Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ten Things Stores Can Do To Drive the Course Materials Future

Ten Things Stores Can Do To Drive the Course Materials Future

Campus stores are entitled with a unique opportunity to maximize the strength of the collegiate retail channel, especially as it relates to the course materials marketplace.

Those without the experience of working outside the institution can easily overlook the established advantages we can capitalize upon, campus services that can be enhanced, and value-added strengths that can be built upon. The basics include offering convenience and customer service, facilitating communication with faculty and students, collaborating with strategic partners, managing consolidated transactions, and controlling costs.

While offering valued services to faculty, students, administrators, and other course material stakeholders proves competency, capability, and credibility, this is not enough. To ensure a position of strength for the course materials future, collegiate retailers must consider forward thinking strategies and be open to new ways of thinking. The list that follows represents contemporary actions that can be taken to drive the future of course materials.

1. Think & Read Strategically. It is very easy to get caught up in the day to day routine, especially when trying to achieve more with increasingly scarce resources. Although it requires extra effort, the importance of taking time out to think strategically is absolutely critical to future success. Devote time to surveying the competitive landscape by knowing what is going on in the business, taking stock of where you stand today, and plotting a strategic course for the future. Avoid the "tyranny of the tactical".

2. Pursue Digital Options. The transition from print to digital is affected by many factors, including how it is priced, the quality of the product, the resulting perceived value by the student, and the delivery technology. This makes a precise transition schedule difficult to predict, and while student adoption of the medium to date has been limited, the shift IS inevitable. Only those stores who are fully engaged in digital opportunities today will be adequately prepared for the opportunity of tomorrow.

3. Pursue Textbook Affordability Initiatives. While the vast majority of college stores are expected to pursue a profit-based mission, the students of today value organizations that also balance a socially responsible agenda, including sustainability initiatives, promoting student scholarship, and most importantly, helping students to save money on the high cost of textbooks. Genuine efforts in this area will improve customer perceptions of transparency and be rewarded by increased customer trust and loyalty. This translates directly to market share and besides - it's the right thing to do.

4. Engage Actively with Higher Ed. The higher education landscape college stores work in continues to evolve as do the students with each incoming class. Campus stores must engage with technology trends and the customer of tomorrow in multiple ways. This can include traditional industry sources, paying attention to industry thought leaders, engaging with campus and governmental stakeholders, following results of research among future college students, and monitoring important trend sources outside higher education.

5. Seek Collaborative Opportunities. These can be from within and from outside of the campus walls. Consider potential partners who may have been perceived a threat in the past as well as those who may not have been a consideration at all. Creating networks of strategic partners is a characteristic of companies that survive radical change to their industry when compared to those organizations who do not survive. Many non-traditional resources could be well positioned to replace services traditionally provided by college stores and those that overlook this fact will risk being marginalized.

6. Consider Alternative Success Measures. One of my favorites is "New Text Equivalent" or "NTE" Sales - for measuring comparable growth despite selling course materials at lower price points, i.e. used textbooks, rentals, etc. This measure can be used in parallel with "FTE" or Full Time Enrollment to assess sales performance as it may be impacted by fluctuations with enrollment. Both equivalencies have the effect of "flattening" out variances between full & part time enrollment and selling more textbooks but at a lower price.

7. Seek Customer Satisfaction & Loyalty. This may seem obvious, but market share will be retained and grown by listening attentively to your current (and future) customer, offering a variety of options to meet their needs. It's a mistake to focus exclusively on promoting top line revenue, protecting a traditional gross profit margin standard, or clinging to outdated ways of thinking. Tangible benefits can also be earned from customer loyalty programs, customer relationship management (CRM), and communicating in their medium of choice - social media.

8. Track Market Share Not Just Top Line Revenue. As pricing models change and online affiliate partnerships proliferate, unit sales variance can be used as an approximate measure of captured (or lost) market share. Including online sales through affiliate partnership is more realistic than assessing in-store sales alone. Unit sales per FTE is a comparative measure that can benchmark stores serving very different student enrollments.

9. Don't Be Afraid to Act Decisively. Managing calculated risk balances avoiding the "bleeding edge" on one hand and "paralysis by analysis" on the other. As long as decisions and actions are well-informed, innovation can actually reduce risk instead of increasing it. Doing nothing creates more risk than doing something and being unsuccessful and the cost of inaction is being marginalized as a service provider and contributing to the opportunity of alternate resources.

10. BE Your Future. The best way to predict the future is to take an active role in creating it. Actively engage your colleagues on campus and in the industry, including vendor partners, share your expertise, and adopt the advanced thinking of others. There is no silver bullet, no single solution to insure the future of the college store. Be persistent, stay positive, and don't give up.

Written by Jeff Nelson, BGSU Bookstore Director and ICBA President