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Why not?

Why not try something different?

George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying, “Some people see things that are and say, “Why?” But I dream things that never were and say, Why not?””

In later years, this same expression has also been credited to John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Robert Francis Kennedy. While we may be able to confirm it’s origin, or what the author was referring to, the expression could apply to a bookstore. More appropriately it could be said, “Some people see things that are and say, “That’s the way it is always done in a college bookstore”. A few people see things that are and say, “Why?” and an extremely small group of people say, “Why not do something different?”

Thirty plus years ago bookstores, as did all of retail, operated under a much simpler format. Many of you know the history of Leonard Riggio who worked at NYU’s bookstore in the 1960’s. He saw a better way of serving students and opened his own off campus bookstore. Riggio’s idea grew into what we now know as Barnes & Noble.

It is interesting to watch subtle changes within the industry. Thirty plus years ago, you wouldn’t think of walking into a bookstore carrying food and drink. Most definitely you couldn’t purchase either in the store. You wouldn’t dare sit and read for hours before you purchased a book or magazine; There wasn’t even a place to sit. Today that has all changed. (However, when you look at Barnes & Noble’s counterpart in Canada, the Chapter’s stores, you will find signs that tell a customer to not take any books or magazines into the coffee shop.)

Bookstores changed from being a place where you went when you needed to purchase a book, to a place you want to go to socialize, enjoy a snack, and purchase a book, magazine, food, t-shirts and now even gifts. (Chapters does a superior job of this.)

Yet, on campus bookstores at many schools have not adopted this cross merchandising idea. Visiting a store, I noticed how they pointed out various areas of text books by replacing the signs with t-shirts. “College of Engineering”, “College of Nursing” and many others did a great job of adding life to an otherwise dull tradition of hanging a sign from the ceiling.

Yet when I asked where were the t-shirts were so that I could purchase one, I was pointed in the direction of the clothing department. Why? Why not put some of the t-shirts with the books?  Valuing the customer’s time (read this as not making me walk all over the store for things I think should be near each other) is the second biggest customer demand. (Having on hand what the customer wants is the number one demand.)

What can we do to be different? We can merchandise the non-text book parts of the store like the off campus properties do. Unfortunately, as one that visits many campus bookstores, there is a sameness that is present in too many bookstores. Not that students will shopping from one store to another, but if the store doesn’t screen out, “Excitement” then those discretionary dollars are likely to remain in their pockets. If they are purchasing clothing at the mall or a mass merchant, that attractive display they see can easily sway their spending.

As for the alumni and supporters, I fail to understand any school that observes a person purchasing several hundred dollars of spirit merchandise and fails to get their personal information. Definitely here is a source of added sales through out the year. Your store creates a new t-shirt design for homecoming. Send that person an e-mail with a link to a photo on your website and make it easy for them to order. (While we are looking at websites, get a domain name that is easy for people to remember. You can have it mirror the actual website that is at the that few people are ever going to remember.)

When school starts and you are overflowing with students and a one hour waiting line to check out, look at something unique to spread out those customers. If people will go to a bookstore at midnight to purchase the new Harry Potter book, then a creative promotion allowing them to order books online and pick them up in the evening while there is entertainment that you have sponsored playing outside your store can ease that tremendous rush of customers.

Are these the only ideas? Not at all, as the effort has to only start with the desire to do something that is different from what you have been doing. It starts with asking, “Why?” and “Why not?”

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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