Retail Traffic

Campus Stores Making the Grade

Today's students not only pack their skivvies but also bring their shopping savvy when embarking on a college career.

In response to this heightened retail enlightenment, college bookstore managers are rethinking and redesigning the traditional bookstore environment. While college bookstores once were a place where students looked for a bargain on the semester's texts and dreamed of selling them back at a premium, now they are meeting places where students are encouraged to linger and lounge while spending their mad money.

For those still young enough to remember, a trip to the college bookstore meant getting in and out as fast as possible without too much monetary pain. Limited budgets and a lack of mobility practically dictated a visit to the campus center for texts, school supplies and a few sundry items.

Not anymore. "There's a major shift occurring in our industry," says Jerry Buchs, public relations director for the National Association of College Stores (NACS) in Oberlin, Ohio. "We're seeing more and more resistance by students to purchase all their texts at their campus stores."

High book prices often drive students to share textbooks, Buchs says, leaving them with more dollars to spend at other retail establishments. This shift in spending has caused the $8.1 billion bookstore market to reshape the image of traditional campus centers.

"College stores feel they are competing with many other types of retailers," he says. "Students have become more mobile, so there's a real need to stress the importance of value when they buy their books while offering certain services and products they've not seen in the past."

Lexington, Ky.-based Wallace's Bookstores recently announced plans to develop the first FlexSmart College Store at the 113-year-old Yale Co-op in New Haven, Conn. The state-of-the-art retail center will give bookstore managers the ability to create as much as 30% more retail space for books and apparel as circumstances and events dictate. During special campus activities like sorority and fraternity rush and football games, for example, the textbook section of the store can be enlarged to accommodate more supplies and a greater influx of students.

"It's a marriage of form and function designed specifically for colleges," says Steve Stevens, Wallace's president and COO. "FlexSmart has the one thing campus stores have always lacked: the ability to physically adapt as time and events warrant."

According to Stevens, three fundamental principles guiding the FlexSmart concept include: visual and merchandising appeal demanded by a more sophisticated campus shopper; functional ability to adjust to a campus' unique needs; and quality and performance to meet the requirements of administrators in contract management partnerships.

Wallace's will manage the Yale Co-op and the Yale Medical Bookstore under a 10-year agreement.

FlexSmart is being designed by Southfield, Mich.-based Jon Greenberg & Associates (JGA). "We created a very flexible design that will make a visit to the co-op fun and attractive and service-oriented," explains Julie Sabourin, JGA's director of client strategy. "Students are very mall-oriented. When they go to school, they have a lot of disposable income."

The co-op will offer an array of shops and services, including an online retail center where students can shop on the Internet. Also at the bookstore, they can access the Internet for e-mail and other information. A school spirit shop with an apparel section will feature traditional collegiate emblematic clothing while vendor shops will offer branded clothing and other merchandise.

"The store will have design elements and features that reflect a specific management philosophy and attitude toward marketing textbooks and merchandise in an educational environment," Stevens adds.

Food, fun and fellowship Another exciting element JGA is mixing into its design of campus stores is marche, the integration of fresh food and retail creating a seamless ambience between the two services.

When JGA designed a new campus center for Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, it took cues from its successful designs in malls and Main Streets to meet the diverse needs of administrators, faculty members, students, maintenance staff and store employees. The result was an increase in store sales by more than 18% and bright, navigable venues complete with a bookstore, adjacent convenience store and art store.

"Students can walk around from section to section without any demarcation lines," Sabourin says.

JGA applied the same design concepts at James Madison University's new computer technology campus in Harrisburg, Va. "Very contemporary and open design fixtures enable staff to roll out kiosks and display cases into the public spaces, which helps bring the students into the store," Sabourin adds. "A combination of food and coffee served in the same area, combined with a huge food court upstairs, exemplifies the concept that there's retail in the food service and food service in retail."

When in Rome ... One consideration when approaching the design of a bookstore or the redesign of an existing shop is how regional influences can play a role in the store's overall look and feel, says John Shipp, president of Kremer Shipp Daggett Inc. (KSD) in Pasadena, Calif.

With 18 years of bookstore experience and a clientele of more than 600 college accounts across the United States and Canada, Shipp says making the store unique to its respective campus is his biggest challenge. "It's easy to merchandise something, but giving a school like Princeton its own look is difficult."

Set to begin this month, KSD's redesign of Princeton University's campus bookstore will take approximately six months to complete. The building will remain open to the public throughout the construction activity as the crews work to integrate the campus' architecture with its traditional colors of black and orange.

The renovation of the University of South Florida's bookstore, which KSD completed 18 months ago, complemented the school's colors of yellow and green with light woods to give the facility a contemporary, south Florida feel.

"We designed the whole interior and fixture package to let the sun shine in and give the students a let's-go-out-to-the-beach feel," Shipp says. "Because the store is centralized on the campus quad and lends itself to open-air selling, we used large windows to give it a light and airy touch."

When redesigning Brigham Young University's campus store, KSD incorporated the school's candy-making efforts with athletic apparel as well as a genealogy research department.

"We designed a large island in the middle of the store for homemade fudge, hand-dipped chocolates and caramels," Shipp recalls. "Because Mormons are interested in researching the genealogy of their families, it was also important to give them the capability to do that at their bookstore."

In the Northeast, Shipp says, the ambience of campus stores lends itself to a more traditional flavor with overstuffed chairs, rolling ladders for accessing books and dark, wooden grains. In California, where KSD has designed some 200 stores for the state school system, stores depict a very eclectic style.

"At San Francisco State University, where we're working right now, we're dealing with a building built with buttress columns and 25-foot-tall doors, and making something very modern," Shipp says. "We just look at the building we're given and do something to complement it and at the same time make it unique."

Another design challenge is renovating a store that hasn't seen a fresh coat of paint in decades.

"Some of these bookstores haven't been looked at it in 25 years and are very archaic," Sabourin admits. "Based on today's retail atmosphere and the realization that students are very retail savvy, many of these stores don't have anything appealing to offer other than students buying books that they have to have."

Many stores are located within or adjacent to the student center and have been relegated the least desirable space available. Not so on other campuses, like Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where JGA is tying together seven different levels of its bookstore with a facility addition.

Similarly, at Cornell University, JGA's design team found a number of architectural demands including an underground, multi-level facility with poorly navigable traffic patterns.

"The entire center of the building is a cut-through for the entire campus," Sabourin says. "We maintained the circulation area through the center but increased the store's functionality by rerouting stair traffic to the outside of the building."

Despite having several different levels, JGA succeeded in creating a mall concept that allowed store visitors to travel from level to level with their merchandise without impeding the flow of traffic and calling into question the store's security.

"The store reflects very forward thinking in retail," Sabourin says. "It includes a greeting card shop, computer shop, munch market, bank, emblematic store, tradebook section and a store for dorm accessories."

Regardless of the geographic location and architectural challenges, every campus bookstore is becoming more than a place to buy texts. "We're starting to call them retail centers because they do more than sell books," Shipp says. "They're becoming places where you can buy clothes, computers, dorm living supplies and beauty needs. The goal is to keep the interest and dollars on the campus."

Sabourin agrees. "We ask the store manager, 'What merchandise do you carry now and what do you see yourself selling in the future?' We try to make fixtures as flexible as possible because who knows what they'll be selling a few years from now."

Merchandise is also shaped by demographics. At State University of New York, located in rural Pottsdam, a large selection of health and beauty aids, combined with a convenience and doughnut store, allow late-night shoppers the luxury of snacking while they pick up last-minute supplies.

Buchs of NACS says his organization's 3,100 members are as diverse as the stores they represent, ranging from university-owned stores to contract managers to cooperatives run by faculty members or students. They all share the need, however, to compete with retailers patronized by their student populations.

"We find that the stores and members vary as differently as the campuses and schools themselves," he says. "Traditionally, the larger universities with nationally known athletic programs take on the feel and look of department stores to respond to the needs of their populations. Stores serving smaller campuses not located in an urban area may not have the resources of their larger counterparts and serve a different need."

These days, college campus stores are becoming more than just textbook centers. Created as places where students can spend more time, redesigned bookstores are including convenience stores, Internet services and space for additional merchandise. These new elements bring forth challenges for designers, who are not only shaping an enticing retail environment but also making each college store reflect the individuality of its school.

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