Retail Reboot

By John Dudley ’95

In recent months, the bookstore has launched a new e-commerce website, expanded its offerings of business casual clothing and athletic apparel, and even (gasp!) moved away from selling actual books.

Hampden-Sydney may be a college, but the bookstore is one of the most important places on campus. Not only do students use the bookstore to buy class and dorm supplies, as well as the occasional microwave meal, but also the bookstore is an important way for alumni, parents, and prospective students to connect with the College by providing items such as Hampden-Sydney sweatshirts and ball caps to wear with pride.

Kim MichauxThe campus bookstore has undergone a variety of changes during this year, so you should stop by and check them out. Of course, one of the changes is not having to stop by.

Kim Michaux (at right) brings 25 years of retail experience with her to the role of general manager at the College’s bookstore. For many of those years she and her husband Bob operated an online business selling children’s clothes and Christmas items, as well as a licensed collegiate store. It comes as no surprise that the first thing she did was update the bookstore’s outdated e-commerce website.

“The basic navigation was missing. You couldn’t make product pictures bigger. It lacked the basic functionality you expect during a current e-commerce experience.”

“Building the new e-commerce site was really fun to do and the College said, ‘Go to town. Go do it.’ And online sales are up, so ‘Yay’!”

The website has been going strong since officially launching in January, with sales increasing weekly, though H-SC sweatshirts, t-shirts, and stickers are still the biggest sellers. “I hope that as prospective students get their acceptance letters we will see an increase in sales of things like ‘Hampden-Sydney Mom’ items. Also, a lot of our artwork and diploma frames and things like that can be personalized and the process online is very easy. The product photos are better now and we are including a lot more product information. Overall, the entire online shopping experience is much improved.”

At the “bricks and mortar” store, shoppers are seeing many changes as well. The line of business casual apparel has increased significantly. Shoppers can choose from brands such as Peter Millar, Pennington & Bailes, Vineyard Vines, Smathers & Branson,

Collared Greens, and Southern Tide. You can also find Nike, Columbia, Under Armour, and Ping branded athletic wear.

“Our guys, both the students and the alumni, like brand names. In addition to what we offer now, we are expanding Vineyard Vines for fall. We just got a couple of Brooks Brothers polos. In the fall we’ll have the v-neck Merino wool sweaters and a necktie that Brooks Brothers is making for Hampden-Sydney. So we are expanding our brand name offerings and our business casual offerings to include items that you can wear to the office and still look professional.”

Don’t be surprised if you see Hampden-Sydney branded items in a store near you; the College has begun licensing its logo to select independent vendors.

Alumni ProductsLike all campus “bookstores,” Hampden-Sydney’s bookstore is moving away from selling textbooks. Michaux says despite opinions to the contrary, college bookstores have never made a big profit from textbook sales, and she is happy that students are able to order textbooks online at lower prices. A majority of students already order their textbooks from companies like Amazon and Chegg, so transitioning away from textbook sales is not news to students. Many students arrive on campus at the beginning of the semester with their textbooks in hand. However, Michaux insists that the bookstore will carry any textbooks that a professor requests.

“We are working on creating a ‘virtual bookstore’ for textbook sales that will give students many different options. Textbooks can be incredibly expensive. The big plus for the students is that they have the option to rent books with a guaranteed buy-back, which is actually the cheapest option. We’ll have more used books, more e-books. You can even easily compare prices among a variety of suppliers. The books arrive in two or three days and can be delivered to campus or to their homes. It’s really a convenient way to buy textbooks.”

As more floor space opens, Michaux and her staff are creating new displays to make the bookstore as attractive as possible.

The bookstore has increased the number of personal care products, such as razors and deodorant, and Michaux says they have seen a considerable jump in the sales of these products. She says their goal is to make shopping for small, simple items just as cost-effective but more convenient that driving into town to find the same things. She says, “I want to have a wide enough selection of these kinds of things that our students will think to come here for them. And I try to think like our students. I want to start carrying Tides Pods because I think guys would rather throw a little ball of detergent in their laundry than carry around a jug of detergent.”

The bookstore is getting more involved in student activities. Now the bookstore is selling t-shirts supporting the student philanthropy campaign and Michaux is excited to work with more student organizations. “Any time we can help the students, I think we should.”

Though the bookstore is changing, it continues to serve the important role it has filled on campus for decades. It remains a place for students to find books and chewing gum, as well as the occasional sweatshirt, while expanding to include just about everything Hampden-Sydney. The next time you visit the new campus bookstore, you are certain to find something to take home to remind you of your years on the Hill.