Ken Morrison

You probably think of the University Bookstore as a place to spend money, but manager Ken Morrison takes pride in the ways he also helps students save money. “In the past four years, we’ve saved students $1,827,000 through our used book program,” he points out.

Morrison works with other universities to offer a program to buy back used texts. “If a student brings in a book, and we can sell it again, we’ll pay the student 50 per cent of the price to use it in our store. If we can’t use it, other universities in our co-operative may buy it for 30 per cent of the original price. If none of the other schools want it either, it can be sold to a wholesaler.” Having these options gives students more opportunities to get money for used texts.

The second-hand texts sell on the bookstore shelves for 75 per cent of their original price; if they’re bought back a second time they’ll go for half-price. Developing this program and making it work for students means Morrison also has to consult with professors to see if they will accept the texts from a previous year.

Used books account for about 10 per cent of textbook sales, up from 3 per cent a few years ago, and the program continues to grow.

Morrison is proud of his long history with the University of Guelph. He earned a BA in history and was working part-time in the Mountain Hall cafeteria when he heard about a part-time opening at the bookstore. “I wanted the extra hours, so I took the position,” he says. That was 20 years ago. After working in several other roles, Morrison was promoted to manager in 2003.

He’s seen the bookstore evolve over the years and change to meet the needs of the growing student population. “At one time, we had a coffee cart in front of the store, computers and art supplies on the second floor, and the clothes were in the University Centre,” he recalls. Consultations with students helped them see that they’d provide better service by having a cafeteria upstairs – they named it Pages – and moving the clothing items into the main store.

“Pages was very popular; it was the first coffee shop on campus,” says Morrison.  As other coffee shops arrived, though, fewer customers came to Pages, and Morrison again discussed possible changes with a committee of students to see how they might provide better service. “They suggested getting a Tim Hortons full-service franchise, so we did.”

The bookstore is part of the Department of Hospitality Services, and Morrison is clear that his goal is to provide the best possible service to the campus community.

Part of that is keeping costs down. “Freight makes up a big part of our expenses,” he says. “I spent a lot of time reviewing and evaluating to make sure we are getting the best services at the best price.” He works with a Guelph company for quick pick-up and delivery services and with a freight forwarder to consolidate U.S. shipments from publishers and bring them across the border in one lot. “That saves us about 40 per cent,” he says.

Keeping in touch with students, faculty and other members of the campus community is essential, and Morrison actively seeks their input while making the bookstore experience more enjoyable. At the start of each semester, he tries to plan staffing and organize the store to keep wait times for students as short as possible. “We also give out candy and Timbits to people waiting in line so that it’s at least a bit more pleasant,” he says. He also arranges give-aways for students and provides coupons to students who sign up for a meal plan with the University.

Keeping up with future developments in the bookstore business is also essential. E-books, for example, are becoming a significant factor. “I think that in five years, probably 20 per cent of the books sold will be e-books.

“The only reason it won’t be higher is that adjusting to reading a book on an e-reader or iPad isn’t that easy. When kids start in kindergarten with an iPad, then it will become second nature, and you’ll see the big shift. But there’s no denying that smartphones and iPads are already a big part of students’ lives.”

Anticipating that change, Morrison is revamping the bookstore website to allow for digital delivery of books. He also expects to see professors create a multi-media website with video, images, music or other sounds and notes for students to use with a course; the bookstore would sell individual access codes for students taking that class.

Whether he’s selling T-shirts, textbooks or technology, Morrison enjoys his work: “I’ve been at the University more than half my life and I can still say that it’s fun coming into work every day. I have phenomenal staff. They are a great mixture of youthful enthusiasm and experience, and it really shows in the efforts they make to help students.”