Focused on enhancing college affordability and elevating the student experience, University of Connecticut (UConn) Bookstores are beginning their third year in partnership with Barnes & Noble College. Within the first two years, the Storrs campus store underwent a major renovation, students embraced the stores’ community events, licensed Starbucks coffee shops opened in two bookstore locations, and the partnership saved students more than $1.8M through rental and digital textbook programs — and they are just getting started.
“In the summer of 2016, we were fortunate enough to be given the contract to operate the seven UConn bookstores,” said UConn Bookstore Group General Manager Len Oser. “The first summer was really about getting the stores up and running on the Barnes & Noble College system and retaining all of the employees from the former co-op, which helped make our first rush pretty successful.”
Respecting all that the former UConn Co-Op Bookstore had accomplished, Barnes & Noble College wanted to continue its longstanding tradition of community support while taking the stores to the next level. Hiring the hardworking, knowledgeable and friendly UConn Bookstore staff was essential to ensuring a smooth transition.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of folks still on staff from our previous bookstore. There are a lot of familiar faces for long-time customers,” said Director of Strategic Partnership and Business Development at the University of Connecticut Kyle Muncy. “In addition to our staff, one of the biggest successes the bookstore has had is elevating the experience. It’s the number one comment I get from any of our fans, visitors or alumni who come back to campus. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the work, effort and money that was put into completely changing the experience that a UConn fan or customer has when they come into that store. It looks fantastic.”
The newly designed Storrs campus college store is a sight to see. The massive renovation included a licensed Starbucks, a TechShop, computer repair and dedicated community spaces. Upon entering, students are greeted with a jaw-dropping display of emblematic merchandise that welcomes them to UConn Nation.
“We changed every square inch of the main bookstore’s public facing spaces. We reallocated some of the spaces in the building to create more of a community hub and less of a retail system. We have some great study and conference spaces we didn’t have before. It turned out really well. It’s a beautiful store,” Oser said. “When you open the door in the morning and see the number of students that come in with their laptops and backpacks, rushing to your study spaces to grab their seats for the day or get a cup of coffee, it lets you know you are doing something right. They spend the day meeting friends and studying or meeting with faculty for tutoring. We see all that taking place in the store because it’s another great space on campus.”
However, ensuring a great student experience is about more than just an awe-inspiring bookstore design. It’s also about getting to know the students and community and showing them that they are valued and welcomed — something the UConn Bookstore does extremely well. In fact, 92 percent of UConn students rated the bookstore’s overall performance as good, very good or excellent.
“Len [Oser] and his team have worked very hard over the last two and a half years to continue to be a part of the UConn community,” Muncy said. “Whether that is supporting student groups, events, or working really hard with our communications, orientation, admission and residential life teams, they’re as involved as they can be. They make sure people around campus know the bookstore is there to support them.”
From the moment students are accepted to UConn, the campus store is an indelible part of campus life. The stores are another campus resource, providing information, support, employment opportunities and a place to meet or relax. They also host a gamut of campus events that stretch far beyond normal retail. The UConn Bookstores’ events spark student interest and engage them in more campus activities. Author signings, special VIP nights for seniors and freshmen, the summer welcome resource fair and student de-stress events throughout the semester as just some of the events available to UConn students through the bookstore.
“We bring in a lot of dogs. Dogs are very popular. So, we work with a local agency in town that takes dogs around to nursing homes and hospitals. They love to come to our events. They are really lovable pets. The dogs are probably the most relaxing thing,” Oser said. “Students treat the dogs like celebrities. It makes you forget that you have a final the next day and are going to pull your hair out all night studying. That’s kind of the idea to help students take a break and enjoy themselves.”
“Our next challenge will be to fully connect with all faculty and staff throughout the university,” Oser said. “It’s been a great relationship. I have worked on four different campuses now. The support we get at UConn is unprecedented. They truly want us to be successful and we appreciate our position and the opportunity that we’ve been given. It’s a great relationship.”
One of the top bookstore priorities for Oser was to make sure UConn students knew that they now had access to outstanding rental, digital and price match programs through their campus store. In a recent survey conducted by Cengage and Morning Consult on student affordability, 73 percent of the students said having access to course materials is more important than owning them, and 83 percent said that easily accessible digital course materials would have a positive impact on their grades. Starting with student orientation, the bookstores passed along best practices to help students and families maximize their savings. By explaining the available options, UConn students saved more than $1.8 million for last year’s Fall and Spring terms with rental and digital text programs.
“Now, we’re working with faculty and staff throughout the university, explaining the value the bookstore brings to campus and how important it is to work with us to help the students get the most affordable textbook options,” Oser said.
In the more than two years that Barnes & Noble College has partnered with the University of Connecticut, there have been significant improvements to the bookstore, the student experience and college affordability. The first year Oser and his team focused on making sure the transition was smooth for students, and faculty. The second year, the store went through a major renovation and focused on student engagement and affordability.