New direction for the Willamette Store

by Erin Dahl,

Over the past few months a committee of students, faculty and staff, chaired by Bob Olson, associate vice president for financial affairs, thoroughly reviewed options for the Willamette Store’s future. The committee ultimately selected Follett Higher Education to run the bookstore, effective July 21.

A family-owned, Illinois-based company that operates more than 940 campus stores across the continent, Follett received positive reviews from current customers, including Macalester College, Whittier College and Corban University.

As well as offering greater access to marketing, technology and operations expertise, the company agreed to invest up to $100,000 in Willamette Store renovations as part of its effort to enhance the in-store and online experience for customers.

Follett also agreed to hire Willamette’s three full-time bookstore employees, who will retain their current salary and similar university benefits.

“Our full-time employees are keeping their jobs and textbook prices are not going up,” Olson says. “With this being the case, I feel Follett is the right choice for the Willamette community.”

Changing Times

In the last four years, Olson says, the bookstore revenue has decreased by $400,000, mainly because students — wanting to skip the middleman and save money — are buying their textbooks online.

“Textbooks are the revenue generators for college bookstores,” Olson says. “There is revenue from clothes and merchandise, but it pales in comparison to textbooks. With sales dropping, you have to start looking for places to cut or you can’t cover your expenses.”

Since February, Olson has visited several other campus bookstores throughout the Northwest. He hosted an open forum on campus, and met several times with the bookstore committee to help the group understand the complexities surrounding this decision. They also heard presentations from prospective operators.

Follett quickly emerged as the best fit for Willamette.

“Their stores look good, and they have great merchandise,” Olson says. “They also have an extensive inventory of rental book options for students.”

Looking Ahead

Olson reiterated that book prices are remaining the same, as is the look and name of the Willamette Store. What’s changing is the addition of a full-time manager and a gradual refreshing of the store’s inventory.

Follett’s sales are expected to generate $150,000 in net revenue for Willamette each year — money that will help fund the university’s general operating costs.

“Follett is an expert in running campus stores,” Olson says. “We look forward to a long and successful partnership.”