Olson feels at home directing University
Store, Textbook Annex
R. Buchholz, Chronicle staff
Olson is the new director of the University Store and Textbook
Annex, now run by a private company, Follett Higher Education
Group. (Stan Sherer photo)
Phill Olson left the ministry more than a decade ago after pastoring
churches in Ohio, Maine and Massachusetts, he was looking for another
venue in which to use his people skills.
"This company particularly
appealed to me," he said of Follett Higher Education Group,
which brought him to Amherst to serve as store director when it
assumed operation of the University Store and Textbook Annex in
July. "There are a lot of management skills in it that are
similar to ministry. One of the things I really enjoy about Follett
is that, in spite of its corporate size, it's still a family-owned,
family-run business. They've never asked me to compromise my ideals.
It so far has been a very good match."
Earlier positions he held
through Follett include textbook manager at Trinity College in Hartford
and store manager at Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I. For the
past 10 years he had been overseeing 23 stores in the Northeast
as a regional manager.
Another good match has been
with the area.
"This is my home
state," he said. "I grew up in Waltham. We're delighted
to be part of this community. I can't wait for the [fall] colors."
The other half of "we" is Olson's wife, Barbara, who will
be teaching fifth grade at the Bement School in Deerfield.
An academic family,
they have two daughters, 19 and 21, who appear to be headed toward
teaching careers, he said.
He also loves his job
because he gets to be around books all day.
"I think books get in
your blood," he said. "If it weren't for libraries, I'd
be broke." Olson reads adventure novels and science fiction,
among other things.
As the director of the store
and annex while they adjust to being part of a large company, he
has tried to limit the impact of the transition on those who use
"I really tried to make this
transition as seamless as possible for the customer," he said.
They'll see some new faces, but most of the faces will be familiar."
Store manager John Kuusisto
said the changes in his job have been minimal but that he and new
Annex manager Jennifer Lee, '93, '98G, have been learning a lot
about the company from Olson.
"It hasn't been as different
as I thought it might be," Kuusisto said. "My role hasn't
really changed very much. Now I have someone in the store who I
report to instead of elsewhere in the Campus Center, and I probably
refer more things to Phill than I did to Meredith [Schmidt, director
of Business and Facilities Services at the Lincoln Campus Center]
because I've worked for Follett for three months instead of 22 years
and I'm still learning the Follett system."
Olson said that although
he is not changing many things about the operation, most of the
few alterations are aimed at providing "the best possible customer
"You'll see some small,
cosmetic changes to the front end of the store. We're starting a
program called 'guaranteed buyback'a quantity will have a
sticker guaranteeing 50 percent of what they paid at the end of
the semester. We're continuing the 5 percent rebate program that's
been popular. If students save [textbook] receipts they can come
back after rush and apply 5 percent to future purchases at the bookstore.
And we're doing a Web
site promotion called 'No Nightmares.' Students get a bookmark with
a code on it. When they go to the Web site, they will see what prize
they won. Most of the prizes are $1-, $2-, or $5-off coupons, but
there are a couple of grand prizes: $25,000 of tuition money. We
gave away four brand new cars last spring. That's to get people
familiar with the eFollett.com Web site.
On Sept. 5, Follett
is hosting a party, called Moonlight Madness, at the store, from
6 to 9 p.m., hoping to get more students to buy books before the
first day of classes and ease the crunch of the following two days.
Olson said the company hopes to serve students by keeping prices
as many used books as we can," Olson said. "One of the
reasons we ask for information from professors early is we literally
shop for used books on a daily basis. We want to be as prepared
as we can, to have the right books in the right quantity at the
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