The campus retail store was the center of attention at a seminar session called Neighborhood Marketing: The Campus C-Store during the recent national conference of the National Association of College- University Food Services (NACUFS) in Kansas City. The seminar included the presentation of a series of “Best of the Best” awards in various categories to college store operators: Texas Tech University for marketing, Villanova University for layout and design, the University of Akron for merchandising, the University of Chicago for product mix and East Carolina University for promotions.
Dean Wright, director of food services at Brigham Young University, led off the discussion with a brief history of the campus c-store, from Stanford University’s early incorporation of fountain service, Penn State’s satellite snack outlets and mid- 80s experiments at the University of Southern California and the University of California-San Diego with declining balance cards, to the introduction of the dorm room micro-fridge that helped stores begin to recapture the breakfast daypart.
Wright also sounded a warning about the rise of supercenter stores like Wal-Marts that are increasingly capturing college student market share. He cited one Wal-Mart about 15 miles from BYU that nevertheless draws a significant amount of traffic from the campus among bargain- hunting students.
The panelists at the seminar included Jodi Smith, marketing manager at the University of Chicago; Kirk Rodriguez, assistant director of cash sales at Texas Tech; Allison Metcalf, retail manager at East Carolina; Dean Goumas, director of auxiliary business operations at Akron; and Michael McGuckin, director of resident & retail operations at Villanova.
Asked to provide some “big ideas” that other college store operators could take back to their campuses, Smith mentioned how at Chicago the dining services department looked at what students on the very diverse campus were actually eating, such as sushi and various Indian foods and then tried to incorporate those choices into its prepared foods selections.
“We actually portioned off a section of the freezer and augmented our home meal replacement with kosher items during Passover,” she noted. “It was so popular with students that we kept it.”
“We just finished putting in a production kitchen that will produce all of our grab and go items—salad entrees, salads, home meal replacement and even some ‘just like mom makes it’ recipes solicited from students,” added Rodriguez.
Goumas talked about the success Akron had in making its stores the “official” supplier of apparel and accessories for the campus’s sororities and fraternities, as well as its successful extension into gift items like flowers and candies, purchases that students previously went offcampus to secure.
Among other ideas, Gonzalez noted how Texas Tech was successful at emulating Cold Stone Creamery’s individualized mix approach in its Granite Stone ice cream concept, which incorporates different ice creams that customers can individualize with 22 different flavor mixes. The ice creams, along with the university’s own branded Raider Red smoothies, realize $700 to $800 in sales a day.
Ice cream, in the form of several dozen flavors—sold in pints and quarts—of the famous Ben & Jerry’s brand, was the big success at East Carolina, Metcalf noted. The ice cream, along with Red Bull energy drinks, are especially popular during finals weeks at the campus, which, because it is on quarters, has fi- nals four times a year.
The greatest challenge, several panelists agreed, was keeping students on campus and maximizing sales from small retail spaces. At Akron, an online ordering option has made even items not available in the store available, “so we become their ordering service and can afford to let them have it at a lower price,” Goumas noted.