Armed with boxes and books, extra-long sheets and extraordinary expectations, students each year do the long haul—literally and figuratively—from bedroom to dorm room. Today’s students are both sophisticated and demanding, determined to transform uninspired spaces into personal ones, complete with the comforts they left behind.
Turning an undersized blank room into an intimate, well-designed oasis takes some style, savvy, and a few great products. More and more, students are looking to their bookstore to furnish their dorm rooms—and make it a home away from home. “We’ve been in the business of making students comfortable in their dorm rooms for a long time,” says Lisa Mazzio, Director of General Merchandise, Hard Goods, for Barnes & Noble College.
And it’s big business. College students are in hot pursuit of great merchandise, from décor to organization. This year, the National Retail Federation has predicted an 11 percent increase in spending this back-to-school season. “Our store managers meet with school administrators ahead of time to get a list of what students need and what’s allowed in their dorm rooms,” Mazzio explains. “This list is shared with staff, so when students come to the store, booksellers can share it with them.” For example, some colleges have restrictions on electrical items such as toaster ovens or space heaters, while others have residence halls fully equipped with microwaves and mini fridges. “What we offer in terms of food prep differs by school,” Mazzio says. “If a school allows it, we’ll offer those items.”
According to Mazzio, the bookstore’s goal is to help students make a pocket-sized place cozy and homey—and make the transition as convenient as possible. “We want them to have the best experience possible. That’s why the marketing team reaches out to students before they even get to campus, sending email blasts showcasing what’s available in our stores.” Products are also available on the bookstore websites, where students can make their picks before arriving on campus and either have the store hold it or have their orders shipped directly to their homes.
What are students purchasing to create their own soothing space? It starts with the bed, which takes up plenty of square footage in a room with little of it. Bookstores are ready for the start of the season with a wide variety of bedding and dorm furnishings, from mattress pads to comforters, soft jersey sheets to pillows. “Body pillows are really popular,” Mazzio reports. “Dorm rooms can be so small that the bed becomes a place for more than sleeping. A body pillow can be really handy to lie against when students are reading, studying or socializing.”
Bookstore student bookseller Nicholas Yuhasz, a junior at The Ohio State University in Columbus, noted that anything with the school logo flies off of the shelves. “Anything OSU-related gets grabbed up really quickly—like pillows or throws or flags and stickers,” he says. “There’s a whole section dedicated to merchandise with the school logo—and it sells fast.”
Barnes & Noble College Social Media Specialist Sandra Webb uses social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to showcase dorm décor and organization products that are available in the bookstore, putting them in a lifestyle context for students. The student blog, The College Juice, also explores issues surrounding dorm life, from managing stress to roommate tactics. “We also focus on how to make your room feel like home in such a small space—especially such a small shared space,” Webb says.
The blog also provides tips and tricks for making a small area feel larger on a budget. “Mirrors can make a space feel both brighter and bigger,” Webb reports. And while hanging photos of family and friends can make the room feel a little more like home, bringing every stuffed animal that ever took up real estate on a childhood bed can crowd the space—and leave little room for anything else.
Organization and storage are a top priority for students left scratching their heads about how to fit their belongings into a diminutive dorm room. “We’ve advised students on The College Juice to talk to your roommate ahead of time to coordinate who brings what,” Webb said. “If one of you brings the mini-fridge and the other the microwave, it cuts down on duplication.”
For Generation Z, organization extends far into the area of personal technology. With students bringing a wide variety of tech items—from phones to tablets to computers—creating a system to keep them all organized and charged ranks high. “The technology changes so quickly that we change our assortment every year,” Mazzio says. “We saw a huge surge in charging equipment and portable chargers, this year.”
To help students understand the difference in tech merchandise, signage will be posted explaining what charger goes with what item, and information about its powered. “Many students don’t understand mAh and what it means,” Mazzio explains, referring to milliamp hours, a unit for measuring electric power over time. “One of our bestselling items is power packs, portable phone chargers that can charge on the go—even in a backpack. An extension cord that has USB outlets built into it is also popular.”
According to the National Retail Federation’s Back-to-School Study, college consumers are spending more on matching bed sets, curtains, bath linens and other home goods than ever before. And their tastes are discriminating. This year, the NRF’s survey found that college students will spend $6.23 billion on bedding, furniture, curtains and towels.
Ultimately, Barnes & Noble College views the bookstore as providing a one-stop shop under one roof. “Most students don’t have a car—and the closest mall is miles away, so we provide a wide assortment of items as a convenience. Five or six years ago, you couldn’t walk into a college bookstore and find fashion accessories,” Mazzio says. “Once they get their dorm rooms, students often get a better idea of what they really want and really need—and we’re here to help them make that possible.”