The challenges of taking over management of a college bookstore — from renovation to re-merchandising, human resources to re-branding — are enormous. For California’s Coast Community College District, which includes three separate colleges and three distinct campus bookstores, the work of opening all three stores on the same day was triple fold.
So how did Barnes & Noble College open stores at Golden West College, Orange Coast College and Coastline Community College this summer … and to rave reviews? With plenty of teamwork. “It takes a village,” explained Regional Manager Denise Nakakihara. “I worked very closely with two of my regional manager colleagues and close to 30 managers from outside the region. Between local talent and managers flying in from across the country, we were ready to open on schedule.”
Because Barnes & Noble College took over from another management company rather than the institution itself, access was limited. “In addition, on the Golden West College campus, the store was left without any fixtures, which left us with a large, empty store and seven days to open,” Nakakihara said. “That meant that before we even unpacked a book, we had to set up shelves, wall units and everything else.”
At Golden West, located in the coastal community of Huntington Beach (also known as “Surf City”), that “everything else” included soup-to-nuts to fulfill a very diverse student curriculum. “We’ve worked closely with the college’s different departments for several years to meet student needs,” said Brian Morris, who has served as bookstore manager for the past four years and transitioned with Barnes & Noble College. “Now we carry an even wider range of books as well as merchandise,”he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from faculty and staff. As soon as the transition team came out, I knew I had made the right decision to remain at the bookstore. The Barnes & Noble College environment is amazing.”
Those distinct classroom requirements can include everything from auto mechanic shirts for the roughly 500 automotive technology students enrolled annually to shelves stacked with shaving cream (the bookstore sells more than 100 cans a month) for the cosmetology program, which uses the foam to simulate hair-dye practice sessions during class. It can also include physical training uniforms for those enrolled in the Specialized Investigator Basic Course (SIBC), which teaches agency employees how to look for fraud, to non-scratch belts for the auto students, which Morris is currently researching.
Popular at Golden West, the cosmetology and esthetician programs require students to purchase professional cosmetics kits and wear black scrubs, which Morris has at the ready. Initially, the cosmetology department was hesitant to relinquish the kit sales to the bookstore, selling instead to students directly. But as the bookstore team built a relationship with the director of the department, he began to see the benefits of selling through them. The kits have resulted in a tremendous jump in annual sales, says Morris, who added, “It really highlights the importance of looking for those missing sales opportunities.”
That attention to detail and student buying habits also led Morris to make changes to the check-out system. “We decided to explore why the cosmetology students would rush in and out of our bookstore to grab food so quickly,” he said. “I learned that they’re required to earn a significant number of classroom hours before taking the state licensing test, and that they have to punch in and out. If they’re continually late, they have to drop the class. With this understanding, we created a checkout line just for them and added extra hours to accommodate their schedules.”
At Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Todd Murphy returned to the bookstore when Barnes & Noble College took over management. “It was very helpful for everyone that Todd had been on the campus many years ago,” explained Kate Mueller, Dean of Student Services at the school. “He came with a familiarity of the school and he had worked with some of the bookstore employees previously.” Four of the professional staff members who have agreed to stay on have worked in the bookstore for a dozen years.
The majority of the bookstores’ full-time employees are classified employees, which means they’re employed by the state. “It’s important to our clients that they’re integrated into our team, that they receive training and communication and responsibilities,” said Barnes & Noble College’s Nakakihara. “That’s been a big focus of ours, incorporating all of the full-time staff into our day-to-day operations. They’re highly valued — and it doesn’t matter who cuts their paycheck.”
At Orange Coast, the bookstore team takes an important role on campus. The store manager and assistant manager are invited to meetings held by student services management and the student services planning council. “They’re under no obligation, but they come,” Mueller stated. “It’s great because it gives us the opportunity to connect and communicate and build those relationships.” Bookstore Manager Murphy understands that mandate. “The district is looking for a partner and, consequently, campus outreach and customer service will be big objectives for me.”
At Coastline Community College, which has locations found throughout Orange County, most of the classes take place online, which requires a different operational need. “We had to come up with solutions outside of the norm for shipping. Some 60 percent of our orders are online at this school, so we partnered with our Home Office Store Operations team to come up with solutions that would streamline the process and satisfy the demands of this unique customer base,” Nakakihara explained. For the students taking traditional classes, the Coastline Community College Bookstore offers books and also set up a pop-up, or temporary, store. “We don’t have a cookie cutter approach to what we do,” she continued. “We tailor it to meet the very specific needs of our college partners and their students and faculty.”
And ultimately, that was the goal of the district and a big factor in choosing Barnes & Noble College. “They wanted a high level of collaboration and partnership,” Nakakihara said. “They wanted open lines of communication and the bookstore to be involved on campus. They don’t want us to be the bookstore that sets up shop and closes its door every day.”
That custom local empowerment is central to Barnes & Noble College bookstore management. “If we focus on what’s important to the students and what’s important to our college partnership, and if that’s what is at the forefront of our decision making, then we can truly offer everything our schools need and want for their students and faculty to succeed.”