Focus On Your Core and Leverage Partners for the Rest

November 5, 2015

The business of textbooks has never been more complicated than it is today. Ten to 15 years ago, there were wholesalers, college retail stores, the student, and just a few online markets. The number of new entrants into the textbook market has grown exponentially. There are new online markets opening up almost every week, new services for college stores that help you “source more used books” or “find books cheaper,” and even services to help other services source textbooks to sell to others in the market. The idea of competing in this environment can be overwhelming. Narrowing your focus and leveraging partners will be your key to success.

So, how do you provide the best service to your students and faculty while keeping up with the rapidly growing and competitive business of textbook management? How do you continue to manage the increasing demands of your students for more options, whether the demand is for rentals, digital books, or just lower-priced options? Let’s start by asking them.

To provide the best service to your students, you should start by finding out what your students expect from the college retail store by simply asking them. You have a few options: you can conduct focus groups, randomly ask questions from students who you pass by in the union, or, my favorite, (DILO) spend a “day in the life of” the student. Spend some time buying textbooks, shopping in the store, shopping the store website, and shop the market. See what the student sees. Experience what the student experiences.

Once you have gathered information from a handful of students (15 to 20) and spent some time as a student, you should validate your findings. This is best done through a survey. You should always do some preliminary research before you survey; this ensures you are asking the right questions and measuring the right problems. Surveys should be short (less than 10 minutes to fill out) and come with an incentive (coupon to store, free gift, etc.) to get more responses. The data captured by the survey should lead your strategy to delivering the services that your students want as well as help you focus on what is important to your students.

Now that you have your strategy in place, the next step is determining which pieces you will manage and which pieces you will outsource to a partner. Finding the right partner is vital to the success of any college retail store. Today, it is almost impossible for a college retail store to deliver the expectations of the student without a partner, or even multiple partners. Your college store partner should have the same goals you do for delivering services to your students. College store partners range from technology services to textbook wholesalers and everything in between. When interviewing for potential partners, be clear in your expectations and set goals for how they will be measured.

So, how do you provide the best services and compete in today’s highly competitive textbook market? You start by clearing away the complication and talking to your students. You don’t have to compete on everything—just on what your students need most. Then find the right partner for you that has similar goals and you can count on to meet the expectations of your students. By staying focused on your students’ biggest concerns and finding the right partner(s), you are well on your way to providing services that compete with the best of them.

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