For thousands of students who started college this year, life on campus has already taken on some kind of normalcy and routine. Yet having tamed their dorm room situation, found their classes and started their course work for the year, what else is there left to do? Resources are plentiful on campus for students acclimating to their new lives, but one in particular is trying especially hard to support this year’s incoming freshmen — the campus bookstore. This fall, Barnes & Noble College store managers throughout the country have been involved in a series of outreach initiatives designed to create and cultivate trust for those students who might have found the transition to campus life just a little overwhelming.
Building that trust is something Barnes & Noble College’s Director of Consumer Marketing, Tamara Vostok, doesn’t take lightly, “It’s really such an exciting time in a student’s journey, but equally it can often seem intimidating or confusing,” she says of the freshman experience, “and for that reason, we want to position the bookstore as more than just the place where you pick up your textbooks at the beginning of the term, but as a year-round support system that’s there to help.”
For Vostok’s team at Barnes & Noble College, building that kind of support starts early ─ often well before the student arrives on campus ─ and is designed to function as a platform to sustain them throughout their college lives. The success of those initiatives is due in large part to the campus store managers and their staff, and their ability to personalize their outreach to that student’s individual experience while pulling in the local culture of the school. The Southern Connecticut State University Bookstore, for example, found a way to play a central role in the school’s recent Weekend of Welcome (WOW).
If this year’s incoming class of freshman had any apprehension about joining their new campus this semester, they could not have been more reassured by the WOW activities, culminating in a barbecue designed to dispel any thoughts of homesickness. At the barbecue, bookstore supervisors Deanna Gaudio and Megan Wester moved through the crowd in company with school mascot, ‘Otus the Owl,’ handing out discounts, opportunities to pose for photo-ops with ‘Otus,’ and invites for the students to a very special after-party event at the bookstore. “Although it was an opportunity to explain to students some of our expanded textbook and rental options, and help with any textbook questions, the main focus was to really create a party atmosphere where the students could unwind, relax and feel at home,” explains Larry Gal, the bookstore’s General Manager.
Against a backdrop of some lively party music, the new students had an opportunity to win discounts, purchase clothing and gifts, and try food samples from the store’s convenience area, while ‘Otus’ was on hand to pose for pictures with everyone. Helping guests get in the spirit of the event was student bookseller T.J. Angiolillo, a senior business and marketing major, who, resplendent in a pirate costume, challenged students to games where they could win 25 to 50 percent off store items. “The costume, the games, they’re all designed to be ice-breakers,” Angiolillo says, acknowledging that for many party guests, the event provided the first opportunity to see what the store could offer. “Our bookstore at Southern is huge, and playing the game, you typically get all kinds of questions about food, snacks and drink items we provide — and they’re always surprised that we offer toiletries or dorm room supplies,” he adds.
Gal says his student booksellers in the store are the best possible peer-to-peer ambassadors for new students. “They just take a lot of pride in what they’re doing, in the way they promote our store and in their willingness to help the new students,” he says. With five orientation events held throughout the month of June, the level of familiarity with the campus services differs widely, and so does the level of help they might require, as Angiolillo explains, “Some students can go straight-a-way to the stacks to get their books, but others need a lot of help to guide them to the correct coursework.”
Events like the WOW bookstore party are just one example of the ways the Southern Connecticut State University Bookstore is supporting its freshman class. Gal and his team have been reaching out to the new students and their parents, using the store”s email loyalty program to keep in touch throughout the summer and help ease them through the process.
And while the bookstore is always jam-packed at Rush, the bookstore is continually looking for ways to extend that dialogue throughout the school year with discounts on clothing items, flash sales on clearance items, and regular postings on the store’s Facebook site. “We’re just so much more than a bookstore — we’re the campus store,” Angiolillo says.