John Shiffert: 11 Tips for Reducing Your Costs and Making Your Store Run Smoother

For the National Association of College Stores magazine,
November, 2016

11 Tips for Reducing Your Costs and Making Your Store Run Smoother

There’s an acronym that’s been around since long before BTW, BFF, LOL, OMW, FYI, GTG, TTYL and other now-popular shorthands. It’s KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Well, college store administrators are anything but stupid. An informal survey by The College Store that asked NACS members to share suggestions in regards to what they’ve been doing to reduce costs and smooth out operations produced a variety of largely tried-and-true techniques, strategies and initiatives that showed that simple is often effective. As another old euphemism goes, it’s not rocket science.

Their suggestions often came under two simple and universally applicable headings; reducing labor costs and improving efficiency by various means that typically improved convenience for students. Certainly, everyone recognizes the importance of these two goals, but perhaps you haven’t thought of some of the techniques that NACS members have used to achieve said goals.

Reducing Labor Costs

  • Gary Meszaros, assistant vice president, Business and Auxiliary Services at Western Kentucky University reports that they went back to open aisles for the fall 2016 semester. “We sold more textbooks, we sped up service — approximately 75 percent of the students didn’t need special help finding their course materials — and we reduced costs with less labor needed,” he says.

  • North Dakota State University has had success with an equally simple initiative, purchasing mobile POS equipment for their offsite sales, notably at athletic events. Even though Carson Wentz has graduated to the Philadelphia Eagles, Kimberly Anvinson, associate director of the NDSU Bookstore, reports that their POS equipment still saves 40 payroll hours per game, since they now don’t have to take a physical inventory after each game.

  • BYU – Idaho’s Text Express reservation system is so good that, according to Sterling Moses, manager of Operations and Technology, University Services, “We believe the benefits of this system would greatly enhance any store’s operations and bottom line! We believe this so much we are even giving our ideas away with the source code for other schools to mirror what we are doing.” How successful is Text Express? Moses reports that it has reduced labor by more than half and quadrupled productivity.

  • “We have reduced expenses in payroll by restructuring and streamlining reporting lines while combining areas of responsibility where overlapping duties and tasks existed,” reports Greg Kannenberg of his first 18 months as director of the Phoenix Bookstore at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. “It helped to have a new, fresh set of eyes view things from a different perspective and experience but, such an approach can be done even among long term, established staff.  The key is to allow `anything and everything’ to be questioned and not to be tied to the past or afraid of what change will bring.”

Improving Convenience for Students

  • Carlita Slatky, director of the University Store at Georgia Southern University, says they’re all about efficiency and convenience, so as to “avoid student frustration.” This is accomplished by several initiatives; a financial aid checking station, using text messages to alert students who have placed web orders (because students respond much quicker to text messages), using Folio comparison shopping software, and having a direct link from the course registration site to a pre-populated shopping cart for course-required materials for individual students.

  • BYU-Idaho’s Moses, speaking about the Text Express system, summarizes its convenience for students. “The Text Express system gives a student the options to have all of their materials ready and waiting for them when they show up for school. We analyze their courses and put together a custom materials list for that student that is then prepared and ready for the student to self-pickup when they arrive,” he explains.

  • Clayton State University’s The Loch Shop focused on student convenience during the summer by testing counter service – a different approach than that used by Western Kentucky. Assistant Director Jessica Hall notes that initially there was concern that students would get upset about waiting in two lines – first to get their course materials and then to check out. However, “Customers were actually telling us how they like this process so much more. The lines were moving so quickly that our higher-ups told us that we were being `too efficient,’” she says. “The original plan was, while workers pulled the customers’ course materials… customers (would have) time to shop around in the store.  (But), we had to slow this process down so that our customers had plenty of time to shop.

“Reducing labor costs and increasing customer convenience were hardly the only relationships mentioned in the survey. It should come as no surprise that vendor relationships and vendor selection are also a key to reducing the cost of operations.

  • Last spring Lyndon Lake, director of The College Store at SUNY Potsdam, started using a local screen printer for imprinted and embroidered logo clothing. “With the shipping cost at crazy prices these days we saved on shipping fees, (since) they do not charge us,” he says. “This also allows us to order in smaller quantity, (and we have) quicker turns, (and) shorter reorder times.”

  • “We started asking vendors to contribute more to our promotions and giveaways rather than have to use so much from our advertising budget,” says Houghton College Campus Store Director Heléna Oden.

  • Wisconsin Green Bay has a similar relationship with vendors. “We work closely with our general merchandise vendors in helping to offset promotional and advertising costs by partnering with them in running promotions for which they provide or pay for the printing and distribution of POS advertising materials for their specific products,” explains Kannenberg.

Finally, here’s one over-arching principle for smooth operations that all store managers need to keep in mind… according to Karen Smith, director of the bookstore at McHenry County College, you need heavily-communicated procedures in place for just about everything, and, unless you’re data driven, you won’t really know where you stand from one year to the next. Plus, data is essential for justifying business decisions.

“We are a very data driven store; we also run reports for just about everything. We track data on such things as inventory turn, sales, purchase order spending and margin,” she says.