Student Stores Going Private With Barnes & Noble

The University has selected Barnes & Noble College Booksellers to operate its Student Stores — a move it expects will generate a big increase in money for need-based scholarships.

As part of a 10-year, $30 million agreement, all operations will transition on July 1 with the exception of the print shop and pharmacy, which UNC will continue to operate. All 48 full-time staff members will maintain employment at their current salary either under Barnes & Noble College management or by remaining with the University.

The decision closes a question that has been on the minds of people on the campus since last fall, when the campus retail giant Follett initiated talks with UNC about privatizing the store that sells apparel, textbooks and academic supplies and includes the Bull’s Head Bookshop. UNC’s administration drew skepticism from store employees and from students and faculty when it announced it was studying the potential benefits of going private with a retail operation that’s always been under University control.

Barnes & Noble College operates bookstores at nearly 750 U.S. colleges and universities, 25 of which are in North Carolina, including four at other UNC System schools.

Net proceeds from Student Stores sales will continue to support need-based scholarships. Barnes & Noble College forecasts an annual payment to the University of more than $3 million, with a guaranteed minimum payment of $3 million annually for the first two years. After the University covers operating expenses, existing debt service of $800,000 annually and other support costs, the Student Stores expects to net $1.75 million to $2 million, which will be contributed to need-based scholarships annually. That would quadruple its recent contribution.

“Guaranteeing continued employment for existing staff, preserving the beloved qualities of Student Stores and significantly increasing the funds toward need-based scholarships are key elements of this partnership with Barnes & Noble College,” said Brad Ives ’86 (’89 JD), associate vice chancellor for campus enterprises.

Current employees are guaranteed employment for three years. Full-time staff who transition to new management and are within 18 months of their five-year state service mark or three years of their 30-year state service mark may remain on the UNC payroll until they meet those milestones. Staff members retained by UNC will be offered positions with comparable duties in other areas of the University.

“Ensuring an affordable education for our students is a proud part of Carolina’s past and a cornerstone of our future,” said Shirley A. Ort, associate provost and director of scholarships and student aid and a member of the Student Stores RFP Advisory Committee. “For decades, Student Stores has been a great partner in that effort by providing a vital source of scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students, getting us to where we are today. For that we are enormously grateful, and to the staff who have also hired our students. But this plan for Student Stores will create millions of additional dollars in need-based scholarship funds for talented and deserving students – supplemental sources that we greatly need.”

New design plans for the store include greater visibility for the Bull’s Head Bookshop, which will retain its name and move to larger space on the top floor. The Bull’s Head is expected to stock 70,000 titles, more than double the current offerings, and continue to feature books by University faculty. The renovations will include a gathering area for book talks and signings.

Financial terms of the agreement include:

  • $3.8 million to update and expand existing retail space and another $200,000 for technology;
  • a $1 million signing bonus, which will go to need-based student scholarships; and
  • $25,000 for annual textbook scholarships.

Other key terms include:

  • maintaining the Student Stores name without Barnes & Noble branding;
  • offering a 10 percent discount on new and used textbooks for students plus a price-match guarantee against national vendors;
  • hiring a similar number of student employees at salaries comparable to their current pay;
  • managing the store website to deliver an innovative online shopping experience;
  • establishing a UNC Student Stores advisory board consisting of students, faculty and staff, to provide input on store programs, merchandise and services; and
  • expanding the coffee shop to include a large seating area on the main floor.

In January, the University issued a request for proposals to examine the possibility of third-party management to address what it said were declining sales, and to increase the financial contribution to scholarships. Revenue has declined by more than 15 percent since 2007 and remained flat for the past five years.

Six firms and the current management of the store presented their proposals to a 13-member advisory committee representing faculty, staff and students. The Barnes & Noble proposal received the committee’s unanimous endorsement.


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