ASU bookstores change hands to stay competitive - East Valley Tribune: Business

ASU bookstores change hands to stay competitive

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Posted: Friday, May 6, 2011 8:30 am | Updated: 1:03 pm, Fri Aug 12, 2011.

The Arizona State University campus bookstores are about to become the Sun Devil bookstores when management changes hands this month.

In place of the university, Follett Higher Education Group will run the stores. Michael Hegarty, a communications manager at ASU, said the change comes at a time when the bookstore marketplace is evolving.

“We’ve been very impressed and proud of what the ASU employees have done,” Hegarty said. “But with new technology and where bookstores are going, we didn’t have access to that.”

New technology, such as electronic books and student rental programs, enticed the bookstores to seek out new management. 

“Typically institutions themselves look for the best retail operations,” said Elio DiStaola, director of public and campus relations for Follett. “Schools send out requests for proposals to manage their stores.”

And for ASU, Follett was the clear choice.

“We determined that Follett, who manages 900 stores over the country, was the best one to get us to the next level,” Hegarty said. “There are 900 universities who use the same books, so we can tap into that.”

Follett will provide the university with new resources and the opportunity for a wider range of inventory, giving customers more options.

“The quickest impact will be in the choices students see,” DiStaola said.

According to DiStaola, Follett has one of the largest rental programs on campus, as well as digital content available to students.

“We are the only digital product that allows you to store the content,” DiStaola said. “You can keep the content; it doesn’t expire. It takes the idea of digital content, but weaves in the concept of the social network.”

This option will allow students to subscribe to their classmates’ notes. It even opens the possibility for faculty members to jump in and highlight something for the students, according to DiStaola. “Part of our mission in running the store is really student focused,” DiStaola said. “We’ve seen federal and state legislations specifically call out affordability. How do you impact the bottom line for students? By creating a store with options like rental and digital to save students more than half.”

It is not just the customers that will notice the changes. The new management means changes for how the university profits from bookstore operations. ASU will receive a percentage of sales based on volume, but the exact figures have yet to be finalized, Hegarty said.

The bookstores have been self-sufficient and profitable in the past, but according to Hegarty, the goal is to make them more profitable.

“Follett basically operates all the operations, and a portion of every sale at any ASU bookstore location will go back to the school,” DiStaola said, “and those dollars are usually reinvested into campus activities. It’s one of the big unknowns in the marketplace, specifically with an on campus store.”

When a company changes hands, employees often worry about keeping their jobs. In this case, all of the current bookstore employees at each of the four campuses have been offered jobs with Follett.

“It will all transfer over to Follett at the end of May and then at that time, when Follett assumes full management of the bookstores, Follett becomes responsible for their salaries,” Hegarty said.

“We really believe in taking the existing talent and adding our training and development program,” DiStaola said. “With the ASU bookstore being self-operated in the past, service is paramount, so that’s probably the top of our mission.”

The new management change could lead to another bookstore on the Tempe main campus, although that decision is not yet finalized.

“We will look at building another bookstore, that will hopefully be an asset for the campus,” Hegarty said. “The current one is landlocked, so it can’t expand. Hopefully, we will have plans in the next 18 months that will give another option to the students.”

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