Oklahoma State University Store Assistant Director of Course Content Delivery, Starla Marshall, said that in her 27 years as a college store professional the course materials industry has changed radically — and that brings greater complexity to the business.
It wasn’t long ago the store offered students two options: new or used textbooks. Most often, students preferred used. Now, customers expect choices galore: new, used, rental, paperback, loose-leaf, digital.
“It’s very challenging to find every way to deliver one book,” said Marshall.
Her store has seen great success with an inclusive access program called Direct Bill. The program saves the students money, but it cuts into the bottom line.
“It’s good for the students,” she said. “But it hurts the store.”
The store has found creative routes to make up for the loss of income from traditional textbook sales. Among them is an in-store pick-up program that has continuously gained momentum since it started in about 2015.
“In-store pick-up is just steam-rolling,” said Marshall. Between July and August 2017 orders for fall were up by 600. “That’s a lot,” she said.
During rush, customers arrived in the student union basement to take home stacks of course materials neatly prepared by University Store workers, avoiding the lines and hassle associated with finding books on their own. Marshall said she expects that revenues will rise as the store implements programs which ease students’ customer experience.
“The easier you make it for the student to get their stuff, the better it’s going to be,” she said. “We offer to have them pick it up in the store. We send it to their dorm, to their home. Wherever they want it delivered, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The University Store has reached out to departments around campus and begun offering required kits for courses like architecture and design. It also sponsors special sales centered on important campus events.
“Every time there’s something going on campus, we try to do something,” said Marshall.
For instance, when the school’s Cowboys win an away game, the store hosts a sale, marking down spirit wear the same percentage off as the winning score — up to 40%. Thus, if the winning score is 30–10, spirit wear is 30% off. Marshall said the promotions are so effective, they strike fear in the store director’s heart.
“Our director, Lance, is often in the fetal position when we get to the 40% off,” said Marshall. “He can’t even go look!”
OK State’s 26,000-plus students shouldn’t doubt the University Store’s commitment to their education and success. The store directs a sizable portion of its gross income into the Oklahoma State student union where it is housed.
“We give about $3 million each year to the student union and that helps support the student union as a whole, but also helps reduce cost of the student activity fees,” said Marshall.
Each semester, Marshall and others run an email campaign to inform customers about buyback. They target emails to students in courses that have adopted books store managers know they’ll want to buy. Then they let the students know how much they’re paying and how many they’ll need.
Workers keep a steady supply of popcorn popping during buyback itself. That draws students in from the union to browse the store or sell their books.
“The workers like it. The students like it. We all like a good snack of popcorn!” Marshall said.
Industry veterans like Marshall value relationships. That’s why Marshall reaches out to MBS Territory Manager David Ritz when she has problems, questions or concerns — and when she just needs a lot of used books. Before he came to MBS, Ritz managed a community college for two decades.
“If I have a problem, I call David. He came from the bookstore industry, too, so he understands our side. He came from a store. He understands us. So, when I say, Have you seen or heard anything? He’s usually the first one I’ve called. That relationship, to me, is as important, or more important, than the actual MBS part,” said Marshall.