Palmer Reynolds walks to put up some books at Campus Book Mart on Main Street. Reynolds has worked at the book mart for about a year and has seen all sides of the textbook issue. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff
August 15, 2012 10:42:37 AM
It would be far from outlandish to think Barnes and Noble has a near monopoly on textbooks in the Golden Triangle. As the official textbook provider for Mississippi State University, the major bookstore chain likely does business with more than 50 percent of MSU's enrollment.
But with two off-campus bookstores desperate to earn customer loyalty by any means, Starkville has become a battleground for a textbook cold war where competitive pricing and creative marketing have become more important than ever.
Fortunately, for those in the market for textbooks, this translates in book sellers developing a genuine customer rapport, something representatives from both Campus Book Mart and Campus Bookstore say they have made a paramount concern.
Though the two may both lay claim the lowest-priced books in town, they handle business in slightly different ways. The real differences, however, lie in the ways each store attempts to develop and maintain that relationship with students.
As the newcomer in town, Campus Bookstore's Hunter Sanders -- who moved to Starkville from Arkansas specifically to sell books -- has molded his store into an extension of his personality: Relatable, to the point, honest and understanding are all words that could be applied interchangeably to Campus Bookstore and Sanders.
A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Sanders, who has worked selling books on and off since 2001, says Campus Bookstore has captured about 20-to-25 percent of the textbook business from MSU students in the little more than two years since it opened.
He credits his success to an understanding of what it's like to be a student struggling to pay for college and all that comes with it, something he went through himself only a short time ago.
"If you paid your way through school you know why this is so competitive," he says. "It's really more of the knowledge and information and how well we are versed in it. Students want options, you want to have someone tell you whether or not you will actually use a book in a certain class or not."
Sanders' off-campus counterpart has been here for quite a bit longer. Campus Book Mart has been a fixture in Starkville for more than 40 years, and without even taking into account legacy customers, its two locations give it a natural advantage as far as real estate.
Since the addition of Campus Bookstore, the market share Campus Book Mart commands has decreased, forcing Book Mart to be more than the de facto off campus textbook destination.
But Palmer Reynolds, who works at Campus Book Mart, says "They have created some competition, naturally, but by the same token, people know. If you go to their store and see their facilities, the management, they bring you your books. Here you can walk around an compare prices yourself, so there are a lot of different things that go into the competition aspect of it."
Like Sanders and Campus Bookstore though, Campus Book Mart still puts a premium on customer service. Since Campus Book Mart have been around so long, it's not uncommon for the parent of a now college student to have bought their books from Book Mart while they were in school, and Reynolds says because parents are usually footing the bill, Book Mart maintains a solid influx of new customers with parental ties.
Both Campus Book Mart and Campus Bookstore have one big advantage over Barnes and Noble: Price flexibility.
Campus Bookstore has the least amount of restrictions of the two, and is able to buy from any number of wholesale companies. Book Mart pays to use a system developed by the Nebraska Book Company. This system includes all Book Mart's points of sale, their inventory, all their buy backs, everything is based off NBC's guide.
Reynolds says Book Mart does have some leeway with things, but for the most part, they stick to NBC's strategy.
"Basically, I have a set formula on how I can buy books back," he says. "It has more to do with keeping a certain percentage margin than anything."
Even if the restrictions are minuscule, Sanders thinks it helps.
"It makes my job very easy to compete, because they are operating on set percentages, like MSRP on a car. I don't have a suggested retails," he says. "It's just more rigid because they use that one company."
Even so, both stores seem to realize that they are serving a greater purpose-- the students. Books are expensive these days, really expensive, but with local bookstores figuring out how to infiltrate the revenue stream, competition will only get stronger.
"Books suck, man," says Sanders. "It's a racket, I'll be the first to tell you.
"But the difference is, (Barnes and Noble) doesn't care if you buy, their pay doesn't depend on that. Mine does."
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