Small, operational and administrative processes can often divert employee time and resources, ultimately detracting from running a business. For an organization of any size, the devil can sometimes be in the details. It’s a potential pitfall Barnes & Noble College has recognized and sought to prevent with the creation of the Store Process Team, a group of store managers created not just to streamline operational efficiencies, but also create an open channel of feedback, experience and dialogue between the corporate Home Office and its store teams.
“The Store Process Team is really an opportunity for us to share in the reality of what’s working in our stores and what isn’t, what’s being rolled out smoothly or where we might be encountering any problems,” explains Karen Sweeney, Vice President of Store Operations. Store Process Team member, Chris Sackett, a store manager at The College at Brockport Bookstore, especially appreciates the significance of contributing to that effort. “I think it illustrates that we really are a bottom-up organization, and that we have the kind of culture that can help positively impact my store or those of our other store managers,” he says.
Team members hold regular conference calls with counterparts in their regions and that feedback is shared and presented to members of the Home Office. “I think it’s rare in an organization that those of us running the stores in the field are talking with the company’s executive leadership team on such a consistent basis,” points out Nick Fagnoni, manager of the University of South Florida Bookstore. He also points out that the team offers him greater access to other key Home Office resources. “I’m always amazed how engaged the Home Office departments are to make the campus experience better — and how willing they are to listen to the people who live through it,” he says.
That’s not a coincidental discovery, according to Sweeney. “We ask our managers to do a lot; registration integration, partnering with athletics, building deeper relationships with faculty — if you think about any one of these great initiatives, they’re all going to involve the manager getting out of the store and communicating and connecting. We want to give them their time back to do just that,” she adds.
When operational problems are identified through the Store Process Team, solutions can be deployed quickly. Sackett cites a past potential bottleneck where employees had to manually write pick-up information on students’ textbook boxes. “It came up at a March meeting and we had printable labels with bar codes in the store by fall rush,” he says, adding that that kind of responsiveness can build trust and confidence in the Home Office partnership to form new ideas and initiatives to solve potential problems.
Barnes & Noble College’s campus partners have been quick to notice improvements coming from the Store Process Team, as Virginia Commonwealth University’s Manager of Retail Services Jay Phinizy explains. “Since our bookstore general manager, Amy Randolph, started last September, we’ve already seen changes on the campus,” he notes, pointing to the improvements he’s noticed to the bookstore’s web order system. “Not only have I seen the pickup process move faster, but these kinds of new tools and improvements have allowed the bookstore staff to streamline our customer experience,” he adds. “Amy’s involvement in the Store Process Team has empowered the store to be actively engaged in creating solutions for our campus community,” he says.
That kind of engagement is also appreciated by Temple University’s Bookstore Manager, Amanda Howe, who came back from her last Store Process Team meeting with pages of notes she could share with her client and with other stores in her area. “They’re excited to learn about some of the new initiatives we’re working on as a company — anything from new GM systems to information on our new mobile app – and that’s what’s really great about the group,” she says. “We’re not working in isolation and there’s nothing that’s off-limits.”
Derek Holbert, store manager at Texas Christian University, believes that the team also offers strength in the diversity of the campuses represented. “We have a lot of different voices around the Store Process Team table; community colleges, private institutions and state schools, stores with different sales volumes, and when we’re looking at a process or a corporate initiative, we can look at it from every angle and see how it will affect all of the stores within our company,” he says.
For an initiative that might have started with procedural goals, the Store Process Team is now shaping the future of the campus bookstore, as VCU’s Randolph points out. “It’s evolved to a point where we’re really helping to make decisions about what the company wants to invest in and the kinds of tools we need to innovate and interact with our customers and communities, along with wanting to take on issues such as how we can enhance the traditional retail experience in a digital world,” she remarks.
And while nurturing the local empowerment of store managers, the Store Process Team is also providing the keys to Barnes & Noble College’s future growth and service offerings. “I don’t believe anyone caters to the academic community the way we can,” says Sweeney, “and that requires focus — and that requires pace. We want to make sure our learning processes and communications with our stores are really on board — because we’re not slowing down anytime soon.”