From Brick and Mortar to a New Hybrid Bookstore Model

Posted by Jonathan Shar on June 25, 2015

This article was originally published on the National Association of College and Auxiliary Services (NACAS) website on June 4, 2015 (http://collegeservices.nacas.org/from-brick-and-mortar-to-digital).

From brick and mortar to digital

Author: Derrick Singleton, Vice President of Operations & Sustainability at Berea College

Because it is an endowment-driven institution, Berea College’s commitment to serve its student population through the no-tuition promise drives a sense of urgency to be excellent financial stewards and caring service providers— our decision to embrace technology and move to a new hybrid model for our college bookstore enhances our ability to be both.


Berea College is a unique institution. One of just seven federally recognized Work Colleges in the U.S., Berea provides a no-cost tuition scholarship for all 1,600 students who are required to work at least 10 hours per week. With an emphasis on service to the people of Appalachia and beyond, only academically promising students with very limited economic means are eligible to enroll. Because it is an endowment-driven institution, the college’s commitment to serve its student population through the no-tuition promise drives a sense of urgency to be excellent financial stewards and caring service providers— our decision to embrace technology and move to a new hybrid model for our college bookstore enhances our ability to be both.

Financial Considerations

The financial performance of our college bookstore had been steadily declining since 2008, but had accelerated downward 22 percent in gross sales just since 2012. As we performed a deeper analysis around store operations as part of a Lean Continuous Improvement project, we recognized our “sell-through” ratio (total books sold compared to the total that could have been sold if each student enrolled in each class bought each adopted textbook) had also dropped precipitously over the same time period.

In discussions with student focus groups, it was clear the reason was market forces—our bookstore was simply not competitive in comparison to the online options available to students. In addition, the store did not attract significant foot traffic from outside the college community for ancillary sales, requiring it to rely predominantly on the student population. However, the financial demographic of the students we serve pro-vides a headwind that prevents sufficient margins on sales of spirit wear, personal expression merchandise, etc., without significant price in-creases that would run counter to our mission of providing the most affordable education possible for our students.

The Plan of Action

As a result of our research and discussions, we have embraced technology as a key component of a two-phased move from a traditional bookstore model. Our new approach is a hybrid model: part digital, part brick and mortar. In phase one, we partnered with Akademos, an online provider of textbooks, and migrated all textbooks sales online to a digital store. In phase two, we merged our existing store with the college’s visitor center and SCOTS, an outlet of the college’s famed student-made crafts.

The goal of the new combined brick-and-mortar model is to create a “one-stop shop” for visitors to experience Berea College and all it has to offer—something possible in the past, but requiring visits to three different locations on campus. The new model allows obvious synergies for better cost effectiveness, as staff for sales and back-of-house functions can be shared; that wasn’t possible before with three separate functions operating in three distinct locations.

However, the exciting opportunity arising with this new approach is that it allows us to better introduce visitors to the opportunity to share in the college’s transformative mission. This will be done through interpretive historical displays and audio/visual kiosks that tell the unique history of the college, the freedom to directly interact with student artisans who can share firsthand the transformative impact of the mission of the college, and shopping for Berea College themed merchandise, regional trade books, and hand-made crafts.

Reversing the Trends

We experienced minor bumps in the road as might be expected—such as a sense of loss with some faculty of an intellectual space where one is surrounded by books, as well as limited availability issues for some unique Humanities readings, and with students buying after classes began or from less accountable providers. However, we have been pleased with our decision to move textbook sales online with our partner, and we believe the positives outweigh the bumps. In the two semesters since we made the move to migrate all textbook sales online, our textbook sell-through ratio improved from just 46 percent in the 2013-14 year to 66 percent in the 2014-15 year. More importantly to our mission of serving students of great promise and limited economic resources, our average overall (new and used) cost of textbooks to students was 43 percent lower than the last available NACS reported average (used textbooks only). The new digital bookstore model also offers better support and consumer protection for our students in comparison to buying online on their own with unknown and varied quality. With more textbooks now being sold by capitalizing on technology in our digital bookstore—and most importantly for us, with those books being sold at a lower price for our students—we are confident the decision to embrace the emerging trends offered through technology was the correct one.

About the Author: Derrick Singleton
Derrick Singleton is vice president of operations & sustainability at Berea College. Among other areas, his responsibilities include oversight of campus auxiliary businesses and services. He is a chemical engineer with an MBA and earned degrees from Eastern Kentucky University, Sullivan University, and the University of Kentucky.


Topics: New Bookstore Models

The Changing Role of the College Bookstore

Posted by Jonathan Shar on April 21, 2015

The college bookstore services landscape has been radically transformed over the last few years as students, faculty and administrators are increasingly concerned about the escalating costs of textbooks. Colleges are now searching for new solutions to lower costs and support their core mission of educating students.


In the begining of 2013, Akademos published the first comprehensive survey of college CFOs regarding the future of bookstore services. One question participants were asked to address was their opinion on the primary role of the bookstore.  

Overwhelmingly, College CFO's (80% of them) chose providing textbooks as the bookstore's central objective.


See how the opinion of CFOs throughout the country has now changed when Akademos reveals its first look at the recently completed follow-up study on the trends and future of textbook services during our live webinar.

Learn what leading college CFOs think about the evolving bookstore model and hear from one such leader, Robert Pignatello, on how John Jay College reimagined the college bookstore for the 21st century. This special webinar will prove helpful to college administrators across the country facing these and other related challenges.

Click here to request webinar materials

The discussion, lead by John Squires, CEO of Akademos along with Robert Pignatello, SVP Finance and Administration at CUNY’s John Jay College provides insightful commentary on the key findings.



Topics: Research, New Bookstore Models

Webinar: Key Considerations for Transitioning to an Online Bookstore

Posted by Kirk Bodick on October 7, 2014

Update: If you missed this webinar, email us at webinar@akademos.com to view a recorded version of the presentation.

Is an online bookstore the right choice for your school?

In Akademos' October webinar, Jaye Lynn Bergers, Director of Procurement and Retail Services at Davenport University will share her experience implementing Akademos’ online bookstore 'marketplace' model. We hope you can join us.

Key Considerations for Transitioning to an Online Bookstore

Live Webinar: Wednesday, October 22 at 1:00 pm EDT

In this webinar, find out...

  • How to create an effective partnership between online and on campus bookstores
  • Operational considerations for an online bookstore
  • Best practices for faculty adoption
  • Tips for marketing to students
Featured Speakers:
  • Jaye Lynn Bergers, Director of Procurement and Retail Services, Davenport University
  • Kirk Bodick, VP of Sales, Akademos

Topics: Webinars & Events, New Bookstore Models

Webinar: Supercharge Student Engagement Through Mobile Platforms

Posted by John Squires on September 15, 2014

Update: If you missed this webinar, email us at webinar@akademos.com to view a recorded version of the presentation.

Akademos is pleased to announce the first in a monthly series of webinars. For our September webinar, we're partnering with Top Hat to share practical tips on how to leverage current mobile platform trends to improve instruction and student shopping services. We hope you can join us!

Live Webinar: Wednesday, September 24 at 1:00 pm EDT

In this webinar, see how to:

  • Engage students with innovative mobile platforms
  • Meet expectations of the BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) generation
  • Explore trends in the changing textbook and bookstore services marketplace
  • Deliver a superior mobile shopping experience for students

Featured speakers: 

  • John Squires, CEO, Akademos
  • Mike Silagadze, CEO, Top Hat
  • Naseem Saloojee, VP of Business Development, Top Hat

Topics: Webinars & Events, New Bookstore Models

Coming Soon to NACUBO: How to Implement a Bookstore 'Marketplace' Model

Posted by John Squires on July 17, 2014

The Akademos team is on the road again. This time, we're headed to present a breakout session and exhibit at  NACUBO 2014 in Seattle. Be sure to stop by booth #1100 or set up a custom demo.

We hope you can join us for our presentation Implementing a Bookstore 'Marketplace' Model on Tuesday, July 22 at 9:45 AM.

Session Overview: 

We have all witnessed how third-party retail web sites have changed the way students shop for textbooks. Marketplaces, made popular by e-commerce sites such as Amazon, connect third-party sellers with consumers, usually at a lower cost to the consumer. Institutions that can implement this model, including processing financial aid payments, can gain a competitive edge in the textbook business without passing increasing costs on to their students.

In this session, you will learn practical steps to leverage the marketplace shopping trend, and ultimately, how to drive traffic back to your school-sanctioned bookstore. Discover how two institutions applied the 'marketplace' model to their bookstores with the goals of improving student satisfaction and recapturing lost consumers.

Featured Speakers:

Joining us will be representatives from two of our partner schools: JayeLynn Bergers, Director of Bookstores and Merchandising Operations at Davenport University and Labouré College's CFO Mark Virello.

Mark your Calendar!

Registered for NACUBO?  Don't forget to add this session to your virtual agenda. See you in Seattle!

Topics: Webinars & Events, New Bookstore Models