Foreword Online

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One Small Step for Books, One Giant Leap for MBS

Posted by Dean Asher on 7/29/14 5:00 AM
Topics: mbs direct, retail technology

Where were you when we landed on the moon? It’s a question lots of people have been asked, and everyone who was alive then remembers the answer in vivid detail.

This month marked the 45th anniversary of the moon landing, when the Apollo 11 lunar module touched down on the moon July 20, 1969. Buzz Aldrin, who became the second man to set foot on the moon shortly after shipmate Neil Armstrong, did an AMA on Reddit to coincide with the anniversary.

“Everywhere in the world that I visit, people tell me stories of where they were the day that Neil Armstrong and I walked on the moon,” Aldrin wrote. “Be careful what you dream of, it just may happen to you. Anyone who dreams of something, has to be prepared.”

Bob PughFor MBS CEO Bob Pugh, that last adage holds true.

When Aldrin and Armstrong were touching down, MBS was still The Missouri Bookstore and Pugh was stationed in Colorado’s Fort Carson with the National Guard.

Pugh scraped up some cash among his fellow Guardsmen and sent his jeep driver into town to buy the “biggest TV you could get” for $100, but found the rabbit-ear antennae made for poor reception.

“Every time someone walked in front, the reception would improve,” Pugh recalled. “So I made my jeep driver stand with his hand on the TV for three hours. From that date going forward his nickname was ‘Rabbit Ear.’”

Pugh said many of the people at camp were more interested in going out on the town, but there was never any doubt in his mind to stay in and watch the landing.

“It had never happened before, and it was going to be on television from 238,000 miles away,” he said. “It was hard to wrap your mind around how they were even going to do that.”

Four years later, Pugh was blazing his own trail — on an admittedly much smaller scale — when he helped shape the Missouri Book Store into MBS. Since October 1973, the company grew from a chain of college bookstores into the leader in wholesale textbook management solutions, and has made several technologically-aided milestones for the industry.

Originally, orders were fulfilled manually over the phone by a very busy Alan Leach. Customers would call to inquire about an order, and Leach would run to check the warehouse and call back. In the early days while the company had limited inventory, Pugh said MBS more often than not couldn’t fill the order. That’s why he decided to make it easier for stores to find out if MBS had what they needed in stock.

“Back then the customers would have to pay for the phone call,” he said. “Most places didn’t have toll-free lines back then besides airports and hotels. So we spent what ended up being a lot of money to install one … and people appreciated that.”

Eventually Pugh made another move that Leach appreciated as well, by upgrading the ordering process further. MBS was an industry leader a few years later by switching to an IBM computer-based system for searching its inventory to see what’s in stock electronically. Other competitors were skeptical of the method and didn’t follow suit right away, which Pugh said gave MBS the edge to take the lead ever since.

MBS’ dedication to customer service and growth has gone hand in hand throughout its 41-year history. Just like with the moon landing, Pugh certainly remembers where the company was when it took its first big steps, too.

“We sure weren’t going to the moon, but in our little universe we play in, we were the first to do it. No one had gone there before,” Pugh said. “So maybe we were going to the moon, but the moon wasn’t very far away.”

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