By Mark Palmore, Managing Director, Campus Advisory Services and Denise Walsh, Strategic Campus Advisor, Campus Advisory Services
Last month, we discussed the benefits of the independent bookstore and how they bring profit and value to their campus. Read that article here first if you haven’t already, and continue reading below to learn more about leveraging the power of being local and how to create an authentic student experience.
Independent collegiate retailers have the opportunity to leverage the power of being local, which positions them well to represent their institution’s unique campus culture and create an authentic retail experience for students. But, where should they begin?
1: Curate an assortment of merchandise beyond course materials that is tailored to the needs of customers and supports campus culture. Retailers should actively seek out industry information on current trends and new product introductions while using their own sales data to evaluate top sellers and slow sellers, arming them with information to make fact-based decisions. Staff should also observe customers and ask them – formally or informally – about the assortment. Seeking feedback from student workers is a great place to start, as they will usually be open and honest and serve as a great resource.
2: Source locally. Campus stores should offer unique, locally recognized and produced products. Shop other local retailers to find locally sourced products that support the campus store’s needs. According to independentwestand.org, for every dollar spent at local retailers, about 68 cents stays local versus the 43 cents that stay local from purchases at chain retailers.
3: Accommodate a campus’s unique demands. As a member of the local campus community, a store can and should play an integral role in providing solutions to those unique demands. One way to achieve this is through campus outreach efforts. By contacting key stakeholders in departments and groups, relationships can be forged and it’s more likely that these stakeholders would use the store as a resource for special product needs. Personalizing service to these campus stakeholders satisfies customers and serves the campus at a broader level. For example, forging relationships in the art department might reveal that specific supplies are needed for a class. Offering those supplies in store is a great way to meet a niche demand.
The power of being a local retailer will only go so far for a campus store unless the retail experience itself is authentic and meaningful to students, faculty, staff and campus leaders. To create such an experience, campus stores should:
4: Maintain a friendly, helpful and consistent customer experience. A smile and genuine interaction go a long way in a customer’s experience in the store. Store staff members should actively engage with students by asking questions about their classes, involvement and interests.
5: Stock emblematic apparel and gifts that strengthen school pride. This may seem obvious, but offering an array of emblematic apparel is a simple way to be authentic on campus. Create excitement by merchandising products in fun and practical ways. Bringing together a collection of tailgate products into one area under a tent during football or basketball season is a creative way to make it easier to shoppers to find their spirit gear.
6: Make the store a student destination. Campus stores can create areas within the store for students to study and socialize in the retail space. Consider power source needs for study areas. Adding a charging station is another way to provide more convenience outside of retail.
7: Set aside resources for staff development. Managers should properly train and encourage staff to have fun while engaging with customers. Scripts are a great way to provide examples of best customer service practices on the phone or in-person. Managers can also reward good behavior and coach employees (or match them with a peer mentor) who need a little more polish to reach the desired performance.
We’ll be sharing more about how campus stores help create efficiencies across campus next month. Watch for our email to read the article, or connect with us beforehand to learn more about Campus Advisory Service’s offerings. Mark and Denise have a combined 65 years of experience in campus retail, auxiliary services and general merchandising and can provide strategic insight, tactical recommendations and operational expertise.
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