Follett opens university bookstore

This semester has seen more book buying options for students with Geneseo's new official provider Follett Higher Education Group and longtime provider Sundance Books taking competitive steps to attract customers.

While Follett provides free delivery to students and helped establish a new textbook reserve program with Milne Library, Sundance Books has responded to these services with an offer to match or beat any Follett price.

According to its Web site, Follett is the nation's largest operator of college bookstores, with more than 800 locations in the United States and Canada. Flint Thornton, a Follett representative who assisted with the opening of the Geneseo location, said that while some are quick to characterize Follett as a huge corporation, it is "just people." He said that Follett negotiates with colleges during the bidding process to create bookstores that are "tailored by the university."

Store manager Bhagbat Karki, originally from Nepal, is a former international student who said he likes the town of Geneseo and intends to visit faculty members to build a relationship with the campus community. He said that opening the store has been "an interesting challenge," and that more students used online pre-ordering than he had expected.

Karki said that he has hired nearly 40 employees - the majority being Geneseo students - to run both the textbook outlet as well as the campus store, which stocks a variety of school supplies.

"Every employee is trained to provide 100 percent customer service," said Karki, adding that he hopes to use student employees to gauge what current and prospective students would want out of the campus store.

Follett is also part of a pilot project with Campus Auxiliary Services and Milne Library that aims to provide course textbooks on reserve at the library.

Locally-owned Sundance Books had been Geneseo's official provider of textbooks for years, but declined to place a bid when its contract with the college expired in spring. Over the summer, it announced on its Web site that it would match or beat prices on any textbooks sold at Follett.

Sundance manager Jim Matson said that, before announcing the offer, "We wanted to see where Follett was going to fall in their pricing scheme." He said that Sundance ultimately did not need to change its standard pricing scheme at all to make the offer, reducing prices only on some less-expensive titles, which do not have a high profit margin to begin with. The Sundance outlet, located between Brodie Hall and Main Street, also introduced an art and supplies section, which Matson said has been "more successful than we expected."

Matson said the response from students has been positive so far and having customers shopping at Sundance by choice has "lifted the spirits of the employees."

Both Follett and Sundance offer to buy back new books for half of the sticker price if the books are picked up for use in the following semester. Flint said that Follett is considering a textbook rental program where if a particular textbook is guaranteed use for several semesters in a row, students may "rent" the textbook for just 45 percent of the standard cost and return it at the end of the semester.

Freshman Alex Billen-Calhoun originally purchased books from Follett. "I didn't discover Sundance until afterward," he said. "I realized that was a huge mistake and ordered the rest of my books from Sundance."

"I got all mine on Amazon," said freshman Diana Ferro of her textbooks this semester. "It was a lot cheaper."

The official campus bookstore is located in the College Union and is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with reduced hours on Friday and Saturday.