Consultants Give Fact-Finding Report to UMass Amherst on Bookstore and Retail Food Services

AMHERST, Mass. - Consultants asked to evaluate retail food services and the campus bookstore at the University of Massachusetts have completed their report, according to Paul Page, vice chancellor for administration and finance.

The consulting team was composed of the Campus Bookstore Consulting Corp., of East Longmeadow, Mass., and the Cornyn Fasano Group, of Portland, Ore. The team was hired after the University''s Board of Trustees approved a measure in December calling on the campus to explore the best method of delivering the highest quality and most reasonably priced goods and services in its retail food and bookstore operations.

The vote directed Chancellor David K. Scott to undertake a detailed analysis of ways to improve exisiting operations, review experiences at other institutions, and compare alternative options and approaches.

The consultants began their study in early March. Besides summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of various types of operations, including the continuation of self-management by the University or turning management over to private corporations, they were also asked to propose strategies that could help to improve the attractiveness, usefulness, and potential revenue flow from both operations.

Page emphasized that the consultants were not asked to make any recommendations, but were asked "to study, evaluate, and present their findings to the campus community." He said the report will be reviewed by Chancellor Scott and the Chancellor''s Executive Advisory Committee, as well as by a campus advisory group.The campus will make a recommendation to the University''s Board of Trustees.

Responding to campus concerns about a decline in student employment if management of retail food services was turned over to private contractors, the report said: "Regardless of the management option selected for food service, demand for student workers would increase if demand for food service were to increase."

The report also said that today''s students are not looking for three sit-down meals a day, but "four-to-six quick food opportunities instead." It said: "The emphasis is on quick, efficient food available at a variety of hours (including after 9 p.m.), access to multiple food options, and opportunities for carry-out. Similarly, students are becoming interested in the possibility of buying books on-line, where they can get instant access and convenient delivery."

Addressing concerns about higher prices if a private corporation ran the bookstore, the report said: "When the annex''s 5-percent rebate program is factored in, the textbook pricing policy is favorable to UMass students, compared to industry standards. However, because textbooks are costly, and most students are not aware of/do not participate in the rebate program, textbook pricing is perceived to be unfavorable."

Regarding the Faculty Club, the report said declining revenues and significant net losses make the club''s long-term future problematic, unless the University elects to continue supporting it financially. Under the report''s strategic initiatives section, it said an alternative funding source must be found or the University should consider closing the club and using it as a catering/meeting venue. In lieu of alternative funding, it was suggested that the club could jointly operate a dining room, perhaps at the Top of the Campus in the Campus Center, with Auxiliary Services and the department of hotel, restaurant, and travel administration.

Some of the strategic initiatives suggested for retail food services are:

* expand the successful "bread and bowl" program into Whitmore and consider moving it to the Blue Wall so that it could be available throughout the day;

* set up a Web-page/Fax line to permit pre-order/payment for lunch with pick-up at a predetermined time;

* explore the feasibility of adding computer terminals in the Blue Wall;

* develop more entertainment events in the Blue Wall;

* develop a guaranteed quick-service breakfast program;

* consider leasing an espresso cart for the main Campus Center concourse;

* be more customer friendly;

* develop attractive, early-evening dinner specials at the Coffee Shop and Blue Wall, with the objective of attracting off-campus patrons before they head home.

Some of the strategic initiatives suggested for the bookstore include:

* a long-term plan to combine the University Store and the Textbook Annex;

* install air conditioning in the annex;

* widen entrance and exit in the annex;

* reconfigure checkout areas in the store;

*improve staff training and customer assistance in the store;

* evaluate expanding the hours of operation;

* reduce waiting time in the checkout line;

* improve security by installing closed-circuit television and video recorders;

* install intrusion alarms in the annex;

* implement electronic ordering of textbooks;

* improve the used-textbook buyback program.