Oregon State University Beaver Store decided to become an MBS Premier Partner this year for several reasons: providing students with options, cost-saving benefits, MBS’ commitment to college bookstores, the service and products MBS provides college stores, and more. We recently spoke with the Beaver Store’s Chief Academic Materials Officer James Howard (an almost 30-year veteran of the college store industry) about why the store decided to partner with MBS and how the industry is changing.
“I have been here since 2003 and I have a spreadsheet that goes back. I have all my vendors listed, number of want lists, the number of units, the average number of units per list, and I always keep track of that. A lot of that helps me understand the nature of my partnership with my used book vendors,” Howard said. “Just looking at the volume that I was getting from MBS and the average number of units that I was getting from my wantlist. I'm from Texas, so you always go to the fishing hole where the fish are biting and so MBS was where the fish were biting with the books.”
MBS’ unrivalled supply of used textbooks helps support the store’s goal to offer students more low-cost choices.
“Getting into more of a strategic partnership with MBS is beneficial for my operation and something that shows our level of cooperation and commitment to MBS, reinforcing that they can count on me as a partner as well,” Howard said. “MBS has provided a lot of comfort in terms of understanding the direction that they are pursuing as a traditional wholesaler. MBS has shown a consistent commitment to the campus store and provides the type of service and products that we need. Used books are still an important element for us. Having a partner who is committed to supplying those resources to the campus store is very important.
“Having a vendor with a large inventory is extremely important. We pride ourselves on providing students with options. We're a non-profit bookstore, a 501(c)(3), and one of the ways we try to lower their cost is by providing options. One of the important options are used books. Having a resource that can fulfill a lot of our demand for those print materials is very important,” Howard said.
Through Mr. Howard’s years in the textbook industry, he has witnessed the industry evolve.
“I always marvel during rush. I used to spend a lot of time sorting through out-of-stocks on my shelves and doing reorders and working the books. Now, I am mostly a tech support for students. When they buy these digital access codes, I help them with log-ins and interfacing with eBook providers or other digital platforms. So, now most of my time is spent, unfortunately, dealing with digital,” Howard said. “But there is still a lot of print. Because of my partnership with MBS and other wholesalers, we are able to get those books. Students still want and need them — especially during move-in week. Parents come in and if there's a book on the shelf and a digital equivalent, the parents are grabbing the [physical] book for their student. So, we’re moving a lot of books.”
The MBS partnership offers college stores a lot of additional benefits including priority access to low-cost course materials, allowances and rebates, and reduced shipping costs.
“Since becoming a partner, Text Express has really helped out. It catches a lot of those late orders for us, and also some of the reorders. The returns rebate is also very strong. Because of the material nature of students buying, oftentimes we are conservative with our provides; and even though we are conservative, sometimes you miss the mark. So having that kind of flexibility with our returns, and having that rebate kick in as well has been helpful,” Howard said. “Instead of having a cookie cutter type of approach to our returns, I interact with my reps and say, ‘Hey, this is the situation this term. Can you help us out?’ I think that has been a really powerful influence as well, seeing MBS’ flexibility and willingness to work with the campus store on an individual basis.
“The free freight allowance is also very important, especially for some of the big bins that we set up prior to the term. Having that MBS freight allowance is a real benefit of having the partnership,” Howard said. “We load the MBS guide to our system so we can offer the MBS buyers guide for our buyback without having to jump systems. I try to use the full suite that MBS provides us.”
MBS also provides the level of service the store needs, and the customer representatives provide useful guidance.
“[The service is] very positive. My current rep is really great. We have TMS, Textbook Management Service, and our representative for that is very good about contacting us. Actually, I think one of the unexpected benefits of the partnership is having another pair of eyes looking at my bin and holds on SimpleSource,” Howard said. “She reaches out to me and says ‘Hey, James. You may want to tweak this this way. You may get more books if you do this that way.’ I think having an extra pair of eyes on my bins that I am wantlisting over a period of time has been really helpful. I've enjoyed it.
“I've been doing it almost thirty years, so I don't really need to have my hand held, but it is nice to have a representative reach out, and just check what’s going on. So that has been a very positive experience,” Howard said. “The MBS reps and the personnel have always been very professional, and I think their outreach is appropriate and I do appreciate it.