It’s generally understood that when Rocky and Rocksy, the school mascots for the University of Toledo, turn up for an evening, it’s going to be a party. But this wasn’t Homecoming or a Rockets game – it was VIP Shopping Night – and as the university bookstore filled to capacity, students were ready to enjoy a very different experience. “Our event coincided with Move-In Week, so the office of Residence Life was really integral in helping us get the message out,” explains Colleen Strayer, Manager of the University of Toledo Bookstore. “And with so many different activities going on in the store, it was good to see such a great response,” she adds. In addition to Karaoke, a special Facebook ‘photo booth’ and free manicures, students received free B&N tote bags, café specials on specific food and drink items, and 20 percent off coupons for clothing and gifts. Yet, amid the fun and excitement of the evening there was a more serious reason to throw a party, and with it, the opportunity to forge relationships that will last a lifetime.
If college is an exciting time for incoming students, it can also be a confusing one. “We’d gathered a lot of research from the freshman class of 2016,” explains Erin Lenihan, Barnes & Noble College Campus Marketing Specialist. “And the area where students needed the most help was in sorting out the textbook buying process,” she adds. Last year, the Texas Tech Bookstore piloted a highly successful special event night designed for students to get to know the bookstore. As a way to provide an exclusive shopping experience, build new student loyalty and help them more easily access their books and course materials, the idea of VIP Shopping Nights was born. “There’s a real need to connect with students on a one-on-one basis and guide them through the whole textbook process,” Lenihan says.
Although the events were designed to be fun, they were also created as a way for students to get to know their campus store, experience superior customer service and receive personalized help in finding their course materials. The direction may have come from the Barnes & Noble College home office, but individual store managers came up with their own event themes in a grass-roots effort to get to know their customers. “We are a resource for stores – to give ideas and inspiration,” Lenihan points out. “But it’s really the store managers and staff who come up with inventive ways to get the students involved.” And involved they were. In addition to Karaoke Night at the University of Toledo, the creative themes for VIP Shopping Nights included everything from celebrity ‘red carpet’ parties and scavenger hunts to exclusive, members-only styled nightclub events, in a series of evenings, which ran from August through to October and encompassed over 200 stores nationwide.
Connecting new students to the resources and materials they need is hardly a new idea for Barnes & Noble College. For many years, campus bookstores have worked with college tour guides and orientation groups, and deployed social media initiatives such as Facebook campaigns to help ease the transition into college life. Reaction to the VIP Shopping Nights, however, was especially positive. “We heard students were really excited to be part of the campus, and wanted more events like these in the future,” Lenihan reports.
In Toledo, Strayer’s VIP Shopping Night was just the latest in a long list of initiatives bringing her store and staff closer to the students. “This fall, our second year in this new location, we’ve seen an increase in daily traffic compared to last year,” she points out, adding, “The older students have decided we’re ‘worth the trip’ to visit our cafe, shop our clothing section or just hang out – and the incoming freshmen now know we’re a valuable resource for them – that we’re here to help and make their experience on campus the best that it can be.”