Rush is the hyper-concentrated time at the bookstore when the expectations of the entire campus come together and a student’s journey at college begins. On the eve of this year’s back-to-school, we managed to spend five minutes with Kimberly Shearn, Barnes & Noble College’s Manager of Talent Development, to ask why Rush is such a defining time for the college bookstore, what life lesson she discovered at McDonald’s and why “The Little Engine That Could” has a message for us all.
What was your first job?
My first job, as it was for so many people, was at McDonald’s. I was just 15 years old and my parents had to sign every piece of paperwork you could think of to let me work there. At the time I think I saw it as just independence and the opportunity to earn my own money, but in hindsight, it was my first understanding of the term customer service — and of experiencing the kind of collaboration and teamwork that could make that happen. It’s a lesson that has ultimately filtered into everything I’ve done from that point on.
How do you describe your current role at Barnes & Noble College?
I consider myself a champion in enhancing our talent and development programs, and through that, helping to drive the kind of culture and value we represent every day in our bookstores.
What are you working on right now?
We’ve just completed Store Manager Training, on-boarding 45 new managers—which reflects the growth of the company—65 percent of whom were promoted from within. And in general, our biggest focus is looking at our talent strategies. As a company, we are growing so quickly, so we want to make sure that we have the bench to fill those positions. The question we’re constantly asking ourselves is how can we better coach and inspire that talent so we have the right people to jump onto the stage as we develop our business.
Why do you think Rush is such a defining time of the year for the campus bookstore?
Rush at the bookstore offers a really unique opportunity to see the relationships that we build with each of our customers. You can see it when a new student comes through the door, maybe he’s a bit hesitant and unsure of what he’ll need, or when seasoned students meet up at the store to catch up over coffee, or in the concerns and questions our parents might have—that’s such a defining snapshot of our stores. It shows each of the relationships being built, and not only by us, but by the general community as the store itself facilitates those opportunities.
How do you think the approach to training and development has changed since you first joined Barnes & Noble College?
I think the amount of time and effort you put into building a training program speaks to its success in helping the trainee. What we’ve learned, particularly as we’ve shifted generations and from the time constraints our managers have at store level, is that bite-sized learning can go further than any long, formal PowerPoint presentation. We now have the kind of dynamic enterprise software that enables us to do just that and distribute multiple learning opportunities to meet the specific needs of our managers.
Why, in your view, is Barnes & Noble College such a great campus partner?
We’re constantly innovating. We’re always looking to see what we can do differently to satisfy a certain need at a particular campus. We don’t have one set approach and that’s so important in our industry because each campus is so different and so unique.
Is there a particular distinctive quality or character trait you seem to notice that is shared by everyone a Barnes & Noble College?
The sense of commitment. I think we redefine the word commitment with our field management staff. It shows in the multiple roles that they play, because no single day is the same in their stores, but they’re able to show up, ready to take on whatever’s in front of them, and still ask their clients and customers, ‘what else can I do for you?’
What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current role?
You know, I feel like I’m in exactly in the right place. I feel like I have much more focus and dedication to my profession here, and although it might sound cliché, there’s no place like home — and Talent Development at Barnes & Noble College is home to me. I’m very proud of the accomplishments that the team has achieved and I look forward to all that we have in-store for this year.
We like to talk about Barnes & Noble College as being a millennial ‘employer of choice.’ Why do you think that is, and might it also hold the same promise for Generation Z?
In our research, and despite current perceptions, Millennials noted that they value personal development over money and status. At Barnes & Noble College, each person is able to make that difference, and make that impact on the bottom line in a very short space of time. Gen Z tells us that they prefer a face-to-face environment, and in our stores and interactions with customers, we offer exactly that.
Favorite part of the bookstore?
As an avid caffeine consumer, I’d have to start in the cafe, but I wouldn’t stop there. I love the interactions in the aisles among the booksellers and I truly believe we have general merchandise like no other. I always enjoy watching students pick out that favorite team shirt to show their school spirit.
Favorite book or book you’re currently reading?
As a professional mom, I’d have to refer to something my son makes me read probably every week, The Little Engine that Could. Although it’s a children’s book, it’s also a really good learning lesson as it drives home the message that courage and determination lead to success. I think that’s a cool inspirational message and, coincidentally, it also describes what we do here.
Most valuable thing you’ve learned at Barnes & Noble College?
That the relationships you build provide the trust that you need to be able to succeed. I think that applies no matter what line of business you’re in.
Best day at Barnes & Noble College?
My best days are always the last day of our new store manager training. At the end of the week, we hold a graduation for them, which always makes me emotional. They’re truly my inspiration. They’re the fuel to my fire.