Given the contemporary business challenges of campus auxiliary services and the complex business climate of higher education, the future of campus auxiliary services operations has become a relevant issue to examine. As director of auxiliary services at Montgomery College, Montgomery County, Maryland, I was asked by my college administration to conduct a nationwide case study, for the purpose of investigating the sustainability of campus auxiliary services. The strategy I used was to collect the “best thinking” of auxiliary services and campus store professionals from across the nation and obtain answers to the following questions:
How will customer demand for campus auxiliary services and products change in 2020 and beyond related to:
- Sustaining the highest level of service and products?
- Sustaining the highest level of customer satisfaction?
- Sustaining self-supporting status?
- Sustaining alignment with campus’ strategic directions?
- Compliance with federal and state mandates?
The participants included auxiliary services professionals working in two- and four-year institutions, as well as leaders and members of professional organizations such as NACAS and NACS. Other participants included our college students. The methodologies used in collecting data were electronic surveys, telephone questionnaires, brief qualitative student interviews, and literature reviews.
The literature review and study findings expand the knowledge of how auxiliary services professionals and other leaders can sustain campus services and product delivery practices, now and into the future. The findings have been translated into recommendations for actions to be taken.
It is hoped that the following recommendations will assist professionals at all levels to implement new ways to: enhance and change the campus service and retail culture; make informed business decisions about the future of auxiliary services; and to develop the ability to continue to provide relevant services and products. As Dixon recommends (NACS, 2010), leaders need to “take hold of the future or the future will take hold of you.”
- Sustain Highest Level of Service and Products
- Reintroduce retail operations to the student base and offer services and products that are relevant to contemporary customers (Angelo, 2013). Auxiliaries’ staff must increase their knowledge of customer expectations and needs as well as the unprecedented pace at which the millennial customer profile is changing (Wood, 2013). This knowledge will impact auxiliaries’ ability to provide services and products and remain relevant to current and future students (Meyers & Wilkie, 2013). In order to keep pace with the millennial customer, auxiliary services managers are wise to constantly analyze customer diversity and needs; to gather customer information and investigate customers’ needs and desires through student advisory boards, surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, and informal chats and communication (Meyers & Wilkie, 2013).
- Design and implement Tech-Centers featuring peripherals and computer support technology products for sale; service courts with multiple service venues; self-operating retail operations all over campus; in-store, high-tech digital signage for shelf tags and signs; flat screens in all retail locations that market products and services and entertain; digitally managed cloud accounts for students; in-store destination attractions that center on “college life experience” rather than on course material; and on-campus entrepreneurial partnerships that support campus initiatives and events and monetize store and campus currency.
- Sustain Highest Level of Customer Satisfaction
- Keep in mind that student customer satisfaction is the primary reason retail operations exist. Managers must be prepared to serve the needs of more results-driven, values-focused, and technology-empowered students (NACS, 2010).
- Implement online and social media access to all services and products through all types of technological devices: online and cloud technology to provide 24/7, rapid service delivery; enhanced online presence; and phone applications designed to drive customers onto campus.
- Implement a “welcome mat” campus experience for students. Millennial students are looking for a place where they are comfortable and will feel accepted. This will impact everything auxiliaries offers, from the dining halls to what facilities or organizations are available on campus. Providing a sense of comfort for these students is essential (Wood, 2013).
- Implement a student auxiliary advisory board to ensure that retail operations managers receive feedback that will help them sustain high levels of customer service. Charge the student advisory board with the responsibility for advising auxiliaries’ leadership to develop relevant retail business models (Pearson, 2013).
- Be agile. Know the marketplace and competitors to keep up with the rapidly changing retail models as well as customer needs.
- Sustain Self-supporting Status
- Transition from being a “bookstore” to being a “campus store” with diversified services and product agility, by repositioning sales away from course materials. Diversify enough in offerings that operations are not dependent on one particular category of service or product, such as instructional materials (Athitakis, 2012).
- Compete by offering more affordable textbooks, e.g., used, digital, and rental course materials and texts (NACS, 2010).
- Initiate institutional collaborations, serve as content experts in areas of expertise, and provide ideas/solutions that are applicable across all operational areas of the college. Assist in developing strategies for meeting emerging campus needs and lead stakeholders to address current and future needs of auxiliaries and the institution (Heffernan, 2013).
- Use more precise cost-and pricing-management and cost analysis to guide decisions.
- Improve acumen in interpreting and responding to regulatory mandates impacting revenue.
- Make all decisions using evidence and data to ensure alignment of auxiliaries’ strategic direction with institutional and customer needs.
- Initiate capital improvement conversations with college stakeholders regarding inadequate facilities that may be too small, outdated, aging, and or not supportive of customer needs.
- Sustain Alignment of Campus Strategic Directions
- Develop a clear operational business plan strategy, focused on the institution’s core mission.
- Reinvent the auxiliary services business model, stay true to the core mission, and stop spending beyond the means of the model/budget (Denneen & Dretler, 2010).
- Address the needs of the college by designing and delivering products and services uniquely responsive to the campus environment. Be flexible, accommodating, and strategic in the delivery of services (Starsia, 2012).
- Lead entrepreneurship initiatives that enhance long-standing social goals of the campus with a focus of adopting a mission to sustain social value; pursue new opportunities to serve; engage in continuous innovation; and act boldly while exhibiting a sense of accountability to constituencies (Dees, 2002).
- Comply with Federal and State Mandates
- Improve acumen in interpreting, responding and coming into compliance with regulatory mandates that impact Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) affordability law and Americans with Disability Act (ADA).
- Advocate for textbook affordability by obtaining stakeholder support through campus-wide conversations and educational experiences for colleagues who can help problem-solve affordability challenges (Hershman, 2011).
- Advocate for accessibility of instructional materials for visually impaired students and faculty. The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) professional organization is a resource for campus Americans with Disability Act (ADA) disability professionals, faculty, and staff and provides e-textbook solutions for print-disabled students and faculty (AHEAD, 2010).
- Monitor the implementation of current and future federal and state legislation regarding instructional materials affordability and ensure that campus store and faculty are in compliance. In addition, auxiliaries leaders need to partner with faculty to monitor the ongoing relationship between campus store, faculty, and the institution to ensure affordable course materials are available (University of California, Berkley, [UCB], 2010).
Participate in capital improvement planning processes and budget development for auxiliary services facilities-related issues to prepare for 2020 and beyond. Future customer needs cannot be met if auxiliaries’ needs are not aligned with capital improvement plans of the institution.
Conclusion and discussion
As an integral part of a campus support structure, auxiliary services and bookstore services are anchors that provide access to a variety of services and products. Over decades of campus life support, auxiliary services has been there supporting students to make campus life better.
This study calls campus auxiliary services and higher education leaders to consider how auxiliary services might change, expand, and enhance service and product delivery systems today and into the future. The study findings and recommendations suggest that decisions made today will strongly influence the future success of, not only student success, but also that of the higher education institutions they serve.
Hopefully, the information gathered within this study can support auxiliary services leaders to sustain high quality retail operations that support the new generation of students, faculty, and staff on college campuses 2020 and beyond. In order to accomplish this goal, it is imperative for auxiliaries and campus retail operations to move beyond contemplation and strategic planning to action. “Inaction is not an option if survival is the goal” (NACS, 2010).