Two companies are bidding to operate the campus bookstore, and each made pitches to the Binghamton University administration on Friday about why they are the best choice for the University.
Follett and Barnes & Noble proposed divergent visions for the 10-year future of the campus bookstore, which has been operated by Barnes & Noble for the last 30 years.
The committee, which consists of administrators from a variety of departments, will send an intent-to-award letter to SUNY’s Centralized Administration in Albany by March 21 to indicate their company preference. The proposed contract, if approved, would go into effect beginning July 2016.
Follett, which is the largest college bookstore provider in the country and is represented at SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Buffalo, proposed a University-led vision for the store’s future. The proposal emphasized BU branding instead of Follett branding, as well as the company’s overall flexibility and openness to University preferences.
Regarding the physical layout of the store, Follett proposed modest changes to the store like creating a technology area upstairs, which would include things like headphone testing stations and Apple products and other technology for sale. While their proposal outlined a commitment to further emphasizing the BU brand, they also acknowledged that many aspects of the store work well as is.
“We don’t like to be too presumptuous,” said Mike McEneany, a vice president of marketing at Follett. “We are still learning about your campus, so we took a very simple, mockup approach for initial discussion.”
Barnes & Noble’s pitch centered on their long relationship with the University, the resources the company plans to devote to the bookstore in the future and current student satisfaction with the operations of the store. They conducted a survey which indicates that 92 percent of students rank the bookstore as “good” or better in terms of overall performance, and 69 percent of students feel the campus bookstore made their transition into college life easier as freshmen.
Another portion of Barnes & Noble’s presentation focused on proposed physical changes to the bookstore. Among these are a conversion of the upstairs mannequin window into a door to increase foot traffic through the store, the addition of a lounge area with seating for students and a relocation of textbooks, by moving some to the first floor to better facilitate the sale of other products.
“We are constantly working to grow,” said Heather Sheffer, the current store manager. “We can’t stay the same because campus hasn’t stayed the same.”
Both companies highlighted their own technologies, with Barnes & Noble promoting their Yuzu online textbook reader and Follett discussing the functionality of their website, which includes Blackboard integration. Professors would be able to use a Blackboard add-on to browse and select textbooks and students could then buy the books directly from Blackboard.
Both Barnes & Noble and Follett indicated similar approaches to digital textbooks. While both companies plan to continue offering electronic and physical textbook options, they acknowledged that the adoption of these materials has not been widespread. A survey of BU students by Barnes & Noble indicated that 83 percent of students prefer print textbooks to digital.
The committee will rank each of the proposals on several specific financial, technical and presentation-based criteria. Once the bid is approved, the bookstore will either enter a transitional period with Follett or the contract with Barnes & Noble will be renewed, according to Peter Napolitano, the director of auxiliary services and the leader of the bidding process.
“The winner of the bid will give money to the University for things like capital improvements,” Napolitano said. “Since the contract is 10 years, these are mutually beneficial for them and us.”