For GVSU Laker Store, maximizing summer sales starts with strategy. The managers don’t waste resources trying to lure non-students onto campus. Instead, they target online sales, tour groups and newcomers visiting for orientation. Like other colleges, Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, quiets down after graduation in May. But that doesn’t stop the Laker Store from driving business with creative promotions throughout the summer months, according to the school’s Auxiliary Services Marketing Manager, Liza Guikema. Recently, Foreword Online sat down with Guikema to find out how the Laker Store succeeds with summertime efforts.
How does the Laker Store maximize summer sales?
We really try to draw in the customers that are already here on campus. For example, our orientation sessions are spread out through May, June, July and the first week of August. We try to make sure that everyone here for orientation gets a chance to meet us.
How do you introduce new college students to the store?
To start, everyone who comes for orientation gets a coupon in their admissions packet for 20 percent off a general merchandise item. We also set up tables at the Laker Resources Fairs during orientation. That’s where students go to get introduced to things like dining services, the career center — pretty much every department that supports students. At our tables, we chat with as many new students and parents as we can and provide them with informational materials and a free drawstring bag. However, the students don’t have to talk to everyone at the fair, so we want to make sure they have the coupon in the admissions packet. We want to reach everyone, not just the people who happen to talk to us.
Does the coupon bring in the visiting students?
It definitely brings a lot of people in. It’s often students’ first visit to the school, so giving them that little extra incentive gets them in the door. They have a long day when they visit for orientation — 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon. We like to give them motivation to come see us, because otherwise they might just want to get in the car and head home at the end of the day.
Our goal is to start a conversation with the newcomers. At the Resources Fair, we give away a free drawstring bag with the Laker Store logo on it. That works out well because students get a ton of stuff at orientation. They see us handing out the bags and they think, ‘Oh, I need that!’ Then people without a bag see the people with bags, and it catches on.
What do you discuss with the new college students?
We talk to them about textbooks, and how to save on those using our price comparison tool. We also talk about technology and give them incentives to visit our technology department — like a coupon for accessories and a giveaway if they visit the department. We talk to them about education pricing and our bundle pricing for back-to-school. Even if they don’t want to buy from us, we always invite them to come by the store and chat with us. We tell them we can offer advice on what might work best in the classroom. Our student employees actually use the software and computers for classes, so they’re a really good resource for new parents and students.
Do you get more questions about technology for college than course materials?
At least as many. About two years ago, we started setting up separate tables during orientation for our books department and our technology department. We had found that students need so much information about each of those things. They’re high-ticket items. Having a separate table for each department allows us to answer everyone’s questions more thoroughly. Plus, it allows us to staff the tech table with student associates who might be able to answer the more “techie” questions — things our associates from other departments might not be as well-versed in.
Where does the campus store focus its messaging on technology for college?
We emphasize value, customer service and convenience. We’re located right on campus, and we offer repair services. A lot of students who live here don’t have a car — and there’s no way to get to a technology store easily without one. Our store is super convenient for anyone living on campus.
We also emphasize that all our employees are part of the campus community. They have excellent insight that would be hard to get from an off-campus retailer. With us, you’re talking to someone has actually experienced what you are going to experience in the classroom.
I’ve seen data that suggests technology for college students is a great focus for campus stores. Students haven’t been spending as much on textbooks recently, but they spend more on technology every year.
Yes. Sales in our tech department have been doing really well. That’s why we’re not just talking to them about books. We’re talking about technology and about value. We talk about our price comparison tool for textbooks, too. That keeps the focus on value instead of just trying to sell them something.
How else do you promote the campus store to college students in the summer?
The primary thing is that we focus on bringing in customers who are already here. We don’t waste resources trying to entice people onto campus who have no reason to be here.
All summer long, we have different sales and promotions running. If you are here for a tour or orientation, there’s always something fresh going on in the store. We don’t want it to feel like it’s just summer and there’s nothing happening. We do different promotions every couple of weeks. We had a polo sale for Father’s Day in June. In May, we had 20 percent off summery clothes. We have a tank top sale coming up. We run our sales online, too, so we can promote to customers who aren’t on campus.
We recently started renting out yard games, too. That’s been really successful. We rent games like Giant Jenga and bean bag toss. We promoted the games heavily in May and June and had quite a few rentals. People wanted them for graduation parties. It gave a lot of people a reason to come and see us.
What advice would you offer other campus stores about driving business in the slower summer months?
Don’t forget about your online store. Just because students aren’t on campus, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to shop with you. Remember to reach out via email or social media — any tool you have for communication. Make sure all your customers know about promotions, whether or not they’re on campus. That way they don’t forget about you during the summer months. Additionally, do whatever you can to connect with customers that are on campus: orientation visitors, tour groups, faculty or staff. They're your most captive audience and give them a reason to want to visit!