Kate Mueller says she noticed a change in her niece the day she graduated from high school. “We went out to dinner that night to celebrate and there was just such an obvious change to her—an empowerment,” she recalls, “a realization she was going to be a college student.” For Mueller, her niece is just one of the 25,000 students she’ll oversee as the student body returns to Orange Coast College (OCC), and where she is now the Dean of Enrollment Services after serving 15 years as the Dean of Student Services. “Rush has just always been a fantastic opportunity here, and not just for freshmen, but our returning students, too. There’s a great welcome and energy about the first week of classes back at campus,” she says.
As always, there is a high proportion of freshmen in this year’s student body, experiencing the exciting transition from high school to college, which is a critical part of the Student Journey, and it’s with these students in particular, that the Orange Coast College Bookstore has a significant role to play.
On the other side of the country, at the Barnes & Noble at University of Delaware, General Manager Jennifer Galt has been similarly positioning her bookstore as the hub of the campus’s Rush activities. “It’s honestly hard to describe,” she says. “It’s exciting, it’s fun and, yes, it can be hard work, but if your store team is overwhelmed, then you’re probably not prepared,” Galt, a self-confessed planner, points to preparation throughout the summer months to ensure her bookstore not only copes with the influx of hundreds of customers in her store, but can also serve as a support function for students who are experiencing the campus for the first time. “We see ourselves playing a crucial role in the life of the college student, whether that’s supporting move-in day or commencement,” she says.
Key to that support role, is the outreach campus bookstores invest in for Rush, and particularly the needs of new students. “The OCC bookstore has always been very proactive in finding and connecting with partners on campus, and doing a lot of preparatory and outreach work,” Mueller explains, pointing to collaborations with the school’s Program Director on initiatives such as the college’s Priority Registration program, new student orientations, and the opportunity to introduce freshmen to the bookstore.
That outreach can be crucial in helping Rush run smoothly. “During Rush, the bookstore managers and staff do an amazing job of getting our students in and out of the store with their textbooks,” Mueller says, “and now, the convenience of ordering online through the store’s website has only made it easier for students to get their textbooks right here on campus,” she adds.
But today’s Barnes & Noble College bookstores are about a lot more than bookselling. Galt manages a Clinique counter, a café, a tech store, and a wide array of general merchandise at her University of Delaware location. Meanwhile, the OCC Bookstore eases the return to school with 85 percent off popular computer software, including Microsoft® and Adobe, and buy-one-get-one-half-price deals on selected tees. Offering a wide range of products, at attractive price points, is a way of igniting students interest to keep revisiting their campus store after the initial excitement of Rush has subsided.
For Barnes & Noble College buyers, that means constantly looking out for what’s new, fashionable, and the perfect purchase for back to school and beyond. And for Buyer Stephanie Voorhees, that means drinkware. “As a category, water bottles have just exploded, continuing to increase year over year,” she says. This fall, selected stores will feature a new generation of vacuum insulated water bottles made of metal and lined with copper. “You can insulate hot or cold for an extended period of time, and our students buy these kinds of products—and buy them again—because they know they work so well,” she says.
There’s also a fashionable element to this fall’s drinkware. Voorhees has worked with vendors on the kinds of product designs to bring to the college market, including bottle shapes and colors that best represent the new trends. In larger stores, the bottles are cross-merchandised in student-driven lifestyle displays with Barnes & Noble College’s own Red Shirt apparel brand, for example, to create a one-stop-shop experience for back to school.
As the campus retail powerhouse, each college bookstore is offering students more opportunities to visit this Rush season, with interactions hard to find off campus. While a tech-savvy teenager who likes the convenience of ordering online, Mueller’s niece also wanted to experience the excitement of actually going to her college bookstore to pick up some extra must-haves for college—and that’s something she’s happy to encourage in all of her students. “The most significant point, and one I make all the time, is that profits from our bookstore come back to our students, helping support a wide variety of over 40 different school programs, from athletics to speech debating,” she says, “and when they shop the OCC Bookstore, that’s revenue that’s going back to be invested in students’ success.”