OSU University Store’s Starla Marshall has acquired a trove of industry wisdom in her 30 years of collegiate retail. As Textbook Manager, she ensures that OSU’s 20,000-plus students have the right course materials for thousands of classes offered each term.
How University Store faces industry challenges
For Ms. Marshall, the MBS partnership has been key to maintaining the delicate balance between student service and store revenue. Since University Store partnered with MBS nearly two decades ago, the collegiate retail industry has seen its fair share of change.
The Premier Partnership rewards provide college stores needed flexibility. These include reduced freight costs, buyback and adoptions assistance, VIP access to one of the world’s largest inventories of used books — and expert consulting from MBS reps. The features let her adapt to sudden shifts in the course material market, strategize and achieve long-term goals.
“[The partnership] gives you wiggle room,” Ms. Marshall said. “Let’s say, you’re having problems with returns one semester. You can still strategize in a way that helps your overall end-of-year figures. You have a better grasp of where you’re standing and what you need.”
Ms. Marshall said the contract with MBS also brings essential stability and reliability to a complex, fast-changing industry.
“[The partnership] gives a set of parameters for both the store and the wholesale company to operate under. It gives expectations right up front, so everybody knows what everybody’s doing. It makes it easier to do business,” she said.
Maximizing the wholesale partnership
To make the most of the partnership, it’s important to foster relationships with the MBS sales representatives who visit regularly, according to Ms. Marshall. In her view, the reps function as an irreplaceable conduit for information among college stores. The reps share strategies that work for other stores with clients as they travel from one campus to the next.
“When the [MBS] sales rep comes in, we talk about what’s going on everywhere in the industry — not just here. They’ll ask, ‘Have you thought about what this college is doing? Have you tried that?’ It really helps for the MBS reps to come in-house and carry on those conversations.”
These conversations have yielded experiments that led to lasting success. University Store has increased its revenue sources with the introduction of more general merchandise. It has responded to the call to lower student costs by introducing a robust rental program and connecting departments with digital inclusive access programs.
Without the ongoing relationship and consultation, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the store to hear about what other stores were doing to save students money and increase revenue.
“It’s that relationship you need to grow. If you don’t have that, you can’t get that information from Google. It’s not there.”
Above all, Ms. Marshall said she values the MBS partnership one reason: trust. She doesn’t feel like feel like the MBS reps are constantly trying to sell her something. She believes they are interested in University Store’s success.
“The most important part of the partnership is the relationships you build. The trust,” Ms. Marshall said.