When the new Passport Center in the University of New Mexico Bookstore launched with a “soft opening” in April, a few weeks before its grand opening in May, no one was sure how much business it would attract. The UNM Global Education Office, which runs the center in partnership with the bookstore, kept hours and staff to a minimum.
“There were tentative plans to expand hours,” said UNM Bookstore Associate Director Lori Callison.
As it turns out, there was no cause to hesitate. In the short space of time between the two openings, the Passport Center has added hours and staff. It’s proven a draw, not only for UNM students, but also for people from all over Albuquerque.
“We think there’s a great amount of demand here in our town for this,” said Callison.
Of course, that’s also been a boon for the bookstore, which enters a slower period in the second week of May.
“We’ve definitely seen quite a bit of increased traffic so far,” she said.
A Lobos link
The Passport Center is just the latest partnership for the store, which has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to fashioning itself as an essential campus destination. The store has an on-site coffee shop, Satellite, which includes tables where students can kick back and relax or study. The La Montañita Co-op, adjacent to the lobby, offers sandwiches and healthy snacks like fresh fruit students can grab on-the-go.
The bookstore earns a commission on sales from the coffee shop and the co-op, and it hopes that it will soon share in the earnings from the Passport Center, said Callison. However, the partnerships are also part of the bookstore’s larger vision.
“I think our goal with our partnerships is to be an integral part of campus,” said Callison. “We are definitely trying to drive traffic into the store. Ultimately, we would like to drive sales as well. But we are creating places that are geared for hanging out.”
When the current bookstore space was constructed in 1996, it included room for vendor partnerships — a move that has turned out to be prescient amid the rise of eCommerce competition.
“I think that was some pretty good forethought of the forefathers,” said Callison. “We’ve continued to grow and create partnerships with different vendors.”
About two years before opening the Passport Center, the bookstore also revamped its lobby, transforming it into a communal space with comfy chairs and tables outfitted with charging stations.
“We’ve been adding to that destination feel as much as we can,” said Callison.
Creating a campus destination
When the Global Education Office approached UNM Bookstore about the Passport Center last year, the leadership saw another way to become an integral part of student life.
In the last five years, UNM has dedicated itself to providing students with a global experience. Study abroad participation has increased 98%. Offering students a convenient spot to get their traveling papers in order could only serve to inspire more customer loyalty.
“It was just a really great win-win partnership for us,” said Callison. “This wasn’t just a local vendor. This was the Global Education Office. They’re part of UNM. They’re part of the provost team. Those partnerships are what we’re looking for, partnerships that make us part of the campus community. With that comes student loyalty and Lobos pride.”
Staying competitive with textbook prices
Partnerships have proven an excellent way to garner Lobos loyalty, but that’s not enough to keep students spending in the store, according to Callison. It’s also necessary to keep textbook prices as low as possible. Especially in recent years, students have begun to economize with course materials in new ways.
“Kids are resourceful. They share textbooks, they see if they can live without them because it’s not necessarily an easy buy,” said Callison. “I think that has affected the industry, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think if you’re competitive [with prices], you’ll gain loyalty with them.”
Students aren’t avoiding textbook purchases because they don’t care about education. Rather, their frugality is a natural response to the escalation of textbook prices in the last decade.
“I don’t think it used to have the impact that it does now on a student budget,” Callison said. “As it gets more and more expensive, you do more research on it. You talk about it. You find out your options before you just dive right in and assume everything on the list is what you have to buy.”
No one is going to convince UNM Bookstore’s customers to shell out hundreds of dollars for something they might not need.
“Students are much smarter than that,” said Callison.