On average, there's not a lot of churn among college retail administrators. If you're subscribed to Foreword and reading this blog, odds are you've been in your position for a few years — and each buyback isn't exactly your first rodeo. But whether you've done two or two dozen, it pays to get a fresh perspective. Having started in June, MBS Supply Chain Analyst Stephanie Webber is fairly new to the textbook industry in general — and she got to work her first buyback ever just a few weeks later, when she volunteered to work the University of Missouri-Columbia's summer session buy. Keep reading after the jump to see what she learned about the process, and how it relates to what she does for MBS and its partner institutions every day.
Wednesday, July 27 began with two dilemmas. First, finding the Mizzou Store on Hitt Street. Second, finding a place to park.
I’d worked at MBS for only five weeks when I worked the summer session buyback with Lil Brooks, our corporate marketing representative. I asked to assist with buyback to better understand the flow of the process, from a student bringing the book to the buyback table we had set up in the MU Student Center outside the bookstore all the way through receiving the purchased textbooks, grading the quality, checking them in, adding the UPC code and finally putting them on the conveyor belt to be shelved in the MBS library. I was nervous, to say the least, not knowing what to expect. Would there be long lines while I was slowly learning the system? What about upset students? Maybe book grading issues?
My fears went unrealized — it was a very relaxed process. Lil was great to work with, and she calmly explained each step of the process and repeated them when necessary. I was impressed with her professionalism and relationships she had with the bookstore staff. The staff was delightful to talk to; we had some laughs during the slower moments while Lil drank Red Bull and we all got sugar-hyped on gummy bears.
After we finished the buybacks on Friday, the books were boxed up and shipped to MBS, where our staff began to receive and inspect the books on Tuesday. In the receiving group, Day Receiving Supervisor Krasimira Dimova was extremely knowledgeable about the conditions of the books. It was easy to see her passion and expertise for the work, and commitment to selling our bookstores and students quality books. She moved through the books quickly and with such ease that I was envious while I poured through the books much more slowly, like I had a fine toothed comb.
It's easy to miss some of the issues we look for in the bustle of buyback. When you have the time to grade the books as they should be, you observe different imperfections. It makes you ask, "how did I miss something so obvious?" Lil and I were moving at a much slower pace than at peak buyback. I have a new found respect for the buyers in the field and the receiving team. Both tasked with crucial functions of the business, yet so separate and different, I think any buyer or sales representative could benefit from receiving their own books after buybacks.
Lil was explaining a few previous grading rejections at receiving that the buyers were unaware of, therefore leading reoccurring buying and receiving issues. If the sales representatives were notified of such issues, they could address them and educate their staff. Lil and I discussed all different perspectives: students selling the books, the challenges for the bookstore and staff, relationship management, POS systems, book donations, online buyback options, savvy student sellers, book conditions and our predictions on which books would be excluded.
You might ask yourself, "why does this matter to the supply chain analyst?" Supply chain management in the textbook industry is slightly different than other business models, but the goal is the same: provide the best possible, defect-free product to the end user with fabulous customer service and the most efficient process. MBS hired me to improve the supply chain function and internal processes, and my past job variety has given me a unique way of understanding how people do their jobs and why.
When analyzing any process, I find the best place to start is the beginning of the material flow. In this case, that meant getting hands on, working and talking to the employees involved with buybacks and receiving. They give invaluable insight and suggestions, and as an outsider who isn’t involved in the day-to-day operations, I bring my own perspective and ideas. It gave me an educational crash course and created the potential for collaborations in the future as I work through the many functional areas and form relationships at MBS.