The college store is more than just a bookstore. It can be a total support system for the entire campus. Innovative stores create opportunities to better serve their campus community. Recently, we sat down with University of Minnesota Bookstores’ Marketing Manager Kari Erpenbach to discuss how their Tech Time courses have helped engage the campus community and increase store traffic.
Can you tell me a little about the Tech Time courses?
Our technology team has created a series of courses to help our campus community get the most out of their technology. During the courses, attendees get tips like how to use an iPad, apps that will help them in their classes, how to do video conferencing and other tasks. We try to listen to the needs of our community and create content around that.
How did the program start?
It is actually in part due to us being an Apple-authorized campus store. Apple encourages us to create educational events. That encouragement was the push we needed to get started, but our team has taken it up a few notches from there. We really promote the events and want people to see our store as a total support system.
How do you get the word out about the classes?
We have several ways we communicate. One is when we send any emails with tech-related content, we always include a list of our upcoming courses. We post them on the event page on our website, on our social channels, on the university’s event site and we use our store monitors to remind people about the classes.
Our tech team also lets people know when they are talking to customers. They have a bookmark with the courses listed and will say, “Hey, here’s our upcoming courses. See what you might be interested in.”
We really try to reach out as much as possible. We put sandwich boards in front of the store when we have our tech classes scheduled. It’s about saturating the campus with our message and giving people many ways to engage with us.
Do faculty and staff also take the courses?
Yes. We get a really nice mixture. We get students, staff, faculty and even some community members. People will come to campus just to attend these events.
We just got recognized for the courses with a Grapevine award. Our student newspaper gives out awards every year called the Grapevine. The University of Minnesota Bookstore won best bookstore. In the nomination students wrote how fun it was to get great Gopher gear and how much they enjoyed our tech time classes.
Has the student response been good?
Yes and it’s been getting better. We have made enhancements to our website so people can RSVP for the session they are interested in and then our site automatically reminds them. It lets them add it to their calendar. It will say, “Remember you signed up for Tech Time course.” Since we were able to add that module to our website, our attendance has gone up significantly.
Do you think the courses have helped increase store traffic?
I think so. It brings in a different mix of people for different things, too. With the courses, they are coming for a very specific reason. They aren’t just coming to shop with us no matter how much we would like that. They are coming to engage in an experience with us and that’s the real value.
How are classes set up?
It depends on the topic. We might present teaching slides or when appropriate we will have handouts. A lot of times people bring their device and we coach them through using it. We try to really address the audience that shows up and encourage them to interact with us. It can be very hands on which is important with technology. Personally, if I don’t do something, I won’t remember.
What advice would you give another store interested in starting their own technology courses?
You really need to be planful. You will have to complete a lot of steps to be successful. If you just try to slop it together, it won’t work. You must have your course schedule mapped out far enough in advance so you can create all the content you will need to support the program and promote each session.
Also, listening to your customers helps a lot. What kind of questions are you getting in the store? What’s really hot on campus? Is there an app people are using? Our campus uses Canvas, so we are doing sessions about how to use your iPad and technology with Canvas. You have to really keep your ear to the ground to make sure your content will engage your market.
We didn’t do it correctly right out of the bat. We’ve learned as we went and having the tools in place to be successful is really what turned the corner for us. People are busy. You need to make it easier for them to engage, easier for them to join you and easier for them to remember what you have going on in your store.