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Go Pack!

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It may seem strange that someone with such deep ties to Clemson and Coastal Carolina would write a piece on the Wolfpack.  Growing up my father had an office in Reynolds Coliseum on the NC State campus in Raleigh.  This was in the days when both the men and women’s basketball teams played in the old gym.
In October 1982, I visited my Dad’s office after school.   The men’s basketball team had a routine early season practice.  It was closed to the public, but we found a way to observe for a few minutes in one of the lower portals.  Coach Jim Valvano was demonstrating a post play under the basket, then the team ran through the motions.  I was mesmerized watching Dereck Whittenburg pass inside to Lorenzo Charles.  Little did we know that a few months later, this same team would make history in one of the greatest upsets in sports.  The Pack would go from a bubble March Madness team, to defeating legendary and overwhelming favorite, Houston, Phi Slama Jama, for the National Title.
That October though I stood in Reynolds Coliseum next to my Dad.  He later took me to the campus bookstore.  It was my first visit to a college store.  He gave me $2.  Not enough for a shirt, but I bought a red spiral notebook with a wolf head logo on the front cover.  He made me stand in line by myself.  I was a bit nervous, but as the cashier took my $2, she smiled and told me “Go Pack!”
I remember thinking how friendly everyone was.  I watched the games that year, some on TV, a few in person at Reynolds.  No one gave them a chance in the title game.  My Mom made it a point to drive my brother and me down Hillsborough Street, in our old Pontiac Bonneville, in the middle of the night, to see the students celebrate the National  Championship.  “Look, boys, there’s a couch on fire!”
This week I volunteered at Wolfpack Outfitters to distribute prepacked textbooks to incoming students.  As I arrived for work I parked in the deck by Reynolds Coliseum, located next door to the Talley Student Union.  Inside the store, a gondola of NC State spiral, imprinted, notebooks stood by the pathway, for online order pickups.  Employees were still laughing and smiling.  It brought me back to the early 80’s and memories of my first college bookstore visit.
You never know who your customers are going to be.  It could be a wide-eyed freshman, an all-American making dunks on TV, or an impressionable middle schooler looking for a team to cheer.  A simple smile and engaging conversation, “Go Pack!”
It’s a good lesson for us all in retail.  Whether someone spends $200 or just $2, you treat everyone to a smile and engage, because maybe one of them will remember their first experience on campus, your store, and that sale 30+ years later.  “Go Pack!”
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Catching a Good One

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Summertime!  A time to gather up the belongings and head to the lake.  I had a pile of things to take with us.  Ski vests, both tubing floats, some paddles; there was a cooler, of course there had to be a cooler.  What’s a trip to the lake without a cooler?  Will, our six year old, came out to toss his red, plastic, Lightening McQueen fishing pole beside the collection.
“Hey, Dear,” I hollered to my wife packing the family SUV.  “Is Will going fishing?
He confidently answered that question himself.  “Daddy, I want to catch a good one!”
I had to laugh, even as Alice responded.  “Yeah, he can bring it.  We’ve been talking about going fishing together.”
Alice can cast across the cove if she wants to, me not so much.  I’m more likely to knock myself in the back, or hook my foot when the line falls short.  I hoped Will took after her.
It didn’t take long for us to scatter.  We found our favorite activities.  For me it was kayak time and wished Will good luck as he sat on the dock while Alice taught him to cast.  “I hope I catch a good one,” I overheard him telling her.
As a parent I hoped he would catch something.  You want that excitement to be rewarded.  You wish it could be more than a hope or belief it may happen.  Sometimes you wish more things in life could be guaranteed.
Will helped Alice pull up a large catfish she’d hooked.  He wondered when he would get a bite too.  After lunch, she left his pole, fully armed with a hook and bait, secured to a dock cleat, next to hers.  After only a few minutes, his popped in the air and spun sideways!  He had a bite!  The brim splashed the surface as Will reeled in the spinner.  To his eye, he had a good one.
It was no longer about hope, or believing something might happen; it was actually happening, right there on the end of his Lightening McQueen fishing pole.
MBS offers a program for stores that allows a buyback price to be locked in today for the selling period at the end of the semester.  We simply call it “Guaranteed Buyback.”  If your store is looking for a creative way to promote buyback during the rush selling period, Guaranteed Buyback may be for you.
Your MBS rep can help create a message for students so they understand a book can be sold at the end of the term for a “guaranteed” amount of money.  This educational piece can increase both beginning term sales and end of semester sellback as students better understand the true cost and value of the book.
For students it’s no longer a hope the buyback price offered will be significant, the value becomes guaranteed.  It will happen.  Sometimes you have to bait the hook correctly to get a bite.  It’s true with students and it’s true to catch catfish and brim.  “Guaranteed,” that’s a strong message right there.

 

The Lobster Tank

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Who hasn’t been to Red Lobster?  Sometimes those Cheddar Bay biscuits just call to you.  I remember as a child licking the grease off my fingers from Red Lobster biscuits waiting on my popcorn shrimp.  I was always shrimp; my brother was clam strips.  We looked forward to Red Lobster.  Oh, and you remember the tank in the front of the restaurants?  My brother and I would bang on the glass simply to watch the lobsters scurry about and climb upon each other.
Red Lobster hasn’t changed much in all these years.  This weekend my family went to enjoy biscuits and popcorn shrimp.  I saw my middle son, 12-year-old Taylor, lost in the adventure of the lobster tank.  “These are so cool to watch,” he commented.
“Too bad they’ll all be dead by the end of the night,” I added.
Taylor looked back in disbelief, “What?” he questioned.
“Yeah, those are dinners,” I explained.  “What did you think they were?”
“I thought they were pets, you know like the aquarium at the dentist’s office.”  He still held a look of both dismay and shock on his face.  “I thought they kept the food in the back.”
It’s not always easy coming to terms with a harsh reality.  Sometimes we see the truth but don’t want to believe it.
So how’s your store doing these days?  Is your buyback bringing a healthy wholesale commission with a nice haul of retail books as well? Is your marketing plan effective?  Are top line sales and sell through strong for you?  Tell me about your rental program?  Do you know your numbers?
After we finished our dinner, Taylor made a point not to look in the tank.  He had previously counted how many were in there.  I think he would have been disappointed if any were missing.
Are you turning your head to the numbers in your store, or are you facing the truth?  It may not always be what you want to see.  However, ignoring fact doesn’t change what is happening.  If your store is facing an erosion there are ways to remain relevant.  Turning your head is not one of them.  We’re not children anymore.  Let’s open a dialog and work together.

Autumn or Fall

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It’s my favorite time of year; is it autumn, or is it fall?  Is it a covered bridge against a hillside of red maples and yellow poplars?  That’s autumn.  Or is it trick-o-treating?  That’s fall.
 Autumn is leaves dancing in the wind, coming to rest in a twisty brook or stream.  It’s wet rocks covered in moist, green moss.  It’s the sound of water tucked deep in the woods.  That distant sound you hear, before you see the rambling flow.
 Fall is Friday night lights, college football, and the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington.  Fall is tailgating.  Autumn is a Sunday afternoon watching the NFL with friends, and cheese trays, and celery.  Autumn in a neighborhood block party.
 Autumn is for long walks thinking about family and friends.  It’s for memories of those we miss.  Thinking about the good times; appreciation, that’s autumn.  Making memories is more fall.  The laughter of now, children’s birthdays, growing up.
 Fall is a train ride through the countryside, to the pumpkin patch.  It’s finding the perfect orange gourd that will fit into a five year old’s hand.  It’s wearing an engineer’s cap.  It’s your older brother holding your hand up the passenger car steps.  That’s fall.
 Autumn can be found in the same countryside, in antique shops and grist mills.  It’s wine tastings, and apple cider, and side of the road produce stands.  It’s found in bags of Honey Crisp, Pink Ladies, and Arkansas Blacks.
 Fall is cooking apples: small, imperfectly shaped, worm holed fruit, from a century old farm.  It’s chickens in the yard, and the smell of fresh cut grass, as the pasture is trimmed, for a final time this season.  It’s your grandmother’s kitchen.  It’s eating Nilla Wafers right out of the box.
 Fall is a bonfire and S’mores.  It’s the amber glow of delicate coals and a browning marshmallow.  It’s the outer, crisp shell, as warm goo fills your mouth.  Fall is smoke in your eyes as the wind changes direction.  It’s a sleeping bag and a tent.
Autumn is mums on a suburban, swept porch.  It’s a seasonal welcome flag you bought last vacation.  Autumn is a jar candle called “Harvest,” or “Macintosh.”  It’s a house cat enjoying the sun from an open window.
Autumn is rediscovering that favorite sweater.
Fall is finding that perfect Halloween costume.  It’s Clark bars, and Charleston Chews, and candy corn.  It’s a county fair with blue ribbons, and John Deere tractor parades.  Fall is a funnel cake.  Fall is a corn maze.  It’s an un-tucked, red and black, flannel shirt.
 Fall is comfortable.  Autumn is beautiful.
 Autumn and fall, my favorite time of year.

 

Super Soaker

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Sure, I’ll admit I was drifting a little bit.  Stretched out in the hammock, enjoying the last of those sweet summer rays.  Jimmy Buffett was on the speakers.  I could almost feel those gentle, coconut, trade winds swaying my swing, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Have you ever sensed that feeling you’re being watched?  Just before you make that drift into unconsciousness, you take a final peak.  You expect to see puffy, white clouds, against the backdrop, of deep blue sky.  Yeah, that’s what you expect, and you sway, back and forth.
What you don’t expect is a five year old hovering over you with a super soaker, pump action, water gun, pointed directly at your chest.  “Go back to sleep, Daddy!”
Daddy was awake; Daddy was alarmingly awake at that point.  Hammocks weren’t made to get out of, not quickly anyway.  There is no graceful way to exit a hammock, and the back and forth that was such a pleasant experience a few minutes earlier, was now a hindrance.  “Daddy, go back to sleep!”
Oh no, there was no going back to sleep for Daddy.  One arm caught, and slightly twisted, in the white, cotton, hammock netting, the other hand firmly planted, on the brick patio pavers, to prevent him from flipping, Daddy was wide awake.
Sometimes we feel too comfortable.  On occasion, we’re too content.  We sway back and forth as if the breeze will never leave.  We feel this way in hammocks, and we feel this way in college bookstores.
We get complacent.  We’d do rental, but we don’t have that one piece on point of sale.  Sure, some students ask for rental, but we’ve never done it, so, you know.  Yeah, you know, back and forth.  It’s the easy way to sway back and forth, sort of sleep your way through it.
And then you wake up and panic.  You’re under the attack of an administrator who wants to know why your store is not offering a program, or a competitor takes market share, or it’s the threat of your store going lease.  Reactions don’t always come easy when you’re asleep.
We like to talk about how our industry changes.  Often times our biggest threats aren’t external.  Complacency to the status quo is a challenge to ourselves.  It’s a challenge to break the lull, to avoid rocking yourself to sleep.
MBS can be your partner.  Whether it’s systems, wholesale strategy or operational, MBS can help enhance your services.  It’s comfortable to sway back and forth.  It’s wiser to look for the water guns.

 

 

Waiting in Line

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Waiting in line wasn’t always a bad thing. In high school I stood in line for Merle Haggard tickets. I think I skipped Spanish class to do it. Although, is it really cutting class if the teacher gives you money for tickets? Mrs. Lowndes was cool like that. I think WT and Funchi were with me. However, that was years ago, and I wouldn’t swear to it if they claimed different.
We stood in line for those tickets and questioned who we’d rather have at quarterback, Elway or Montana.  We’d comment on “Family Ties” and “Cheers:” Sam and Diane, Alex P. Keaton.  We’d debate whether “Top Gun” could really happen. We’d laugh. We’d speculate on where our seats would be, and count the people in front of us.
We knew country music. Away game trips were highlighted with boom boxes on back seats of varsity buses. Alabama. Hank Jr. Merle. We’d pass the time watching the Carolina countryside move by those bus windows. It’s a long way to Hilton Head. We learned Winnsboro’s in the middle of nowhere. We waited to play. We waited to win.
We stood in line between classes at vending machines. We popped in quarters for Cokes and Hot Fries. We ate our non-nutritious, calorie filled selections on benches under a tree, waiting for the bell to ring. We’d wait for someone to ask Mr. Hill an obvious biology question so he could respond, “What does the lab say?”
We didn’t have smart phones. We couldn’t text when we were late on a Friday night. We got in trouble when a parent waited for us to come home not knowing where we were. We didn’t have GPS. There wasn’t an app for that.
It was a different time. We stood in line for concert tickets. A Merle Haggard event featured a legend who needed help on stage. There was a single microphone he bumped with his head, as he sat on his stool, with a guitar shoulder strap emblazoned with “MERLE.” A concert where the audience held its collective breath in silent minutes as he sat there, eyes closed, too long. We’d erupt when he began “Could be holding you tonight. Could quit doing wrong, start doing right. You don’t care about what I think. Think I’ll just stay here and drink.”
We stood on folding, metal, chairs, and cheered from the center, of the second row, at the Exhibition Center. If Merle came to town we stood in line for that opportunity. We’d wait for that, maybe two or three concerts a year; we’d wait for that. We stood in line for tickets.
Standing in line wasn’t bad for us; it increased our anticipation. That was our generation, our way.
Today’s students don’t wait in line. It’s a now satisfaction expectation thing I guess. Online concert fulfillment is as expected as iPad registers in bookstores. MBS fills those needs with mobile technology at point of sale and remote buy capabilities. We can bust lines.
Today standing in line is as old school as, well, a single entertainer on a wooden stool on an otherwise empty stage. Today’s passing of Merle Haggard is just another reminder of those times; those days we’d stand in line and talk to one another about life, and sports, and well, we’d just talk because there was nothing else to do.
If you have lines in your store we probably need to talk. We can talk about the good ole days. We can talk about Ronald Reagan, and state championships, and letter jackets. Or, we can talk about today’s students. Those students that don’t understand lines. The students who expect more. The students who are your customers today, not yesterday.  We can talk about your lines.

 

 

 

 

 

Have You Ever?

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This week my August travels found me alone on a dark country road during the annual Perseid meteor shower. I turned down a red-clay packed dirt road that ran beside a farmer’s field. In the car I keep an old beach towel. I stretched it across the trunk and back window; climbed onto the car and watched the most amazing show. It reminded me of other experiences I’ve had here in our backyard.

Have you ever tended a crab pot in a tidal creek? Have you ever cast a shrimp net, or caught a flounder? Do you know how to clean and cook what you catch? Have you tasted Mahi off a boat in Morehead City, or eaten in the “original” Calabash?

Have you ever uncovered a sand dollar with your toes, or dug a whelk and felt the sand beneath your fingers? Have you ever seen a Loggerhead hatch on a Carolina shore? Has a splash from a dolphin in the breakers ever been so close the spray left you in awe? Have you seen an alligator dip below the surface, a deer on a foggy hillside, or a bear barrel through a cotton field?

Do you know what tobacco drying in a wood lapped barn smells like? Have you ever walked through the woods and the sound of cicadas are deafening? Have you ever heard a dove coo across a pasture, or an owl hoot? Have you ever seen a bald eagle take flight at sun rise?

Have you ever tasted fresh honey dripping from the comb? Have you picked a peach in an orchard, or thumped on a watermelon, or attended a mountain apple festival? Have you shucked butter beans on a front porch? 

Have you ever tried grits, Palmetto Cheese or boiled peanuts? If I say tomato, mustard or vinegar based, do you know what I am referencing? Have you sipped tea so sweet it hurt your teeth? Have you ever tasted fried chicken and cornbread on a Sunday after church?

Have you ever bounced on a joggling bench?  Have you eaten at an upper floor, corner table at Hyman’s and seen the flags wave above Meeting Street, on a summer evening? Have you ever taken a carriage ride, or a ghost tour?

Have you ever sat in Reynolds Square in Savannah and listened to an old black man play Christmas songs on his saxophone, late on a cool October night? Have you ever seen Spanish moss sway from a mighty Live Oak in an autumn breeze? 

Have you ever been to The Masters?  Do you know how many colors azaleas bloom in? Have you played golf in Pinehurst or Pawleys?  Have you ever ridden a bike in Hilton Head?

Have you ever sat in an empty baseball stadium after midnight and watched it rain; the silver streaks before the still lit light standards, the water collecting on a tarp covered infield? Do you know what it means to have a one run lead in the top of the fifth? Have you ever smelled an April rain, seen yellow pine pollen rivers flow?

Have you ever been to Athens on a fall Saturday afternoon, or Blacksburg on a Thursday night? Do you know the Buses? The Rock? The Hill? The Valley? Does the sound of 2001 and Sandstorm give you chills? Have you been to Cameron Indoor, or the Dean Dome?

Have you ever been hang gliding at Kitty Hawk, or off the top of Lookout Mountain? Have you kayaked in black water, or gone rafting on the Chattooga or Nantahala? Have you ever seen an orange and purple sunset, over the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the deck of a sailboat, on Lake Keowee?

Have you ever seen the horses run in Aiken, or Camden? Have you been to a re-enactment and seen white A-frame tents line a patriot encampment? Do you know canon fire; has the ground moved below your feet? Do you know what color indigo is, and have you felt hand-spun linen?

Have you ever seen a coal burning locomotive puff through an intersection in a small southern town? Have you seen kudzu hang from a railroad trestle? Have you smelled a magnolia, or tasted the sweetness from a honeysuckle vine? Have you seen a Carolina Moon, above a Palmetto, against a deep blue twilight sky?

Have you ever pulled over in a soybean field, looked above, and realized how blessed you are to live where you do? Have you? Ever?