St. Cloud Technical Community College has grown a lot in the last few years. To meet the demands of a growing student population, the bookstore underwent a massive renovation and expansion that created a space designed for students and retail success. We were able to speak with Marge Parry, the textbook buyer for The BookStore, to talk about the renovation and how the store engages their unique student population.
How did the store redesign come about?
We needed the space desperately. When I started in 1995, one of my first projects was to build the previous store. It was called The BookStop, and I worked with the vice president at that time. We moved from a space about the size of a closet into a 1,200 square foot environment right across the hall. Since then, our campus has grown threefold. We went from about 1,400 students to over 5,000, so we needed the space. It’s been a long time coming. We’re extremely happy with the new store.
What changed in the store?
We expanded everything! The clothing area is now about the size of our previous store. We have a 24-foot wall of beverages that is quite impressive. We have coolers where we could carry finger foods for students when the cafeteria is closed, but primarily we carry snacks and candy. We do a big volume with that.
Our text department stayed similar in size, but all new lower custom shelving gives it a modern look and helps us meet the demands of a larger student body.
There is a Starbucks coffee shop attached to the store now. We are proud of that too. It’s a great asset for the students. There’s a window that looks right into the coffee shop from the store. It’s a very nice environment, and there’s always activity in there. I think everyone really enjoys it.
How have students responded to the new store?
Very, very well. The last couple terms, we have had very few complaints. We have four registers that can be activated during rushes rather than just two. It helps keep wait times down and the students happy. We just moved into this space a year ago in March. Everything has been the first. The first rush, the first holiday, all that. It’s been exciting.
What advice would you give other stores planning a redesign?
Lean on professionals who have worked with similar retail environments. I had suggested a couple firms and companies that had gone to CAMEX. We didn’t necessarily pick a firm that works specifically with bookstores, but the firm we chose did a fabulous job. They listened to us and knew what our peaks and valleys were for traffic flow. Our space is somewhat elongated. The new design really incorporates great lighting and colors to create a welcoming space for students. We were actually able to get the store fixtures from a neighboring city in Minnesota. It saved a lot on shipping, and we were very lucky to have them so close to do custom work.
What are some of the most effective ways you engage students on your campus?
We just had a fan appreciation night for our women’s and men’s basketball teams. It was a green-out event where if students wore green, they got in free. It was the perfect opportunity for us to have a sale. We ran 30 percent off for three days, Monday to Wednesday. We sold three times the dollar amount of clothing as books those days. It was good to see students & staff supporting the bookstore by buying clothing. It was also great to capitalize on a campus event and support our school’s teams. We called it the School Spirit Sale. It will definitely be in our plans going forward.
We also like to promote our trade programs. Because we are a technical and community college, we want to display our pride in these programs. So we try to work with departments and feature them in our big front window. We have 60 running feet of window, floor to ceiling. It’s an impressive corner and very beautiful. I’ve got some fun ideas for how we can use these windows in the future.
What is on the horizon for your store?
That’s a very good question. I just had a conversation with our supervisor about establishing a marketing-by-the-month calendar, so we can work with other campus events and stay ahead of it. The other thing I would like to see is a BookStore Advisory Board.
The board could help determine what types of things our campus community would like to see in the bookstore and identify what is working & what isn’t. I hope it can be set up this year. We want it to include a diverse chemistry of faculty, staff, students and possibly someone higher up to meet biannually. If we have a broad spectrum of voices on this board, it would give us a lot of helpful feedback and information. We are a bright spot on campus with great customer service. We plan to stay that way for a long, long time at SCTCC.