Anyone thinking the summer is a quiet time for higher education might want to spend some time with the bookstore transition teams at Barnes & Noble College. Between the months of June and July, a total of 23 new campus bookstores were added to the growing client list of campuses Barnes & Noble College now manages. Although new store openings can occur at any time throughout the year, it’s the summer months that traditionally prove to be the busiest for the transition teams charged with readying the stores and new management before students return to school. While the opening of so many new locations is a positive endorsement of the Barnes & Noble College brand, it also takes a lot of work, and some very careful coordination of a diverse set of skills across many areas within the company.
One person who works to ensure that that happens is Amy Taylor, Barnes & Noble College’s Manager of Store Transitions. “My role is to relay the project status of our store transitions across all the required departments — to keep both the process and the communication going,” she says. New store openings typically occur in a six-week time frame, a schedule that leaves no room for delays. “Typically, we’re moving into an existing space — the walls are up, the lights are on — so all of our planning activity culminates in a concentrated three-day window when the store transition physically takes place,” Taylor says.
Barnes & Noble College Regional Manager Jennifer Russell, who overseas the physical transition of the campus bookstores in her region, agrees that it requires skillful coordination. “It’s challenging because we need to work quickly and there are a lot of moving parts,” she says. “We ensure that everyone is moving in the right direction, from the merchandising of the stores, to installing the systems and the on-boarding of staff,” she explains adding, “it requires many people with a lot of different skills to bring everything together.”
Denise Nakakihara has seen 10 new stores open in the past 12 months within the region she manages, and points out that the human factor is also vital to the success of the new store. “We’re seeing private schools, state schools, two-year community colleges — very different kinds of customers, but when it comes to transitioning their store, we want to offer them all the same high quality experiences,” she says. “We’ll spend a lot of time talking to faculty and staff and being very visible on campus throughout the whole process,” she explains.
Although part of the success of transitioning new stores in a short span of time can be accredited to fine-tuned systems and processes Barnes & Noble College has created, no two transitions are exactly alike. As Taylor confirms, “There’s a uniqueness about each project we undertake, and we are very attuned to the individual needs of the campus and the issues that are important to them.”
Once the new store is ready, the next challenge is to have it operating at top performance in time for back to school. “A big part of our success is in the services we can bring to our schools,” Nakakihara maintains. “The kind of value we can offer in terms of technology, our textbook rental program or other opportunities to save students money — those are the kinds of things that put us at the forefront of what’s going on in the industry,” she says. But being the leader in campus bookstore management doesn’t happen by accident, as Taylor confirms. “I think the secret behind our success is really two-fold,” she explains. “We have an excellent executive team that focuses and drives our new business operations that permeates throughout the whole process; the second is that our field transition teams are a constant presence on the campus during those six weeks of transition.”
And while Barnes & Noble College may have great tools and effective processes in place for its college store transitions, the dedication each team member brings to ensure a great outcome is hard to understate. “The biggest complement is when the client says they see a difference from day one,” says Russell. “Then we know we’re doing something right.”
And as gratifying as it is to hear, those kinds of reactions also let the transition teams know they have done their job well. ”Anytime you switch vendors during the middle of a semester, you expect some issues to arise — and we didn’t receive a single complaint,” said Deron Thaxton, LSU-Alexandria’s Interim Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Services. “Barnes & Noble College met all our expectations. If the first few weeks of operation are any indication of things to come, this will be a long-lasting, excellent relationship.”
Aims Community College
Broward College (seven locations)
Chestnut Hill College
Coastline Community College
The College of Old Westbury
Golden West College
Louisiana State University at Alexandria
Manhattan College (new location)
Orange Coast College
Polk State College (two locations)
Quincy College (two locations)
Southern Oregon University
The Catholic University of America (new location)
University of California, Riverside