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What Accounts for Towson's Soaring Success?

Posted by Lori Reese on 10/16/17 5:30 AM
Topics: college store stories, inclusive access

Some call it inclusive access, others all-inclusive. At Towson University, the program that builds textbook charges into course fees is called direct access. Whatever name you choose, there’s no doubt that University Store Director Stacy Elofir’s decision to use the model has been a boon for the retailer, the students and the school.  

What Accounts for Towson's Soaring Success?“Direct access has been extremely successful,” said Elofir.

The store launched the program as a pilot last spring with a handful of courses. In Fall 2017, numbers rose to 242 courses, 384 titles and nearly 8,000 enrolled, Elofir said. Within the program, students in those courses are automatically charged for digital course materials unless they choose not to participate.

Only 9% opted out in the fall.

That means more Towson students than ever had the required course materials on day one of class — a development that delights faculty and administrators alike. With direct access, students’ chances for success soar.

“91% of the 8,000 who enrolled had their materials,” said Elofir. “Whereas, last fall, with traditional materials, only 16% of those enrolled had what they needed. That's 6,000 students who had material for courses this year that didn’t last year. That’s significant.”

The program also saves students money. The bookstore works with Cengage, Pearson, McGraw Hill, Human Kinetics and Norton to negotiate prices for the bulk orders, thereby reducing the overall cost of course materials.

Of all the industry changes Elofir has seen in recent years — with the rise of digital texts, open educational resources and online bookstores — she said programs like Towson’s direct access are probably the most important.  

“It’s much bigger than OER,” she said.

Under 2% of Towson courses use an OER. Meanwhile, 7% of classes participate in direct access.

Of course, the course materials fee program isn’t all that ensures Towson University Store stays relevant. Elofir said MBS’ partnership with digital text provider RedShelf has prompted more purchases.

“I have seen a jump in electronic titles being purchased, so I think that was a really good direction for MBS,” she said.

In addition, Towson Store has run a price-matching program for the past few years, which allows students to get money back on any book they find sold less expensively elsewhere.

“I’ve spoken to quite a few schools about the ramifications of it,” said Elofir. “For us, it’s a really great marketing tool. I can say, Why would you go anywhere else?’”

According to Elofir, the cost of price-matching is nothing compared to the trust it inspires in customers.

“It’s a really cool thing to say to parents at orientation,” she said. “I’ve got my posters everywhere and all kinds of jazz. Out of the millions of dollars in book sales that we do in the fall, to date, I’ve only had 32 price-match requests submitted. 30 were accepted. Two were declined — one you’ll be happy to know, because we were actually cheaper. While our margins were cut, we didn’t lose any money. And we gained customers. “

Elofir and her associates work hard to ensure the store maintains a strong profile on campus — and a reputation as an ally in student success. That means communicating often with faculty and with the provost’s office about everything from course materials options to last-minute adoptions.

“We do an email newsletter that is successful,” said Elofir. “It’s more visually based. It’s not just words. We might just shoot you with one big picture to remind you of things. We do a lot contact — personal contact.”  

Store personnel appear at every new faculty orientation, offering information about their services, including their price-matching.

“Our biggest challenge [with faculty] is to get them to listen — for them to actually hear what services we have,” said Elofir. “So, you’re sending students to Amazon? But we price match! So, why would you do that?”

The store also runs promotions like video and art contests that keep it central to the student experience. This year, it partnered with a stationary vendor to make journals out of student artwork.

“That’s been very popular,” said Elofir.

Elofir takes care to stay on top of the latest developments in POS systems and to maintain a wide selection of used books. She said she believes that the store’s relationships with MBS Systems and MBS Wholesale help it stay ahead of the curve.

“Listen, college-wise, as far as systems and wholesalers go, MBS is the choice. Honestly,” said Elofir. “I’ve looked at other systems. I will always keep my eyes and ears open for what’s right for us, but for the last seven or eight years, MBS is the choice.”

Undoubtedly, Elofir's attitude and that of her staff and student workers account for much of Towson’s ongoing success, too.

“We’re super-passionate about what we do,” she said. “Sometimes you get depressed. Then you try to think of new ways to generate excitement. My student staff is really amazing at leveraging their knowledge and skills and our sales are really, really good starting out for the year. So, I’m feeling hopeful.”

With such energetic initiatives, associates have reason to see a bright future for Towson University Store.

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