College Bookstore Considers Corporate Partners

Lucy Walton-

Photo by Elayna Daniels

Changes are being considered for the Davidson College Store. This past summer, in an attempt to maximize profits under budget constraints and serve students better, the college began looking into outsourcing operations at the bookstore. On November 7th, various companies put forth their proposals to a decision-making committee.

The college is exploring a wide variety of partnerships. Some possible options include handing over operations to a corporate bookstore like Barnes and Noble, partnering with a textbook provider like Chegg, or focusing on virtual options such as E-books.

The college cites students as a reason for the possible transition.

“We constantly look at every part of the college to see how we can better serve students and the rest of the campus community. The store is a terrific resource for students, alums, faculty, staff, and the Town of Davidson. We want to make sure we are offering the products those customers want and that we are running the store in a way that best serves them and the college,” Jay Pfeifer, Director of Media Relations, said when asked about the changes.

Oftentimes, this outsourcing option can work for schools that are searching to rebrand their image or generate short-term cash flow. Yet, an increasing number of schools are actually stepping away from this option because they wish to be in control of the identity the bookstore presents to students and maximize affordability for students.

Three years ago, Bill Reilly, an expert on used books, was brought in as manager of the bookstore in hopes that he would be able to bring down the price of textbooks. He has been doing just that. “Since I got here, our volume of sales is going up, but our profit isn’t. Why is that? Because we are keeping our prices down,” Reilly said. He elaborated saying the bookstore’s purpose is to serve the students of Davidson, and he goes to great lengths to make sure that the desire for profit is not harming affordability for students.

“For years this store wasn’t making profit at all; it was just here as a service for students. Then in 2008, Steph Curry made the school so popular [that] profit became an expectation.” According to Reilly, a Curry fan himself, the store still maintains a decent profit each year.

Richard Terry, Director of Auxiliary Services, stated, “The Davidson College Store has generated net revenue over the past several years, but as with all enterprises of the college, we are always evaluating other options. We want to make sure we are offering the products those customers want and that we are running the store in a way that best serves them and the college.”

Reilly is unsure as to whether bringing in a partner would make more money for the college, though often these partnerships lead to an increase in cash for a short period of time. A partner could possibly fix some common complaints about the store, such as problems with the current website, which has been criticized for not presenting the merchandise well. For most of the summer the site had extremely limited options size wise. A corporate partner would also bring more organization to inventory stocking and likely restock more frequently. Jack Salt ‘19, a bookstore student employee, admitted, “One of our weaknesses is inventory efficiency, knowing what’s in stock.”   

Some people are wary of the possible changes. “If a big corporation such as Barnes and Noble takes over, I don’t think the store will be as closely connected with the Davidson community or students,” said Salt. Other schools have pointed to this lack of connection as the reason for withdrawing from leasing options with corporations, citing student complaints that their store does not feel like part of the community.

There are also more tangible consequences to such a change. Having a corporation in control often limits the sources for textbooks. Whereas the bookstore currently spends a lot of time trying to find the cheapest options for textbooks, companies normally stick to one distributer. This often means the cheapest option may not be available to students.

Reilly noted some companies have online options that rival the current bookstore prices, but said, “When you need a textbook, you don’t need it in a week, you needed it yesterday,” referring to the high number of students who buy textbooks from the store during the add-drop period.

The potential for having higher prices does not benefit the college either. “If we don’t keep our prices down students will just buy the books online, and then we’re making no profit,” Reilly said.

Bringing in a corporation also puts many jobs at risks. With such a transition, the college can recommend to the incoming company to keep the current staff, but there is no guarantee that original staff members will be able to stay.

Salt was told if the changes occurred he would lose his work-study assignment. He called his work-study at the bookstore “one of the best parts of my Davidson experience,” citing the relationships he has built with co-workers and community members. After working there for three years, losing those relationships “just wouldn’t feel right.”

For now, Reilly says the store is working to find merchandise that fits everyone’s needs and is encouraging students to voice their opinions on how the store can improve. Decisions regarding the future of the bookstore will be made in December.