The difference between success and failure is a great team — and nowhere is that more evident than on the campus of Louisiana State University at Alexandria (LSUA).
When it began its partnership with LSU at Alexandria to manage the campus bookstore, Barnes & Noble College had a tried-and-true manager in mind to take the helm. Erin Weilbaecher, who had seven years experience at the Barnes & Noble at LSU bookstore on the main campus in Baton Rouge, shined in her previous roles as she rose through the ranks. “Like many students, she was a Barnes & Noble employee who really liked the experience,” recalls Barnes & Noble at LSU General Manager Paul Stevenson. “Upon graduation, we had an opening for an assistant textbook manager and we offered her the opportunity.” Two years later, when a position as café manager opened, she took on the challenge to great success, leading one of the largest volume cafés in the company.
“When the store manager position opened at LSU Alexandria, we thought it would be a great fit for Erin and for the school,” Stevenson says. “We’ve had a lot of success with student employees continuing within the organization. There’s definitely room for growth for talented people in our company — and that talent really makes all the difference in our stores.”
With the success of the main campus store in Baton Rouge, bringing the Alexandria campus into the Barnes & Noble College fold was a natural next step for LSU. The biggest concern was ensuring that students would be able to purchase textbooks needed for B-Term Courses (LSU’s summer second session). “Anytime you switch vendors during the middle of a semester, you expect some issues to arise,” says Deron Thaxton, LSUA’s Interim Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Services. “Barnes & Noble College met all our expectations. We didn’t receive a single complaint,” he says, adding, “Going forward, we hope to have a much more customer service-oriented relationship between the bookstore and LSUA. If the first few weeks of operation are any indication of things to come, this will be a long-lasting, excellent relationship.”
Weilbaecher agrees, acknowledging the strong partnership with the school as a key element for making the smooth transition possible. “The support from the school has been absolutely amazing,” she says. “Everyone has been incredibly helpful and there’s been a tremendous amount of teamwork involved to ensure this store’s success.”
To meet LSUA’s goal of opening before B-Term Courses, the bookstore team, comprised of seven managers and students from the main campus, “put boots on the ground,” according to Stevenson — closing the store on June 19 and reopening just five days later on June 23.
On opening day, students found plenty to explore, including new merchandise that has been updated to adhere to LSU’s recent re-branding. In addition to the expanded clothing selection, the convenience area is 50 percent larger than before; the new ‘Heat and Eat’ section and ice cream freezer are also especially popular. “There are options to eat on the go, like mac and cheese and noodle bowls. They present new meal options for students that they didn’t have before,” Weilbaecher explains.
The design of the store was also modified to better meet the needs of the students, with school supplies moving to the back wall where they are more easily accessible. “We feel the new layout is more student friendly and presents a better shopping experience for the campus,” Stevenson said.
Making a smooth — and speedy — turnaround required plenty of planning and advanced work. “We collaborated with our home office’s New Store Transition Team to make sure all of our orders were intact and that all of our technology to operate the store was in place,” Stevenson reported. “We strategized and planned where everything would go and how it would be displayed. If you carefully plan in advance, you don’t have to move it around 100 times. It’s a much more efficient process.”
The great teamwork with LSUA was a big part of that success. LSUA had all shipments stored in a secure warehouse on campus. Looking to get a jumpstart before his team arrived, Stevenson went to the warehouse to begin unloading boxes. “It was an incredibly hot Louisiana day,” he recalls. “Yet, there was Deron Thaxton and Larry Williams [LSUA’s Procurement Director] ready to pitch in and help. They jumped right in with their shirts-sleeves and ties on to help me unload boxes. That’s what I call teamwork.”