Five Minute Q&A
Denise Nakakihara

Our ‘Five Minutes With’ feature continues with Regional Manager Denise Nakakihara, whose territory covers colleges and universities on the west coast and Hawaii. Learn why she’s passionate about coffee beans, creating exceptional customer experiences and the upside of a long commute.


What was your first job?

My very first job was as a 15 year-old temporary employee at Nordstrom, handing out balloons to little ones in the children’s department during their Anniversary Sale. It was my first exposure to the importance of creating an exceptional customer experience.

How do you describe your current role at Barnes & Noble College?

Cheerleader, coach, and clean-up crew — for a very talented group of store managers and their teams. My job is to support them, challenge them, clear the road where obstacles lay, and then get out their way!

What are you working on right now?

Right at this very moment it’s all about Rush. My store teams have worked hard all summer readying their stores for their biggest “party” of the year! We strive to exceed our customers’ expectations with quick, efficient, friendly and knowledgeable service throughout all channels of business. Back to school can be a frenzied and potentially emotional time on campus, and our focus is centered on alleviating as much anxiety as possible for parents, students, and faculty and being a resource for them all year long to support their success.

Your customer base is quite diverse. What do you find are the similarities?

As consumers, we all want to feel valued, to be treated with respect and to be heard. As servant leaders, it’s our job to deliver an experience that exceeds our customers’ expectations. Every customer is important to us.

How do you think Barnes & Noble College has changed since you first joined?

We have changed so much yet stayed very true to who we are as a company. Our industry has changed extremely rapidly and as a company we continue to adapt and respond in a very nimble manner. The one thing every retailer can consistently count on is change — and we have become agents of change.

With a territory covering parts of the west coast and Hawaii, do you have a favorite journey?

As regional managers, we spend a lot of time in transit, whether it’s on a plane, train or on a freeway. I have come to value the quiet planning time on a flight and the time to think during a long freeway commute.

In your view, what’s the biggest challenge facing higher education today?

With technology transforming and evolving so rapidly, there is a huge challenge for higher education to adapt quickly in order to remain relevant — particularly with a highly technically savvy incoming student population. Incoming Gen Z students are digital natives, so they have grown up with resources and information at their fingertips, literally. This will change how they’ll experience everything!

Why, in your view, is Barnes & Noble College such a great campus partner?

We are incredible listeners and genuinely so vested in the missions and values of our campus partners.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?

It’s hard to imagine, as I have loved retail and customer service for my entire career. If I had to recreate myself, I’d see myself outdoors, near the water, doing something very active.

Favorite part of the bookstore?

Anyone who knows me well would look for me near the cafe or marketplace! I am passionate about coffee beans and midday treats.

Favorite book or book you’re currently reading?

I can get lost in a good series where you have the opportunity to truly get attached to characters.

Digital or hard copy?

On a plane, digital. You can’t beat all of the reading options available in such a compact space.
At the beach, it’s hard copy — my book inadvertently always lands in the sand every time!

Most valuable thing you’ve learned at Barnes & Noble College?

Our executive leadership team has created an environment that fosters and promotes feedback from all levels within the company and places such high value on feedback from our store teams. I’d like to believe that this has inspired me to ask better questions when I’m in our stores, and hopefully I have heightened my listening skills as a result.

Best day at Barnes & Noble College?

Commencement. It’s a day filled with celebration, pride, sense of accomplishment, anticipation and hope. It’s an extremely rewarding day to participate in and witness.