Reflections on a Busy Conference Season

March 25, 2016

Thoughts on the 2016 BiiG Conference (CSC), ICBA Annual Conference, and CAMEX

As a sales and marketing leader, I have an intense curiosity about the trends, changes, and innovations that shape business in general, and our industry in particular. So it was with great interest that I approached the idea of being on the road for three out of six weekends during February and early March to attend the BiiG conference in Toronto, the ICBA Annual Conference in Orlando, and CAMEX in Houston. Beyond the obvious benefit of meeting with many of our clients, I look forward to industry conferences to listen to what our industry is saying and to learn how Nebraska Book Company can become the best possible resource to help you overcome the challenges you face in an increasingly changing business environment.

Here are my thoughts on some reoccurring themes I heard during the spring conference season:

Transformational Change. There is no doubt that our industry is changing more rapidly today than ever before, and the massive amount of changes that have occurred over the past five years will be surpassed only by the changes we can expect over the coming two to three years. Changes happening at an exponential rate isn’t what is surprising. Rather, the amount of great information available to us about how to manage change was a pleasant surprise. Larry Johnson’s CAMEX session on Mastering the Storm of Change provided great insight into the process of change management, and several other sessions addressed the need for innovation in the face of change. I have long believed that while change can lead to uncertainty and in some cases fear, change is a catalyst for opportunity, growth, and prosperity for those who embrace it. NBC has stepped up to the challenges of change in our industry, and we look forward to helping our clients weather the storm of increasing change in your business.

Destination and Experience. All three conferences featured sessions about the changing demographics and expectations of the future college student. No longer is it enough to stock the books and apparel that college students need. Rather, we must adjust and offer customers the shopping experience they expect. Whether in-store or online, customers have higher expectations than ever, and unless those expectations are met, they will spend their dollars elsewhere. As a result, many of our clients are looking for ways to transform their campus bookstore into something more—a campus destination where students migrate to, not because they have to buy books, but because they WANT to visit the store for an event, an appointment (in-store technology classes for example), and because doing so meets their expectations of what a college experience should be. At CAMEX, Andre Mallie, Assistant Vice President of Auxiliary Services at the University of San Diego (USD), provided an update on the now-completed “College Store of the Future” as an example of how he transformed his vision of the store of the future into reality. NBC was proud to be a strategic partner to USD throughout the Torero store’s transformational process, and we look forward to working with many more of our forward-thinking customers who desire to transform their college bookstore into a valued destination on campus.

Value. One word, “value,” summarizes so many sessions and topics of conversation in our industry today. Stores delivering value to students through programs designed to provide more affordable course materials is only the beginning. Stores are providing value to students by being a destination on campus for items other than books (as mentioned above). But stores are being challenged to provide more value to a wider variety of stakeholders. We are being challenged to provide value to faculty by becoming a trusted resource to help them in adopting course material that balances student outcomes with affordability. We are being challenged to document value to the administration and business officers on our campuses, in many cases to answer the challenge of institutionally operated store vs. lease operation. All too often, decisions are made about the fate of the store without the store’s leadership team having a voice in the conversation. Independent College Bookstore Association (ICBA) offered a valuable session on the top reasons why a college store goes lease and the top ways in which leadership can keep their store independent. Demonstrating the value of the institutionally run store to administration on a regular basis was one of the main preventative measures a store can take, and NBC can provide guidance and resources to help our customers “tell the story” of the value of remaining independent.

Looking for Answers. Industry conferences provide a great forum for education, networking, relationship-building, and catching up with colleagues and friends who share a commitment to a common purpose. They also provide an opportunity to find solutions to problems we face in our businesses. The sheer amount of information at each of the three recent conferences is obviously valuable but can be overwhelming, and in some cases, impossible to take it all in.  Inevitably, each conference participant must determine if the information they gained from attending a conference can help them make a significant, positive impact on their business when they return. Frequently, the information we gain from attending such conferences can be a catalyst to meaningful change. So now that we are all back to our day-to-day business, let’s all take some time to implement what we’ve learned at BiiG, ICBA, and/or CAMEX to manage change, create a destination on campus that exceeds customer expectations, and deliver and document the value of the independent college store.

As you implement your “things-to-do list” after attending a conference, NBC stands ready to help you along the way. We have changed our business model to deliver unprecedented value to you, our customer, the independent college retailer. We look forward to our continued partnership.

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