Oklahoma State University Store Assistant Director of Course Content Delivery, Starla Marshall, has worked in the college retail industry over 27 years. We visited the student-union housed Stillwater store — which serves the 26,000-plus students on OK State's main campus — for two days during 2017 fall rush to gain hands-on experience with textbook veterans. Marshall took time early one morning to talk to us about everything from industry changes to recruiting challenges and shelving course materials by author.
We gather all the information from the departments regarding their book adoptions, we process their book adoptions and order everything they need for the course — be it textbooks, eBooks, lab manuals, or departmental materials. And we’ve been doing inclusive access.How has the textbook industry changed in the three decades since you started?
It used to be all we did was order new and used books — preferably used. Now, it’s different for each class and within each class. They want paperback, hardback, loose-leaf, digital. Students want it all. It’s very challenging to find every way to deliver one book. Can’t we just choose one thing? It’s harder.What’s something your store does that stands out?
We used to be pretty proud of our used book percentage. That’s trickled down because of the different access codes and digital books that students are using. We want to provide those things to students, but it has really challenged us. Now, the new inclusive access program, we call it Direct Bill, is reducing the cost to the student drastically, which is good for them. But, unfortunately, it hurts the bookstore.What does the store do to offset the losses?
We have upped the clothing lines. We have a lot of Apple® products. We’re putting kits together now, too — art kits, architecture kits, design, housing. We’ve got dress forms. We’re really reaching out to the departments to find out what else we can do because the margin — we’re losing that. [Course materials] used to be about 80% of the store’s income and that’s dropped drastically. We still have to bring the dollars in because we have to support the student union.Do students understand the store’s role in lowering their overall fees?
No. They don’t get it. They have no idea. We try to educate them when they come in through freshmen orientation. Maybe by the end of the senior year, they might get it, but a lot of them, they don’t understand. They just look at it, like, Well, this cost me X amount of dollars and you’re gouging me. They don’t understand that books are expensive.
Do you also see students refusing to buy course materials more than they did in the past?
They don’t understand that’s also relative to their grade. They don’t understand how important those materials are.How do you reach out to students?
We participate every day in new student orientation and we also email students. For example, during buyback, we send multiple emails out saying, You’re enrolled in this class. These materials are required. The store is giving X amount of dollars. Then we tell them how many we’re buying, so that they’ll know. We send a lot of emails out each semester regarding buyback.Do you think your in-store pick-up program will help deflect some of the other losses you’ve experienced?
In-store pick-up is just steam-rolling. The easier you make it for the student to get their stuff, the better it’s going to be. So, we offer to let them pick it up in the store, we offer to send it to their dorm, to their home. Wherever they want it delivered, that’s what we’re going to do.What would you say is the most challenging part of rush?
Finding quality personnel to help you.How do you recruit?
We do it on Facebook, we Twitter, we put it in the newspaper and we go to Express Services here in town. This semester we asked for 12 and got five — and one of them didn’t make it past our interview, so we got four people.What do you look for in recruits?
Well, you’ve got to be personable and have a little bit of intelligence about you. Sometimes we just laugh and say, “Do they have a heartbeat?”This semester you opted to switch from ordering your course materials by class to ordering them by author on the shelves. How has that worked out?
Normally, by this time, I’ve had at least three or four instructors that have said, Hey, our students say there’s nothing on the shelf. They can’t find their books. Or, You’re out of stock. Well, when you have one book being used in multiple locations, sometimes they get stuck all on one shelf cart and the student didn’t know how to go look for their book. And unless the student went to go look for somebody to help them find it, they’d just go tell the instructor we didn’t have it. Well, changing it to author-order, you’re able to stock everything right there. So, I’ve not received one phone call from an instructor yet.I imagine it’s not usually true that you’re out of stock that quickly.