Exclusive: Barnes & Noble seeks big expansion of its college stores

Thu May 8, 2014 7:06am EDT
 
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By Phil Wahba

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Barnes & Noble Inc (BKS.N: Quote) is turning to its college roots to boost its top line.

The U.S. bookseller, which opened in 1965 as a university bookstore in New York, wants a much bigger presence on college campuses, where students last year spent an average of $1,200 on textbooks and supplies, according to the College Board.

Barnes & Noble, now the second largest operator of college bookstores with 696 shops, plans to have about 1,000 locations within five years, Max Roberts, chief executive of the company's college business, said in an exclusive interview at Rutgers University's bookstore in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

It intends to do that by getting more schools to outsource their bookstore operations with the lure of nicer, higher-grossing stores and by poaching accounts from larger rival Follett Corp, which runs 940 stores.

Success isn't a slam dunk: About 45 percent of U.S. colleges still run their own stores. And overall college store sales have stagnated in recent years at about $10 billion, according to the National Association of College Stores.

The push comes as Barnes & Noble is mulling selling itself and needs new sources of revenue because of sluggish sales at its traditional bookstores and a shrinking Nook digital unit.

Roberts said the company's retail skills and ability to offer large-scale textbook rental programs, a growing part of college retail, generate higher sales per store, a benefit for schools, which get a percentage of sales rather than rent.

"We want to make our stores the center of the community, and appeal to other consumers, not just students," said Roberts, who earlier in his career worked at R.H. Macy & Co.   Continued...

 
A Barnes and Noble book store is shown here in Encinitas May 20, 2008. Barnes & Noble, Inc. (BKS) will report first quarter earnings May 22, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake