends on the used books we get from buyback and our rental returns. Not having a buyback wasn’t going to work for us. I considered a drop box, but I was concerned about the condition of the books coming from students. So, I developed two possible plans for how we could safely do a buyback. The first plan ended up not working out because it wasn’t accessible. The second plan, though, would work.
I proposed that we host a drive through, curbside buyback. We have a unique set up on our campus. On the west side of our building, we have a dock. There’s a parking lot that nobody can park in, except for the dining service trucks. It was the perfect place to do the event.
We set up cones and signs to direct students through the buyback. When they arrived, they would either go to the drive through lane or there was also a pedestrian lane off to the side. We had two employees working outside under the shade tent with a laptop. When a student would pull up, Mary would greet them through the passenger side window of their car, putting more distance between them, and take their books. She also wore her mask all day. Once she had the books, they were divided onto a table in stacks for retail, wholesale and rental.
The other helper out there, Ally, would give Mary the cash to give back to the student. Both employees used hand sanitizer before every person pulled up. They made sure the student in the vehicle could see them using it before they were helped. Throughout the day, they would come upstairs to wash their hands with soap and water as well.
We just wanted to make sure everyone was safe. I said to my employees, “If you do not feel comfortable with this at all, then we'll go to Plan B.” But they were fine with it. I wanted to make sure that we weren’t putting them in danger or making them feel uncomfortable.
After the student received his/her buyback money, they would flip a U-turn and head toward the exit. My only problem is that the students liked this so well, I'm afraid they think we're going to do it this way from now on. They didn’t have to find a parking spot, and they didn’t have to come into the bookstore. They got to stay inside their air-conditioned car on a really hot week. One of the days, it even reached 97 degrees outside.
When it was slow, they wiped down the books with a Clorox wipe. After the books were brought up to the store, they were laid out on the floor and not touched for about two days. We made sure to wipe down all of our shelves with a disinfectant prior to setting the books on them.
I’m so grateful everything went well. For the students who couldn’t attend, they could have also gone to our website and used the online buyback service provided by MBS. They also could mail back their rented books, but they were not supplied with labels. We are planning to do another buyback at the beginning of the fall semester. This will allow the students who could not make it to this buyback to have another opportunity to sell their books back later.
What was your buyback attendance like?
It was about 50 percent of what it usually is, but it was honestly more than I hoped for. We gave students about $19,000 in buyback money and we bought back over 500 books. I know that doesn't sound that good, but comparing this to not having a retail buyback, this was definitely a win. Also, if I look at my rental returns compared to last year, it is definitely positive. Last spring during buyback, I had 89 percent of rentals returned. This term I had 81 percent return. This return rate turned out a lot better than I thought it would.
What were the obstacles to setting up this buyback?
The main obstacle was getting it approved on campus. We had to show why it was important for the store, how we would account for everyone’s safety and how it would work logistically. To begin with, I first pitched the idea to our Campus Store Director, Aaron, and then he pitched it to the Auxiliary Director, Seth. Finally, they both went to the Vice President of Administrative Services. They explained how important having used books were to the bookstore, and we needed to get our rentals back. After that, we had to inform campus security and our public safety department what we were planning to do. I was really surprised that everyone worked so well with us on this.
What was the most effective way to get information to students?
We have an employee, Catherine, who does a great job getting information out on Facebook and Instagram. We also filmed a video during buyback that we shared on those pages and we emailed all of our rental students. Catherine also created a banner announcing the buyback which we put on Canvas. Canvas is accessible to all students now that all courses are online.
The students have to get into Canvas to do their homework. The minute a student logged into Canvas and, right across the top was an image telling them about the curbside buyback. It was amazing how many students were notified that way. The banner was up on Canvas for a week.
Is the banner something you usually do?
No! It was so cool. I didn’t even know it was an option. I asked if we could put a message in Dixie Announce, an email that goes out to all faculty and staff. I wanted them to be aware of what we were doing. A man from IT asked if we would like to try this. He said to just create a banner for the event, and they would post it. So, we asked Catherine to create a banner for our buyback. So that was wonderful.
What advice would you give other college stores setting up a curbside buyback?
Do it! This curbside buyback worked out so well for us. If any other college or university can set one up, I would definitely suggest giving it a try. Our students loved it and it was worth the effort we put into it.