Every college store faces challenges as they move to reopen. Taking into account local, state and federal restrictions, stores like the Hope College Bookstore have had to look for creative ways to solve unprecedented problems this term. For Hope College Bookstore the first major hurdle to overcome was how to handle course material distribution with limited occupancy restrictions.
“We have implemented a number of steps because of the retail limitations in Michigan. We can only have 25 percent occupancy in our 5,000 sq. foot retail operation. Essentially that equates to about 17 people in our store at any one time. Obviously, that doesn’t work for book rush where 40 to 50 people are usually queued up in line,” Hope College Bookstore Director Craig Thelen said. “We are working with our Physical Plant department, and they suggested the idea to use strategically placed storage pods around campus where students can pick up their orders. When students place their orders online, they tell us what dorm or cottage they live in. We make a notation on their web order, and when the order is fulfilled, it will be delivered to the closest storage pod for pickup beginning the weekend before classes start and running through the first week of classes. We will have a bookstore staff member at each of the three pods we will be using to help with web order pick up. They will look up the web orders and hand the bag or box out to the students. All of this will be outside which will help with physical distancing.”
The store initially considered other options like dorm delivery, but by working with other campus departments, they were able to come up with a solution that would work best for everyone and ensure student and staff health and safety. Moving textbook distribution out of the physical campus store this term has given the store more room to display general merchandise for customers who come into the store.
“We have pushed all of our course material sales to our website and moved all the textbook shelving out of our store. We moved it down the hall from the bookstore to our back-office storage area where we have handled all of our web sale distribution and pick up in the past,” Thelen said. “In return, we have merchandized a lot more clothing, gift and spirit items in place of the textbook shelving. Essentially, our course material sales will all be outside of our bookstore footprint this Fall semester.”
When orders are ready to be picked up, students will be notified by email. Email has continued to be the best and primary means of connecting with students throughout the pandemic. The store uses “Constant Contact” email to relay important information to students.
“We had an email go out a week ago. We were able to share with students our website and let them know that all course materials would be available online only,” Thelen said. “That email reaches all of our students. We don’t have the ability to do text messaging at this time, so emailing our students has proven most cost effective and efficient for our needs. Students will also send us emails directly to the store and we will handle those on a case-by-case basis.”
For other college stores looking for creative solutions to the challenges they face right now, Mr. Thelen suggests reaching out to the campus community.
“I think the first thing is to recognize that we are not going to be able to handle the traffic in the store like in the past. If physical distancing is going to take place, we have to find a way to serve students outside of the bookstore footprint. Involve other departments. Get together and think of ways you can do this. Whether it is a pop-up tent, or several tents, try to come up with a safe way to distribute book orders,” Thelen said. “Another thing we did was reach out through email to other staff members. We found that some people on campus are really busy and others aren’t so busy. So, we’ve reached out to other Hope employees and asked if they could help us in the bookstore during this time. We really needed to rely on our campus community to step forward and help us continue to serve students. We have been fortunate in the campus-wide response.”