Collegiate bookstore planning

There is an ever-changing landscape of higher education administrators to deal with challenges for industry and collegiate bookstore leaders. When a bookstore is going to be built or remodeled, the planning team prepares information to effectively deliver exceptional results for branding, positioning, and marketing of the bookstore.

There is an ever-changing landscape of higher education administrators to deal with challenges for industry and collegiate bookstore leaders. When a bookstore is going to be built or remodeled, the planning team prepares information to effectively deliver exceptional results for branding, positioning, and marketing of the bookstore. What matters most to the customer is the shopping expectations and experiences, whether a campus bookstore is small or large. Customers are sophisticated, and the store must be current to attract and keep them.

A Current Bookstore

Key factors that optimize the shopping experience and create the WOW factors are:

Operators who seek out the best store plan and are relentless in store resets on store fixtures that adapt to re-merchandising presentation of various product lines and have a fresh presentation.
Bookstore merchandising operational plan that think big in smaller spaces that encourages the customer to walk through the entire store on inviting aisles.
Trained staff members who are positive transactional experts in customer’s experiences.
Durable and attractive checkouts and store fixtures that match design with function.
Point of sale technology systems that support sales when customers interact with the clerks to complete the transaction.
Branding with merchandise and décor.

Additional Multipliers include:

A balanced efficient perimeter and general lighting system.
Aisle configuration that provides the “Yellow brick road philosophy”.
Signage with navigational, department and classifications eliminate questions.
Bibliophiles, changeable graphics and neutral color scheme with school colors used as accents.
“Environment that attracts students and showcases campus spirit”.


A bookstore construction project is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a fast-paced learning process for any auxiliary service director, vice president of student affairs, institutional architect, facilities director, purchasing agent, and bookstore manager. The planning team issues a Request for Proposal (RFP) to qualified store planning consultants. They choose the experienced consultant who is the best fit for the job, and they direct the bookstore consultant to deliver the image that conforms to the needs and mission of the institution. The consultant delivers a progressive set of free-hand schematic layouts that provide a quick first-hand glimpse into what the possibilities are for the layout. The completed project requires no reinvestment for 10 to 15 years. It also has a timeless attractiveness in the presentation of merchandise and design that is durable and has long-term cost effectiveness. Stores must be flexible and not married to one design.

The bookstore consultant must have the foresight to openly discuss the entire bookstore business operation, inter-related marketplace conditions affecting bookstores, and the possible future of the industry. “Best Results” are achieved when the planning team, not the consultant, is in the driver’s seat and knows where it is going and how it will get there.

The team wants a planning consultant who is passionate about their project and focuses undivided attention and abilities to save significant dollars in design and purchasing of store fixtures. The business plan organizes ideas into a progressive series of schematic plans that incorporate branded daily and seasonal functionality and attractiveness. Merchandising methodologies, philosophies, and technologies of bookstore layout, configuration, and adjacency planning make sure limited resources are invested into areas, departments, and store fixtures that produce the highest results.

Where Does It All Start?

The planning starts at the receiving and shipping room – the entry point of merchandise. The flow of the backroom and receiving is key to a successful operation. Every item is aligned. Sound business operations deliver a flexible facility so that as the marketplace adjusts, the bookstore can adjust.

Mobile store fixtures help in the evolution of creating a positive shopping experience. A shopper’s environment often dictates their shopping patterns. Fixtures on heavy-duty wheels or casters allow staff to change it weekly, bringing attention to merchandise otherwise overlooked by returning shoppers. Bookstore fixtures should be constructed to handle years of hard usage, moving, and relocating, because collegiate bookstores remodel facilities on an average of every 12 to 15 years, not every seven to eight years as stores in general do.

Data Analysis

The planning team drives the process, establishing guidelines that set the course for action. The team prepares data on the campus bookstore. The consultant sends detailed data files that address operational procedures, bookstore and student surveys, questionnaires, square footage requirements, P.O.S. requirements, general requirements and inventories. The planning team delivers organized data that defines the future campus bookstore project coupled with targeted marketing. Tomorrow’s challenges and operational problems in the bookstore become inconsequential because administrators have taken a proactive approach by validating every conceivable deterrent that could derail a bookstore over the life of the investment.

Branding Imagery

Implementing visual experiences throughout the bookstore subliminally delivers an understated message of “Meaningful Shopping Experience.” Branding interiors with subtle visuals and services engages the customers in particular ways, before and after the transaction. Logos within the flooring greet shoppers at store entrances. Classification signage, institutional colors, carpets with imprinted logos, and directional aisles that complement the overall signage programs are useful branding and marketing strategies.

Walking the Store

Power Aisles in appropriate widths navigate two-way traffic in the center of a bookstore and assist in directing foot traffic at store entrances and in front of checkout and service counters. Racetrack Aisles around the perimeter walls encourage constant examining of peripheral merchandise browsing. Secondary Aisles are used in large facilities to aid cross-traffic pattern movement.

Visual Merchandising/Store Fixturing

Multi-purpose store fixtures act as a framework to house and display merchandise. They should be almost transparent in appearance to showcase the merchandise, and not the store fixture. Bookstores sell merchandise on low margins and need to turnover merchandise and markdown clearance items to make room for new stock. Successful stores make a great first impression, continually update merchandise, and have preplanned sale events. Visual merchandise displays in eye-catching iconic presentations that are easy to create and change, either on perimeter walls above eye level or viewable from the aisle line, create sales.

Lighting – Merchandise 
and the Customer

Lighting is a most important selling tool and strategy within the bookstore, and if done properly, it is cost effective. Perimeter Lighting needs to be bright to bring attention to the merchandise and helps the store to look larger. Perimeter wall merchandising is the most valuable real estate in the bookstore as it creates a backdrop for the departments. General Lighting fixtures with parabolic 3500K-3700K lamps disperse illumination evenly and bring surface brightness and color rendition to the merchandise. Show Window Lighting tracks and fixtures are located six inches from the glass line to directly angle onto the merchandise and eliminate shadows. Spots, never flood lights, are used only for show windows and designated visual display areas.

The first thing shoppers notice in a store is the ceiling because of its brightness. The second thing they see are aisles because they are directional paths. The third thing they see is the merchandise. The goal is to make the merchandise be seen first, then sales goes up.

Where Are Campus 
Bookstores Going?

The college bookstore market is an industry with an excess of $5 billion in annual sales, including more than 5,000 bookstores nationally. The primary drivers of the bookstore are textbooks, apparel and technology products. All of these can be bought online, off campus, or at the campus bookstore – and the goal is to keep the student in the bookstore. Institutional bookstores offer the best opportunity for students to experience a modern retail operation that is student-focused, while prioritizing low costs. It should also feature a wide selection, and have the ability to create a retail image that conforms to the needs and mission of the institution. Important factors to consider from the customer’s point of view include: institutional bookstores that have higher levels of staff and service, greater selection of product, more used books, more rentable textbooks, and lower textbook purchase prices and buyback options.

Students today have the option of renting, purchasing at discounted prices, making store purchases, or using digital books at reduced prices. Not all books fall into these categories, but the market has shifted, and textbook sales have declined over the past few years. Renting is very competitive, and there is also the question of when the publishers will go direct. Even though there is a demand for digital, there is still a demand for hardbound books — and textbooks are not going away for quite a while.

Best Opportunity Experience

With the textbook market being what it is today, bookstores have a tough time making decisions. The textbook market will continue to erode, and bookstores will have limited, if any, increase in sales for several years to come. Those institutions with a large alumni base and good athletic programs will have the ability to weather the storm. A good Bookstore Merchandising Operational Plan that allows the bookstore to flex with the marketplace, and has a really good operation with great expense controls can hold its own, even though still affected by other factors.

The campus bookstore market is changing daily. The textbook market is totally different than it was five years ago along with store layouts and designs that change rapidly. Perimeter wall fixtures need to be convertible to other merchandising formats. A portion of textbook free-standing fixtures needs to be mobile. Bookstores invite the public with trade books to browse or read, attend a storytime reading, or meet friends in the lounge area. Institutional stores have the ability to manage their own Promotion Calendar and to customize it to the culture of the campus.

Michael J. Lopez
Michael J. Lopez, of Michael Lopez Design Initiatives, LLC, Troy, MI, is a Collegiate Bookstore Sustainable Interior Design, Planning, Merchandising, and Feasibility Evaluation expert. Lopez is currently writing Collegiate Bookstore Planning & Design Journal: Preparation, Procedures, & Processes available late spring 2016.

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