Eric Hager came to the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) two years ago from a large retail industry leader. He brought a fresh set of eyes and a lot of energy to the changing environment at UNO.
Like many other college campuses, UNO was facing declining course materials revenue year over year. In less than two years, Eric and his talented team were able to turn that around; Eric’s motto, get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Q: You told your staff to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable”. What does that mean to you?
Eric: Coming into this role, I quickly realized it would be important to embrace the campus perception of our store. Whether the perception is good or bad, we needed to understand where to start. We also took the time to source the very best ideas in and out of our industry. We were not afraid to step outside of our comfort zone and execute on those new ideas.
Q: Your store has been able to move from declining course materials revenue to a financial increase; how did you get back the business you lost?
EH: We embraced the internet and used data drives our decisions. We know that 6 out of 10 customers who shop on our website are new customers. Of the existing customers who came back, we attribute our success to competitive delivery (next day pickup) and price improvements.
Q: One strategy you mentioned was in-store pickup within 24 hours. How are you able to deliver on this promise?
EH: Work back from a goal – for us it was ‘deliver next day during rush season… beat Amazon!’ Create a strategic plan with labor and infrastructure support needed. We employ student workers around the clock. We placed an advertisement for the overnight shift and had 70 applications right away. We also make adjustments in our plan for increase in semester vs. semester trends.
Q: You also mentioned embrace the internet. What did you mean by that?
EH: We knew the experience in our brick and mortar store needed to match our online presence. In order to do this, we use PrismWeb from Nebraska Book Company to give us a state-of-the-art mobile optimized site. We also use digital marketing to drive traffic to our site.
Q: What do you think is most important to students as it relates to campus retail?
EH: We start with the most important assumption; we do not know the answer to that question. We use data to drive our decisions and we take the time to find out what is most important to our students. We provide platforms for them to give us feedback, and we take the time to listen.
We use information from student government, faculty senate, surveys and conversations. Through the research process, we found out that students care about having the book on their shelves the first day books are offered and multiple delivery methods that are free was necessary.
Q: How do you keep retail experiences and spending habits within the “campus bubble”?
EH: We asked ourselves a very simple question: Where is the lowest lying fruit? There were departments currently spending money on a similar products and experiences we offer. The first course of action was to go talk to those departments! Many times, we were less expensive and more qualified to pull off their requests. We support weekly orders from the Athletic Department (for ‘spirit” and other ‘like’ items), Student Involvement, Recruiting, Wellness, and other departments. It is important to us to offer better prices and better service.