Kevin Ault, manager of Kirkwood Community College Bookstore, may be new to the world of collegiate retail, but this buyback season, he brought some of his previous retail experience to the store with the goal of creating a buzz on campus.
Ault, who had only worked at the store since August, wanted to make buyback a positive experience for students, whether all of their books were purchased or not. To achieve that goal, he collaborated with Mary Beth Hanna, manager of the Iowa City campus bookstore. The pair started at their respective stores at approximately the same time and have teamed up on a lot of the changes they have made around campus. Together, they devised a way to ensure no one walked away empty-handed.
At each outdoor buying station, the stores set up sucker trees, with color-coded lollipops for students to choose from. Once students sold their books, they could take the sucker inside to find out which prize their lollipop color corresponded with.
“We bought about $120 worth of Dum Dum suckers, and had a total of about 4,000 students to stop by to claim them at our two campus locations,” explained Ault. “Our MBS buyers did a great job of encouraging students to come inside to claim their prize, which really helped generate traffic.”
By collaborating with their vendors, the stores didn’t have to invest a lot of money into the promotion, either. Many of the prizes, which ranged from an iTouch and an Xbox to candy bars and drink koozies, were donated, significantly reducing the cost.
“We had such great support from our vendors,” he added. “It was nice to be able to offer such a wide variety of prizes.”
This strategy allowed them to completely alter some students’ perception of both the bookstore and buyback in general. For instance, one student received just $5 for his book, but came inside to learn his lollipop had won him a new TV!
“We had a lot of wins like that; it turned what would have been a bad experience into an exciting and memorable one,” he said.
The stores didn’t rely solely on their vendors, however; some students received coupons for discounts ranging from 15 to 35 percent off an in-store purchase. This significantly increased sales in the apparel department during the seven day buyback, and is continuing to benefit traffic long after, as well.
“I decided not to include an expiration date on the coupons because, in my opinion, a sale is a sale,” he explained. “I wanted students to be able to use it whenever they needed, and we’ve seen quite a few continuing to redeem the coupons months later.”
Plus, the stores offered every student who sold their books the chance to win free textbooks for a semester by entering in a drawing.
“We basically created a rental contract for the two winning students at each location and used a credit card to secure the transaction as normal,” he described. “All of them were super excited; it saved them nearly $400 in textbooks!”
Regardless of what they received, Ault says students were thrilled to be walking away with a prize.
“We got a lot of positive feedback,” he explained. “Everyone was very excited about it and there’s still a lot of buzz about it, even now.”
Although the promotion was a big success, Ault admits the stores will likely only offer it at their December buys.
“We really went all-out with this, but I don’t want to ask my vendors for that kind of support every semester,” he explained. “My hope is to do something a little more low-key in spring and then bring the lollipop draw back each winter.”
Regardless of the promotion, Ault intends to keep student satisfaction central to each initiative.
“My ultimate goal is to give students a better perspective of our store,” he emphasized. “We can’t always give them the best price, but we can make their experience more enjoyable.”