When the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Hill Student Center opened its doors earlier this year, it was a game changer for the Birmingham campus — literally.
Gang Green, the official fan club of UAB athletics, is seen as the school’s front-and-center student section — a fan club whose goal is to chant, cheer and celebrate green-and-gold sports teams as a unified body. With backing from the school’s administration and the Barnes & Noble College operated bookstore, which is located within the University’s new student center, Gang Green is sure to get a lot of support, as well as amazing gear. “We want to expand the Gang Green program with special events, such as merchandise discounts at the bookstore,” explains Steve Murray, Director of UAB Business Services. “We want to see a couple of thousand students at every game — whether there’s a big-name rival or not. It’s another way to engage our students and increase school spirit.”
Gang Green members are recognized by their bookstore-designed t-shirts, which read “Gang Green: Presented by the UAB Bookstore” on the front and “Together We Are” emblazoned across the back. That slogan also rings true for the school and bookstore partnership, as well.
With its current location in the new Hill Student Center (also known as the living room of UAB), the UAB Bookstore gained the opportunity to stretch out onto two floors and feature even more merchandise, forge new partnerships (UAB just signed a new sponsorship deal with Under Armour) and attract even more customers.
Something else new to the bookstore is Store Manager Greer Hallmark, who joined the UAB Bookstore team just three weeks before the fall semester got underway. Having already successfully managed the Tennessee Tech University Bookstore in Cookeville, Tennessee, where she earned the company’s Campus Leadership Award in 2014, she was more than prepared to take over the operations of the UAB Bookstore. “There was less of a learning curve,” states Hallmark. “I didn’t have to learn a whole new set of systems before students descended upon the campus for Rush.” As a matter of fact, she calls her new position “the opportunity to come back home.” Hallmark grew up just outside of Birmingham. It’s also where she first established her Barnes & Noble College career as a department manager at the UAB Bookstore in 2008.
Back then, the bookstore’s location in the student center wasn’t nearly as prized, as the center itself wasn’t optimal space. “When I arrived at the university six years ago, the first impression I had about the existing student center was that it felt outdated, with low ceilings and small public areas,” explains Chris Clifford, Associate Vice President for Business Services at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “The bookstore, tucked away on the ground floor, was utilitarian,” Clifford recalls. “It was a place you’d stop in to buy your books and then leave. The center itself was very much the same way. It had a lot of space for offices, but not a lot of space for students.”
The new space was designed with a student-first focus. At 162,000 square feet, it now offers meeting, conference and auditorium space as well as areas for student organizations; upgraded dining facilities including Full Moon Bar-B-Que, Mein Bowl, Starbucks and Panera Bread; a ballroom and stadium-style theater; a technology store; the Campus Visitor Center; and the One-Stop Student Service Center for admissions, course registration, student accounting, parking, financial aid and student ID functions. “Every function and activity included in the new Hill Student Center, including the UAB Bookstore, is there because it has a direct positive impact on the mission of educating UAB students,” Clifford says.
In December, Hallmark spent time helping the UAB Bookstore staff move the store from its temporary site in a former grocery store — a space Murray calls “one of the nicest temporary bookstores in history”— to its new home in the Hill Student Center. Unbeknownst to Hallmark, she would soon be returning to Birmingham. “I didn’t know I’d be back again in August — and this time for good!” Hallmark says. And with only three weeks to ready the store for students, she “was thrown into the fire, but I think we really rocked it,” she says. “We ordered a lot of merchandise, very quickly, and we sold more than ever before. Being in the student center is really a great advantage.”
Hallmark hit the ground running, capitalizing on her location smack in the middle of campus. At the start of the school year, the bookstore hosted a VIP Night, following freshman convocation, introducing new students to campus and informing them about the bookstore’s offerings. “There was a picnic for freshmen right on the green outside the bookstore. We took advantage of the timing — and 400 students showed up!” says UAB’s Murray. “The event was very well-received, and the students enjoyed all of the fun things that were planned.”
More than 350 Gang Green shirts were given away, and students enjoyed manicures, Insomnia Cookies, a bookstore scavenger hunt, and details about the store’s affordable textbook options as well as its price-matching program. Next up is a VIP Night for faculty, to reintroduce them to bookstore offerings such as FacultyEnlight, an innovative online platform that supports the textbook research and adoption process, as well as a VIP Night for staff. “With 23,000 employees, we’re the largest employer in Alabama,” Murray says. “We want to take care of students first and foremost, but faculty and staff as well.”
Students, faculty and staff apparently feel very well taken care by the bookstore, as sales have increased dramatically. “Being in the center of campus has really helped us,” says Hallmark. “We’re making good merchandise buying decisions, buying things students want to wear and offering a larger assortment. It’s location, location, location. That’s always a big deal.”