From working summers with his father at the college bookstore at the age of 13 to newly appointed Vice Chancellor of Auxiliary Services and Enterprise Operations at the San Mateo County Community College District, Tom Bauer has truly seen the collegiate retail industry evolve throughout his career.
“There was a time when the bookstore was the only place you could go to get everything you needed for college,” Bauer said, “but we’ve seen that dramatically change. Now, there seems to be nothing bookstores can sell that other stores don’t carry, except for customer service, and that’s hard for many colleges to accept. There’s been a huge paradigm shift, especially over the last decade."
Despite the obvious obstacles, Bauer has continually rose to the challenge, determined to turn what some have perceived as negative attributes of the industry into positives.
“As retail has evolved, it’s become a struggle to stay even with your competition, let alone a step ahead,” he explained. “I knew that in order to keep my store relevant, I had to match or exceed the level of service students are used to receiving elsewhere.”
That’s why he recognized early on that this was no task he could achieve solely on his own.
“My store’s partnership with MBS has definitely helped us meet that goal. They’re constantly developing the technology that we need to stay current with other retail markets,” he added. “As an independent store, we rely on our partners to give us that edge.”
As one such example, MBS was able to advance both the technology and the service that the three San Mateo County Community College District Bookstores offered students through their POS systems.
“We saw a huge impact overnight! Almost immediately there were no more lines in the store because we decreased transaction time from more than 2 minutes to 2.5 seconds. That speed allowed us to actually reduce the number of registers we were running which saved on payroll, too,” he said.
“Over the years, a lot of the change that has occurred in this district goes back to the innovation we’ve been able to bring to the store with the help of MBS,” added Bauer.
Bauer’s partnership with MBS didn’t just change things at the store, however, but also helped him build upon existing services such as their rental program. As one of the leaders of the rental trend, Bauer’s stores took the initiative in developing an aggressive program based on donations in his district in 2001.
Soliciting help from the local community in purchasing titles for the store, Bauer and his staff were able to build an inventory of thousands of volumes with no financial risk to the bookstore, ultimately saving students over 2 million dollars. The District Bookstores were awarded the first Innovation Achievement Award from the National Association of College Stores (NACS) in 2006 in recognition of their efforts and the tangible effect on the lives of students in the district.
Then, with the addition of MBS Rental, Bauer again expanded his program.
“MBS was definitely one of the first companies in our industry to jump on the rental trend and they really helped us augment our existing program to further our success,” he said. “Overall, having the largest textbook wholesaler on our team has been a great boon to our store.”
MBS, however, is by no means the only partner involved in Bauer’s success. In fact, he attributes much of both his personal achievement and district’s growth to his staff.
“I’m very lucky to have such an inspirational team,” he explained. “The San Mateo group’s work has truly been a labor of love. They’re all so committed to what they’re doing that this isn’t just a job for them; they have a real tie to what they’re doing. I absolutely believe that the reason I’m where I am today is because of their motivation. My success is definitely a dotted line that will always lead back to the staff who run the auxiliary operations in the district.”
To others in the industry who are looking to enhance their competitive edge, Bauer has one piece of advice: stay current.
“Complacency will kill any college store. Any moment you think you’re doing as good as you possibly can be, your store will start dying,” he cautions. “Instead, you should constantly be looking for ways to improve. Stay connected with the student body, visit other retail stores, take advantage of the resources associations such as NACS offer, and attend educational events like the MBS Systems Users Symposium. Do whatever it takes to be successful, and you will be!”