Nobody likes change, or the uncertainty that might come with new management. It’s a particularly understandable concern with many self-operated college bookstores who, while providing an academic retail service, have also become an integral part of the fabric of their campus. For that reason, it’s also something Barnes & Noble College is intently aware of when developing the management of a new campus bookstore. This year alone, the company has successfully transitioned a record number of new stores previously operated by their colleges or universities, cognizant that the most important part of that process is not the bricks and mortar of a new facility, but the people who make it their livelihood — and likely might be apprehensive about what the future may hold.
“Yes, there were concerns,” admits Karen Hotaling, Textbook Manager at the SUNY Cobleskill Bookstore, when the bookstore was transitioned to Barnes & Noble College management in 2012. Hotaling, who had worked for the university-operated bookstore for 18 years when Barnes & Noble College took over management, was disinclined to listen to rumors that suggested the new management would want their own people to run the store, or that it might be run in a rigorously corporate way. As her experience revealed, the outcome was quite the opposite. “It was a very easy transition, with the Regional and Store Management team discussing everything with us,” she says. “They were always accessible and assured us that we’d not only have a job, but a future with the store.”
Hotaling, who was thinking about perhaps making a move out of the textbook department, changed her mind when she realized that Barnes & Noble College management provided her with more support for the process. “It became easier, and more fun, because the bookstore now had stronger backing from the administration, and the new management really understood the book ordering process — and the importance of deadlines!”
As a result, she now spends time out of the store talking to faculty and actively making recommendations and building more personal connections. “There’s just an encouragement to get out in front of my customers, it’s given me more responsibility and more flexibility about how I manage the whole process,” she adds.
That kind of confidence is something Amy Taylor, Barnes & Noble College’s Manager of Store Transitions, appreciates as an asset that many staff members who were previously running self-operated bookstores bring to the company. “It’s absolutely in the best interests of the store, and its success on campus, for the staff to stay on when we manage a new store,” she says. “Everyone benefits from that continuity, and that expertise, because they’re the people who know the store better than anyone else,” she adds.
Lori Schmit, a Portland, Oregon-based Regional Manager, recalls her start with the company as a staff member of the Southern Methodist University Bookstore in Dallas. When Barnes & Noble College assumed operation of the store in 1987, she quickly realized the potential of the new management. “I remember it as a very exciting time. We weren’t an isolated bookstore anymore, but had the opportunity to network with other neighboring stores in the region,” she recalls. “Staff from the Home Office helped us with training and buyers assisted with our set up and products — it was just a great learning opportunity.”
Schmit says that although her same team of colleagues was in place, working together in much the same way, they were empowered with new tools and better resources to be successful. “Our day-to-day didn’t change very much, we had the same goals of serving the students and being very involved and engaged on campus, but now we had stronger direction, better processes and more resources to help us do that,” she says.
She was quickly promoted, enabling her to first move back to her native Chicago to a management position with the Northwestern University Bookstore. “I was struck then, as I am today, by the people,” Schmit says. “It’s just a very supportive environment, and the networking and camaraderie that we benefited from back at SMU, is still very much a characteristic of the company today.”
Perhaps because of her own experience, Schmit brings a great deal of compassion and sensitivity to the concerns of new store members. “It’s something that we always reinforce in our early discussions with new store teams; that we’re here to support them. We’re about making their lives easier through teamwork and partnership,” she says. Schmit also highlights the opportunities for growth within a larger organization. “We highlight the support and tell them we have an incredible amount of training and development resources, local mentorship and web-based training, and really stress that whether they’re a student bookseller just starting their career, or an established employee, we want to help them advance with the company.”
Currently responsible for the opening of two new stores in her region, Schmit says, “Many people who have worked in self-operated stores have such incredible knowledge and a positive attitude. They’re really an asset to the school and to my team when they transition with us. And we want to make sure they know we value their experience and will continue to support their career success. I’m a prime example of that positive experience — and I’m happy to say I’ve been with the company for 28 years now,” she adds proudly.