Rarely does a party generate such a buzz that despite only five days to plan, nearly 1,000 guests show up. But that’s what happened at the Barnes & Noble at Rutgers University bookstore during New Student Orientation, when a steady flow of students came to check out the store’s offerings, dance to live music, enter raffles, enjoy refreshments and pose with new friends (and Scarlet Knight props) in a photo booth.
The secret to its success, say organizers, is constructive collaboration, something both the bookstore team and the New Student Orientation department were eager to see happen. But while deciding to join forces on the VIP event was easy, pinning down the date and time were more of a challenge. “There are a lot of historic events happening during Welcome Week, which are coordinated by several different campus offices,” explains Matt Ferguson, director of New Student Orientation and Family Programs at Rutgers University. “We didn’t want to plan the bookstore event and have it conflict with another program. We wanted to be sure it was set up for success.”
The Barnes & Noble College team learned on a Wednesday that they could host the event the following Sunday after convocation. “They sent the class of 2019 email list to us and we designed an email invitation to get the word out as quickly as possible,” recalls Barnes & Noble College Consumer Marketing Coordinator Sherry Fang. Ferguson had graphics to share on his social media sites the very next day.
In addition to email invitations and announcements throughout the bookstore’s Facebook and Twitter pages, the VIP event was listed on Rutgers’ Welcome Week website and announced at convocation. “We took a multi-pronged approach to letting students know,” Ferguson says. “And it worked. There was a steady flow for two hours, with some students even showing up early.”
Bookstore Manager Lew Claps praised the experienced Barnes & Noble College marketing team for making the event such a great success. “It was the wonderful partnership with the home office that really turned it around super quickly,” he says. That relationship had been tried and true when the bookstore team manned tables at New Student Orientation Fairs that took place throughout the summer. “It was a great opportunity to get out in front of people before school started,” says Claps, who answered questions about the many textbook options available and other bookstore offerings for both parents and students who attended.
But the real action begins during Rush, when summer ends and students become ‘official’ Scarlet Knights. For them, the Rutgers experience is new — everything a first — including the campus bookstore. “We really wanted to enhance the whole new student experience,” Claps says.
This was done through the festive VIP event, when many students experienced their first taste of store offerings. “Some students didn’t expect a campus bookstore to look so professional,” Ferguson says. “The feedback we received from them is that it’s amazing and that they want to study there.”
In addition to the fun and fanfare (including free coffee for the first 200 attendees), visitors had the opportunity to speak after hours with the textbook team about rental and digital programs and receive 25 percent off one Rutgers apparel item. “Orientation leaders were trained to help students with their textbook questions, which helped connect the event to the school for new students,” Ferguson explains. “I’ve found that there are two keys for success with campus partners: The first is getting students into the physical space, the second is creating a good experience.”
For this event, good may be more like great. “Our booksellers said they’d never experienced anything like it in this building,” Claps reports. “The students loved the photo booth and lined up for free coffee. The music was excellent — people were literally dancing in the store. It was a really positive vibe.”
Pooling resources on other events is a goal both Claps and Ferguson are exploring. While a VIP event during New Student Orientation may be a given for next year, Ferguson predicts, “we’ll be doing more events before then.” Already in the works is a plan for a poetry open mic night during Parents’ Weekend.
In addition to providing students with a first look at the three-story bookstore and café, as well as a spirited party, there was another positive that resulted from the event. “The biggest takeaway is the wonderful relationship we’ve developed with the New Student Orientation team,” says Fang. “We couldn’t have pulled this off — that fast — without them.”